THE NECESSITY OF DIVINE INFLUENCES.
William G.T. Shedd
Luke xi. 13.—”If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.”
In expounding the doctrine of these words, in the preceding discourse, the argument for the necessity of Divine influences had reference to the more general aspects of man’s character and condition. We were concerned with the origin of seriousness in view of a future life, and the production of a sense of moral corruption and unfitness to enter eternity. We have now to consider the work of the Spirit, in its relations, first, to that more distinct sense of sin which is denominated the consciousness of guilt, and secondly, to that saving act of faith by which the atonement of Christ is appropriated by the soul.
I. Sin is not man’s misfortune, but his fault; and any view that falls short of this fact is radically defective. Sin not only brings a corruption and bondage, but also a condemnation and penalty, upon the self-will that originates it. Sin not only renders man unfit for rewards, font also deserving of punishment. As one who has disobeyed law of his own determination, he is liable not merely to the negative loss of blessings, but also to the positive infliction of retribution. It is not enough that a transgressor be merely let alone; he must be taken in hand and punished. He is not simply a diseased man; he is a criminal. His sin, therefore, requires not a removal merely, but also an expiation.
This relation and reference of transgression to law and justice is a fundamental one; and yet it is very liable to be overlooked, or at least to be inadequately apprehended. The sense of ill-desert is too apt to be confused and shallow, in the human soul. Man is comparatively ready to acknowledge the misery of sin, while he is slow to confess the guilt of it. When the word of God asserts he is poor, and blind, and wretched, he is comparatively forward to assent; but when, in addition, it asserts that he deserves to be punished everlastingly, he reluctates. Mankind are willing to acknowledge their wretchedness, and be pitied; but they are not willing to acknowledge their guiltiness, and stand condemned before law.
And yet, guilt is the very essence of sin. Extinguish the criminality, and you extinguish the inmost core and heart of moral evil. We may have felt that sin is bondage, that it is inward dissension and disharmony, that it takes away the true dignity of our nature, but if we have not also felt that it is iniquity and merits penalty, we have not become conscious of its most essential quality. It is not enough that we come before God, saying: “I am wretched in my soul; I am weary of my bondage; I long for deliverance.” We must also say, as we look up into that holy Eye: “I am guilty; O my God I deserve thy judgments.” In brief, the human mind must recognize all the Divine attributes. The entire Divine character, in both its justice and its love, must rise full-orbed before the soul, when thus seeking salvation. It is not enough, that we ask God to free us from disquietude, and give us repose. Before we do this, and that we may do it successfully, we must employ the language of David, while under the stings of guilt: “O Lord rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Be merciful unto me, O God be merciful unto me.”
What is needed is, more consideration of sin in its objective, and less in its subjective relations; more sense of it in its reference to the being and attributes of God, and less sense of it in its reference to our own happiness or misery, or even to the harmony of our own powers and faculties. The adorable being and attributes of God are of more importance than any human soul, immortal though it be; and what is required in the religious experience is, more anxiety lest the Divine glory should be tarnished, and less fear that a worm of the dust be made miserable by his transgressions. And whatever may be our theory of the matter, “to this complexion must we come at last,” even in order to our own peace of mind. We must lose our life, in order to find it. Even in order to our own inward repose of conscience and of heart, there must come a point and period in our mental history, when we do actually sink self out of sight, and think of sin in its relation to the character and government of the great and holy God,—when we do see it to be guilt, as well as corruption.
For guilt is a distinct, and a distinguishable quality. It is a thing by itself, like the Platonic idea of Beauty. It is sin stripped of its accompaniments,—the restlessness, the dissatisfaction, and the unhappiness which it produces,—and perceived in its pure odiousness and ill-desert. And when thus seen, it does not permit the mind to think of any thing but the righteous law, and the Divine character. In the hour of thorough conviction, the sinful spirit is lost in the feeling of guiltiness: wholly engrossed in the reflection that it has incurred the condemnation of the Best Being in the universe. It is in distress, not because an Almighty Being can make it miserable but, because a Holy and Good Being has reason to be displeased with it. When it gives utterance to its emotion, it says to its Sovereign and its Judge: “I am in anguish, more because Thou the Holy and the Good art unreconciled with me, than because Thou the Omnipotent canst punish me forever. I refuse not to The punished; I deserve the inflictions of Thy justice; only forgive, and Thou mayest do what Thou wilt unto me.” A soul that is truly penitent has no desire to escape penalty, at the expense of principle and law. It says with David: “Thou desirest not sacrifice;” such atonement as I can make is inadequate; “else would I give it.” It expresses its approbation of the pure justice of God, in the language of the gentlest and sweetest of Mystics:
“Thou hast no lightnings, O Thou Just!
