Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

Faith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary online

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by which alone can men's eyes be opened.

As it is the single duty laid by the Ascended
Christ on His messengers that they shall open
men's eyes, the single duty He lays on their
hearers is correspondingly that they should turn
from the darkness to the light, and (what is the
same thing) from the power of Satan to God.
It is, of course, as evident that men cannot turn
from darkness to light, from the tyranny of Satan
to God, in their own strength, as it is that men
cannot open other people's eyes by their own
power. As in the one case, so in the other, the
immanent work of the Holy Spirit is not excluded
because it is not mentioned. But as in the one
case, so in the other, the action of man is required.
Christ requires His apostle to "open men's eyes"
— that is, to proclaim the truth which opens their
eyes. Christ requires their hearers to turn from
the darkness to the light, to shake off their bond-
age to Satan and turn to God. In both cases. He
requires the "sowing" and "watering," while it is
He alone who gives the increase. What we need


to mark is that in this we have the one require-
ment of the Gospel. All that the ascended Christ
demands is that when the light is brought to the
eye the eye shall follow the light; that when the
darkness is made visible to it as darkness, it
shall not cling to the darkness by preference; that
when Satan and God are set before it, it shall not
choose Satan's bondage rather than the liberty
which is in God.

Let us mark now the declaration made by the
Ascended Christ of the benefits received from the
Gospel. Those who under the message turn from
Satan to God receive "remission of sins and a
share with the sanctified," and that is to say, they
receive a complete salvation. For what does man
want in this world of darkness and subjection to
Satan.f^ What but, on the one hand, remission of
the sins by virtue of which alone he can be held
under Satan's tyranny, and, on the other, a title to
the bliss prepared for the saints.^ Here are the two
sides of what is technically termed Justification,
proclaimed as the essence of salvation from heaven
itself. Freedom from sin — that is the negative
side; an inheritance among the saints — that is
the positive side. Saints may have an inherit-
ance — a lot or share — in bliss on their own ac-
count. But surely a sinner has no right to share
it with them. Not even if his sins be forgiven
him has he a right to share it. Enough for him
that his sins are forgiven. On what ground shall


he receive so great an additional reward? But
the Gospel offers him not only relief from the
penalty of sin but a place among those who are
sanctified. "Who have been sanctified" — that
he cannot yet say of himself. But by God's
grace he has a title to a place among those who
can say it. Holy angels and sanctified men —
they stand before God's face forever.

Nor must we fail to mark the emphatic ad-
junction of the means by which they receive these
gifts — the instrumental cause of their reception
of them. The Ascended Jesus says it is by faith,
and adjoins the emphasized definition — "that
faith which is in Him." Thus the whole procla-
mation is bound together. Paul is to be Christ's
witness. What he is to preach is what he has
seen of Him and is to see of Him. It is Christ
that is preached. It is the preaching of Christ
which is to open blind eyes and lead men to turn
to God. It is, therefore, through faith in this
preachment of Christ that men are to receive for-
giveness and adoption; through faith in the Christ
preached that all the reward comes. Surely here
is the centre of the Gospel. Ministers are sent
forth to open men's eyes; men's eyes are opened
that they may turn to God; men turn to God to
receive forgiveness and acceptance; men receive
this forgiveness and acceptance by faith — the
faith that is in Christ.


Rom. 8:16: — "The Spirit himself beareth witness with our
spirit that we are children of God."

"The Spirit himself beareth witness with our
spirit that we are children of God." This is one
of the texts of the Bible to which the Christian
heart turns with especial longing and to which
it clings with especial delight. On it has been
erected the great Protestant doctrine of Assur-
ance — the great doctrine that every Christian
man may and should be assured that He is a
child of God — that it is possible for him to attain
this assurance and that to seek and find it is
accordingly his duty. So much as that it cer-
tainly, along with kindred texts, does establish.
The Holy Spirit Himself, it affirms, bears witness
with our spirit that we are children of God; and
then it goes on to develop the idea of childship to
God from the point of view of the benefits it
contains — "and if children then heirs, heirs of
God and joint heirs with Christ."

It is quite obvious that the object of the whole
is to encourage and enhearten; to speak, in a
word, to the Christian's soul a great word of
confidence. We are not to be left in doubt and



gloom as to our Christian hope and standing. A
witness is adduced and this no less a witness than
the Holy Spirit, the author of all truth. We are
not committed to our own tentative conjectures;
or to our own imaginations and fancies. The
Holy Spirit bears co-witness with our spirit that
we are God's children. Surely, here there is firm
standing ground for the most timid feet.

No wonder that men have seized hold of such
an assurance with avidity, and sought and found
in it peace from troubled consciences and hesi-
tating fears. No wonder either if they have some-
times, in their eagerness for a sure foundation for
their hope, pressed a shade beyond the mark and
sought on the basis of this text an assurance from
the Holy Ghost for a fact of which they had no
other evidence, if, indeed, they did not feel that
they had evidence enough against it; an assur-
ance conveyed, moreover, in a mode that would be
independent of all other evidence, if, indeed, it
did not bear down and set aside abundant evi-
dence to the contrary. This occasional use of
the text to ground an assurance which seems to
the observer unjustified if not positively negatived
by all appearances, has naturally created a cer-
tain amount of hesitation in appealing to it at all
or in seeking to attain the gracious state of as-
surance which it promises. This is a most un-
profitable state of affairs. And in its presence
among us, no less than in the presence of a some-


what exaggerated appeal to the testimony of the
Spirit, we may find the best of warrants for seek-
ing to understand just what the text affirms and
just what privileges it holds out to us.

And here, first, the text leaves no room for
doubt that the testimony of the Holy Spirit
that we are God's children is a great reality. This
is not a matter of inference from the text; it is
expressed by it in totidem verbis. Exactly what is
affirmed is that "the Spirit himself beareth wit-
ness with our spirit that we are children of God."
The actuality of the Spirit's testimony to our
childship to God is established, then, beyond all
cavil; it is entrenched in the same indeclinable
authority by which we are assured that there is a
Spirit at all, that there is any such thing as an
adoption into sonship to God, or that it is possible
for sinful mortals to receive that adoption, — the
authority of the inspired word of God. That the
Spirit witnesses with or to our spirits that we are
children of God is just as certain, then, as that
there is such a state as sonship to which we may
be introduced or that there is such a being as the
Spirit of God to bear witness of it. These great
facts all stand or fall together. And that is as
much as to say that no Christian man can doubt
the fact of the testimony of the Spirit that we are
children of God. It is accredited to him by the
same authority which accredits all that enters
into the very essence of Christianity. It is in


fact one of the elements of a full system of Chris-
tian truth that must be acknowledged by all who
accept the system of Christian truth.

It would seem to be equally clear from the text
that the testimony of the Spirit is not to be con-
founded with the testimony of our own conscious-
ness. However the text be read, the "Spirit of
God" and "our spirit" are brought into pointed
contrast in it, and are emphatically distinguished
from one another. Accordingly, not only does
H. A. W. Meyer, who understands the text of the
joint testimony of the Divine and human spirits,
say: "Paul distinguishes from the subjective
self-consciousness, I am the child of God, the
therewith accordant testimony of the objective
Holy Spirit, Thou art the child of God"; but
Henry Alford also, who understands the text to
speak solely of the testimony of the Spirit, borne
not with but to our spirit, remarks: "All are
agreed, and indeed the verse is decisive for it, that
it is something separate from and higher than all
subjective conclusions" — language which seems,
indeed, scarcely exact, but which is certainly to
the present point. It is of no importance for
this whether Paul says that the Spirit bears wit-
ness with or to our spirit; in either case he dis-
tinctly distinguishes the Spirit of God from our
spirit along with which or to which it bears its
witness. And not only so but this distinction is
the very nerve of the whole statement; the scope


of which is nothing other than to give the Chris-
tian, along with his human conclusions, also a
Divine witness.