Or I their force should know;
And if Thou strike me into dust,
My soul approves the blow.
The heart that values less its ease,
Than it adores Thy ways;
In Thine avenging anger, sees
A subject of its praise.
Pleased I could lie, concealed and lost,
In shades of central night;
Not to avoid Thy wrath, Thou know’st,
But lest I grieve Thy sight.
Smite me, O Thou whom I provoke!
And I will love Thee still;
The well deserved and righteous stroke
Shall please me, though it kill.”
Now, it is only when the human spirit is under the illuminating, and discriminating influences of the Holy Ghost, that it possesses this pure and genuine sense of guilt. Worldly losses, trials, warnings by God’s providence, may rouse the sinner, and make him solemn; but unless the Spirit of Grace enters his heart he does not feel that he is ill-deserving. He is sad and fearful, respecting the future life, and perhaps supposes that this state of mind is one of true conviction, and wonders that it does not end in conversion, and the joy of pardon. But if he would examine it, he would discover that it is full of the lust of self. He would find that he is merely unhappy, and restless, and afraid to die. If he should examine the workings of his heart, he would discover that they are only another form of self-love; that instead of being anxious about self in the present world, he has become anxious about self in the future world; that instead of looking out for his happiness here, he has begun to look out for it hereafter; that in fact he has merely transferred sin, from time and its relations, to eternity and its relations. Such sorrow as this needs to be sorrowed for, and such repentance as this needs to be repented of. Such conviction as this needs to be laid open, and have its defect shown. After a course of wrongdoing, it is not sufficient for man to come before the Holy One, making mention of his wretchedness, and desire for happiness, but making no mention of his culpability, and desert of righteous and holy judgments. It is not enough for the criminal to plead for life, however earnestly, while he avoids the acknowledgment that death is his just due. For silence in such a connection as this, is denial. The impenitent thief upon the cross was clamorous for life and happiness, saying, “If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us.” He said nothing concerning the crime that had brought him to a malefactor’s death, and thereby showed that it did not weigh heavy upon his conscience. But the real penitent rebuked him, saying: “Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” And then followed that meek and broken-hearted supplication: “Lord remember me,” which drew forth the world-renowned answer: “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
In the fact, then, that man’s experience of sin is so liable to be defective upon the side of guilt, we find another necessity for the teaching of the Holy Spirit; for a spiritual agency that cannot be deceived, which pierces to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and is a discerner of the real intent and feeling of the heart.
II. In the second place, man needs the influences of the Holy Spirit, in order that he may actually appropriate Christ’s atonement for sin.
The feeling of ill-desert, of which we have spoken, requires an expiation, in order to its extinction, precisely as the burning sensation of thirst needs the cup of cold water, in order that it may be allayed, the sense of guilt is awakened in its pure and genuine form, by the Holy Spirit’s operation, the soul craves the atonement,—it wants the dying Lamb of God. We often speak of a believer’s longings after purity, after peace, after joy. There is an appetency for them. In like manner, there is in the illuminated and guilt-smitten conscience an appetency for the piacular work of Christ, as that which alone can give it pacification. Contemplated from this point of view, there is not a more rational doctrine within the whole Christian system, than that of the Atonement. Anything that ministers to a distinct and legitimate craving in man is reasonable, and necessary. That theorist, therefore, who would evince the unreasonableness of the atoning work of the Redeemer, must first evince the unreasonableness of the consciousness of guilt, and of the judicial craving of the conscience. He must show the groundlessness of that fundamental and organic feeling which imparts such a blood-red color to all the religions of the globe; be they Pagan, Jewish, or Christian. Whenever, therefore, this sensation of ill-desert is elicited, and the soul feels consciously criminal before the Everlasting Judge, the difficulties that beset the doctrine of the Cross all vanish in the craving, in the appetency, of the conscience, for acquittal through the substituted sufferings of the Son of God. He who has been taught by the Spirit respecting the iniquity of sin, and views it in its relations to the Divine holiness, has no wish to be pardoned at the expense of justice. His conscience is now jealous for the majesty of God, and the dignity of His government. He now experimentally understands that great truth which has its foundation in the nature of guilt, and consequently in the method of Redemption,—the great ethical truth, that after an accountable agent has stained himself with crime, there is from the necessity of the case no remission without the satisfaction of law.
But it is one thing to acknowledge this in theory, and even to feel the need of Christ’s atonement, and still another thing to really appropriate it. Unbelief and despair have great power over a guilt-stricken mind; and were it not for that Spirit who “takes of the things of Christ and shows them to the soul,” sinful man would in every instance succumb under their awful paralysis. For, if the truth and Spirit of God should merely convince the sinner of his guilt, but never apply the atoning blood of the Redeemer, hell would be in him and he would be in hell. If God, coming forth as He justly might only in His judicial character, should confine Himself to a convicting operation in the conscience,—should make the transgressor feel his guilt, and then leave him to the feeling and with the feeling, forevermore,—this would be eternal death. And if, as any man shall lie down upon his death-bed, he shall find that owing to his past quenching of the Spirit the illuminating energy of God is searching him, and revealing him to himself, but does not assist him to look up to the Saviour of sinners; and if, in the day of judgment, as he draws near the bar of an eternal doom, he shall discover that the sense of guilt grows deeper and deeper, while the atoning blood is not applied,—if this shall be the experience of any one upon his death-bed, and in the day of judgment, will he need to be told what he is and whither he is going?
Now it is with reference to these disclosures that come in like a deluge upon him, that man needs the aids and operation of the Holy Spirit. Ordinarily, nearly the whole of his guilt is latent within him. He is, commonly, undisturbed by conscience; but it would be a fatal error to infer that therefore he has a clear and innocent conscience. There is a vast amount of undeveloped guilt within every impenitent soul. It is slumbering there, as surely as magnetism is in the magnet, and the electric fluid is in the piled-up thunder-cloud. For there are moments when the sinful soul feels this hidden criminality, as there are moments when the magnet shows its power, and the thunder-cloud darts its nimble and forked lightnings. Else, why do these pangs and fears shoot and flash through it, every now and then? Why does the drowning man instinctively ask for God’s mercy? Were his conscience pure and clear from guilt, like that of the angel or the seraph,—were there no latent crime within him,—he would sink into the unfathomed depths of the sea, without the thought of such a cry. When the traveller in South America sees the smoke and flame of the volcano, here and there, as he passes along, he is justified in inferring that a vast central fire is burning beneath the whole region. In like manner, when man discovers, as he watches the phenomena of his conscience, that guilt every now and then emerges like a flash of flame into consciousness, filling him with fear and distress,—when he finds that he has no security against this invasion, but that in an hour when he thinks not, and commonly when he is weakest and faintest, in his moments of danger or death, it stings him and wounds him, he is justified in inferring, and he must infer, that the deep places of his spirit, the whole potentiality of his soul is full of crime.