Not only, then, is the distinction, here emphat-
ically instituted, available, as Meyer reminds us,
as a clear dictum probans against all pantheistic
confusion of the Divine and human spirits in
general, and all mystical confusion and inter-
smelting of the Divine and human spirits in the
Christian man, as if the regenerated spirit was
something more than a human spirit, or was in
some way interpenetrated and divinitized by the
Divine Spirit; but it is equally decisive against
identifying out of hand the testimony of the
Spirit of God here spoken of with the testimony of
our own consciousness. These are different things
not only distinguishable but to be distinguished.
The witness of the Holy Ghost is something other
than, additional to, and more than the witness of
our own spirit; and it is adduced here, just be-
cause it is something other than, additional to,
and'more than the witness of our own spirit. The
whole sense of Paul's declaration is that we have
over and beyond our own authority ,a Divine
witness to our childship to God, on which we may
rest without fear that we shall be put to shame.

It is to be borne in mind, however, that dis-
tinctness in the source of this testimony from that
of our own consciousness is not the same as sepa-
rateness from it in its delivery. Paul would seem,


indeed, while thus strongly emphasizing its dis-
tinct source — namely, the Divine Spirit — never-
theless to suggest its conjunction with the testi-
mony of our own spirit in its actual delivery. This,
indeed, he would seem frankly to assert, if, as
seems most natural, we are to understand the
preposition in the phrase "beareth testimony
with," to refer to our spirit, and are to translate
with our English version, "The Spirit itself bear-
eth witness with our spirit." So taken, the con-
junction is as emphatic as the distinction. It
must not be overlooked, however, that some
commentators prefer to take "our spirit" as the
object to which the testimony is borne: "the
Spirit beareth witness to our spirit" — in which
case the emphasis on the conjunction of the tes-
timony of the Spirit of God with that of our spirit
may be lost. I say, may be lost: for even then
the preposition in the verb will need to be ac-
counted for; and it would seem to be still best
to account for it by referring it to our spirit —
"the Spirit itself beareth its consentient witness
to our spirit," its witness consenting to our spirit's
witness. And I say merely that the emphasis
on the conjunction may be lost; for even if this
interpretation be rejected and the force of the
preposition be found merely in the accordance of
the witness with the fact, by which it is the truth
and trustworthiness of the testimony alone which
is emphasized; nevertheless the connection of the


verse with the preceding one is still implicative of
the conjoined witness of the two spirits. For it
is in our crying "Abba, Father," that the wit-
ness of the Spirit of God is here primarily found —
the relation of this verse to the preceding being
practically the same as if it were expressed in the
genitive absolute — thus: "the Spirit which we
received was the Spirit of adoption whereby we
cry Abba, Father,— the Spirit Himself testifying
thus to our spirit that we are children of God."

The fact that the conjunction of the two wit-
nesses thus dominates the passage, however its
special terms are explained, adds a powerful reason
for following the natural interpretation of the
terms themselves and referring the preposition
"with" directly to the "our spirit." It is with
considerable confidence, therefore, that we may
understand Paul to say that "the Spirit himself
beareth witness together with our spirit that we
are children of God," and thus not merely to imply
or assert — as in any case is the fact — but pointedly
to'emphasize the conjunction, or, if you will, the
confluence of the Divine testimony with that of
the human consciousness itself. Distinct in its
source, it is yet delivered confluently with the
testimony of our human consciousness. To be
distinguished from it as something other than,
additional to, and more than the testimony of our
human consciousness, it is yet not to be separated
from it as delivered apart from it, out of connec-


tion with it, much less, in opposition or contra-
diction to it. "The Spirit of God," says that
brilUant young thinker whose powers were the
wonder, as well as the dependence, of the West-
minster Divines, "is not simply a martyr — a wit-
ness — but co-martyr — qui simul testimonium dicit
— he bears witness not only to but with our spirit;
that is, with our conscience. So that if the wit-
ness of our conscience be blank, and can testify
nothing of sincerity, hatred of sin, love to the
brethren, or the like, then the Spirit of God wit-
nesses no peace nor comfort to that soul; and the
voice that speaketh peace to a person who hath
no gracious mark or qualification in him, doth not
speak according to the Word, but contrary to
the Word, and is, therefore, a spirit of delusion."
— "So that in the business of assurance and full
persuasion, the evidence of graces and the testi-
mony of the Spirit are two concurrent causes or
helps, both of them necessary. Without the evi-
dence of graces, it is not a safe nor a well-grounded
assurance; without the testimony of the Spirit,
it is not a plerophory or full assurance." And
then he devoutly adds: "Therefore, let no man
divide the things which God hath joined to-