Now, in no condition of the soul is there greater need of the agency of the Comforter (O well named the Comforter), than when all this latency is suddenly manifested to a man. When this deluge of discovery comes in, all the billows of doubt, fear, terror, and despair roll over the soul, and it sinks in the deep waters. The sense of guilt,—that awful guilt, which the man has carried about with him for many long years, and which he has trifled with,—now proves too great for him to control. It seizes him like a strong-armed man. If he could only believe that the blood of the Lamb of God expiates all this crime which is so appalling to his mind, he would be at peace instantaneously. But he is unable to believe this. His sin, which heretofore looked too small to be noticed, now appears too great to be forgiven. Other men may be pardoned, but not he. He despairs of mercy; and if he should be left to the natural workings of his own mind; if he should not be taught and assisted by the Holy Ghost, in this critical moment, to behold the Lamb of God; he would despair forever. For this sense of ill-desert, this fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation, with which he is wrestling, is organic to the conscience, and the human will has no more power over it than it has over the sympathetic nerve. Only as he is taught by the Divine Spirit, is he able with perfect calmness to look up from this brink of despair, and say: “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
In view of the truths which we have now considered, it is worthy of observation:
1. First, that the Holy Spirit constitutes the tie, and bond of connection, between man and God. The third Person in the Godhead is very often regarded as more distant from the human soul, than either the Father or the Son. In the history of the doctrine of the Trinity, the definition of the Holy Spirit, and the discrimination of His relations in the economy of the Godhead, was not settled until after the doctrine of the first and second Persons had been established. Something analogous to this appears in the individual experience. God the Father and God the Son are more in the thoughts of many believers, than God the Holy Ghost. And yet, we have seen that in the economy of Redemption, and from the very nature of the case, the soul is brought as close to the Spirit, as to the Father and Son. Nay, it is only through the inward operations of the former, that the latter are made real to the heart and mind of man. Not until the third Person enlightens, are the second and first Persons beheld. “No man,” says St. Paul, “can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”
The sinful soul is entirely dependent upon the Divine Spirit, and from first to last it is in most intimate communication with Him during the process of salvation. It is enlightened by His influence; it is enlivened by Him; it is empowered by Him to the act of faith in Christ’s Person and Work; it is supported and assisted by Him, in every step of the Christian race; it is comforted by Him in all trials and tribulations; and, lastly, it is perfected in holiness, and fitted for the immediate presence of God, by Him. Certainly, then, the believer should have as full faith in the distinct personality, and immediate efficiency, of the third Person, as he has in that of the first and second. His most affectionate feeling should centre upon that Blessed Agent, through whom he appropriates the blessings that have been provided for sinners by the Father and Son, and without whose influence the Father would have planned the Redemptive scheme, and the Son have executed it, in vain.
2. In the second place, it is deserving of very careful notice that the influences of the Holy Spirit may be obtained by asking for them. This is the only condition to be complied with. And this gift, furthermore, is peculiar, in that it is invariably bestowed whenever it is sincerely implored. There are other gifts of God which may be asked for with deep and agonizing desire, and it is not certain that they will be granted. This is the case with temporal blessings. A sick man may turn his face to the wall, with Hezekiah, and pray in the bitterness of his soul, for the prolongation of his life, and yet not obtain the answer which Hezekiah received. But no man ever supplicated in the earnestness of his soul for the influences of the Holy Spirit, and was ultimately refused. For this is a gift which it is always safe to grant. It involves a spiritual and everlasting good. It is the gift of righteousness, of the fear and love of God in the heart. There is no danger in such a bestowment. It inevitably promotes the glory of God. Hence our Lord, after bidding his hearers to “ask,” to “seek,” and to “knock,” adds, as the encouraging reason why they should do so: “For, every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh, [always] findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall [certainly] be opened.” This is a reason that cannot be assigned in the instance of other prayers. Our Lord commands his disciples to pray for their daily bread; and we know that the children of God do generally find their wants supplied. Still, it would not be true that every one who in the sincerity of his soul has asked for daily bread has received it. The children of God have sometimes died of hunger. But no soul that has ever hungered for the bread of heaven, and supplicated for it, has been sent empty away. Nay more: Whoever finds it in his heart to ask for the Holy Spirit may know, from this very fact, that the Holy Spirit has anticipated him, and has prompted the very prayer itself. And think you that God will not grant a request which He himself has inspired? And therefore, again, it is, that every one who asks invariably receives.
3. The third remark suggested by the subject we have been considering is, that it is exceedingly hazardous to resist Divine influences. “Quench not the Spirit” is one of the most imperative of the Apostolic injunctions. Our Lord, after saying that a word spoken against Himself is pardonable, adds that he that blasphemes against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come. The New Testament surrounds the subject of Divine influences with very great solemnity. It represents the resisting of the Holy Ghost to be as heinous, and dangerous, as the trampling upon Christ’s blood.
There is a reason for this. We have seen that in this operation upon the mind and heart, God comes as near, and as close to man, as it is possible for Him to come. Now to grieve or oppose such a merciful, and such an inward agency as this, is to offer the highest possible affront to the majesty and the mercy of God. It is a great sin to slight the gifts of Divine providence,—to misuse health, strength, wealth, talents. It is a deep sin to contemn the truths of Divine Revelation, by which the soul is made wise unto eternal life. It is a fearful sin to despise the claims of God the Father, and God the Son. But it is a transcendent sin to resist and beat back, after it has been given, that mysterious, that holy, that immediately Divine influence, by which alone the heart of stone can be made the heart of flesh. For, it indicates something more than the ordinary carelessness of a sinner. It evinces a determined obstinacy in sin,—nay, a Satanic opposition to God and goodness. It is of such a guilt as this, that the apostle John remarks: “There is a sin unto death; I do not say that one should pray for it.”
Again, it is exceedingly hazardous to resist Divine influences, because they depend wholly upon the good pleasure of God, and not at all upon any established and uniform law. We must not, for a moment, suppose that the operations of the Holy Spirit upon the human soul are like those of the forces of nature upon the molecules of matter. They are not uniform and unintermittent, like gravitation, and chemical affinity. We may avail ourselves of the powers of nature at any moment, because they are steadily operative by an established law. They are laboring incessantly, and we may enter into their labors at any instant we please. But it is not so with supernatural and gracious influences. God’s awakening and renewing power does not operate with the uniformity of those blind natural laws which He has impressed upon the dull clod beneath our feet. God is not one of the forces of nature. He is a Person and a Sovereign. His special and highest action upon the human soul is not uniform. His Spirit, He expressly teaches us, does not always strive with man. It is a wind that bloweth when and where it listeth. For this reason, it is dangerous to the religious interests of the soul, in the highest degree, to go counter to any impulses of the Spirit, however slight, or to neglect any of His admonitions, however gentle. If God in mercy has once come in upon a thoughtless mind, and wakened it to eternal realities; if He has enlightened it to perceive the things that make for its peace; and that mind slights this merciful interference, and stifles down these inward teachings, then God withdraws, and whether He will ever return again to that soul depends upon His mere sovereign volition. He has bound himself by no promise to do so. He has established no uniform law of operation, in the case. It is true that He is very pitiful and of tender mercy, and waits and bears long with the sinner; and it is also true, that He is terribly severe and just, when He thinks it proper to be so, and says to those who have despised His Spirit: “Because I have called and ye refused, and have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded, I will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh.”
Let no one say: “God has promised to bestow the Holy Ghost to every one who asks: I will ask at some future time.” To “ask” for the Holy Spirit implies some already existing desire that He would enter the mind and convince of sin, and convert to God. It implies some craving, some yearning, for Divine influences; and this implies some measure of such influence already bestowed. Man asks for the Holy Spirit, only as he is moved by the Holy Spirit. The Divine is ever prevenient to the human. Suppose now, that a man resists these influences when they are already at work within him, and says: “I will seek them at a more convenient season.” Think you, that when that convenient season comes round,—when life is waning, and the world is receding, and the eternal gulf is yawning,—think you that that man who has already resisted grace can make his own heart to yearn for it, and his soul to crave it? Do men at such times find that sincere desires, and longings, and aspirations, come at their beck? Can a man say, with any prospect of success: “I will now quench out this seriousness which the Spirit of God has produced in my mind, and will bring it up again ten years hence. I will stifle this drawing of the Eternal Father of my soul which I now feel at the roots of my being, and it shall re-appear at a future day.”
No! While it is true that any one who “asks,” who really wants a spiritual blessing, will obtain it, it is equally true that a man may have no heart to ask,—may have no desire, no yearning, no aspiration at all, and be unable to produce one. In this case there is no promise. Whosoever thirsts, and only he who thirsts, can obtain the water of life. Cherish, therefore, the faintest influences and operations of the Comforter. If He enlightens your conscience so that it reproaches you for sin, seek to have the work go on. Never resist any such convictions, and never attempt to stifle them. If the Holy Spirit urges you to confession of sin before God, yield instantaneously to His urging, and pour out your soul before the All-Merciful. And when He says, “Behold the Lamb of God,” look where He points, and be at peace and at rest. The secret of all spiritual success is an immediate and uniform submission to the influences of the Holy Ghost.