These remarks of George Gillespie's will al-
ready suggest to us the function of this testimony
of the Holy Ghost, as set forth by Paul as a co-
testimony with the witness of our own spirit. It


is not intended as a substitute for the testimony
of our spirit — or, to be more precise, of "signs
and marks" — but as an enhancement of it. Its
object is not to assure a man who has "no signs"
that he is a child of God, but to assure him who
has "signs," but is too timid to draw so great an
inference from so small a premise, that he is a
child of God and to give him thus not merely a
human but a Divine basis for his assurance. It
is, in a word, not a substitute for the proper evi-
dence of our childship; but a Divine enhance-
ment of that evidence. A man who. has none of
the marks of a Christian is not entitled to believe
himself to be a Christian; only those who are
being led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
But a man who has all the marks of being a Chris-
tian may fall short of his privilege of assurance.
It is to such that the witness of the Spirit is super-
added, not to take the place of the evidence of
"signs," but to enhance their effect and raise it to
a higher plane; not to produce an irrational, un-
justified, conviction, but to produce a higher and
more stable conviction than he would be, all un-
aided, able to draw; not to supply the lack of
evidence, but to cure a disease of the mind which
will not profit fully by the evidence.

We are here in the presence of a question which
has divided the suffrages of Christian men from the
beginning. The controversy has raged in every
age, whether our assurance of our salvation is to


be syllogistically determined thus : the promise of
God is sure to those who believe and obey the
Gospel; I believe and obey the Gospel; hence
I am a child of God : or is rather to be mystically
determined by the witness of the Holy Spirit
in the heart. Whether we are to examine our-
selves for signs that we are in the faith, or, neg-
lecting all signs, are to depend on the immediate
whisper of the Spirit to our heart, "Thou art a
child of God." The debate has been as fruitless
as it has been endless. And the reason is that it is
founded on a false antithesis, and, being founded
on a false antithesis, each side has had something
of truth to which it was justified in clinging in the
face of all refutation, and something of error which
afforded an easy mark for the arrows of its op-
ponents. The victory can never be with those
who contend that we must depend for our assur-
ance wholly on the marks and signs of true faith;
for true assurance can never arise in the heart save
by the immediate witness of the Holy Spirit, and
he w^ho looks not for that can never go beyond a
probable hope of being in Christ. The victory
can never be with those who counsel us to neglect
all signs and depend on the testimony of the Holy
Spirit alone; for the Holy Spirit does not deliver
His testimony save through and in confluence
with the testimony of our own consciences that
we are God's children. "All thy marks," says
Gillespie with point, "will leave thee in the dark, if


the Spirit of Grace do not open thine eyes that
thou mayest know the things which are freely
given thee of God"; and again with equal point,
**To make no trial by marks and to trust an in-
ward testimony, under the notion of the Holy
Ghost's testimony, when it is without the least
evidence of any true gracious mark ... is a
deluding and an ensnaring of the conscience."

It is obvious that the really cardinal question
here, therefore, concerns not the fact of the testi-
mony of the Holy Spirit, not its value or even its
necessity for the forming of a true assurance, but
the mode of its delivery. It is important, there-
fore, to interrogate our text upon this point. The
single verse before us does not speak very decis-
ively to the matter; only by its conjunction of the
testimony of the Spirit with that of our own spirit
does it suggest an answer. But nowhere than in
these more recondite doctrines is it more neces-
sary to read our texts in their contexts; and the
setting of our text is very far from being without
a message to us in these premises. For how does
Paul introduce this great assertion.^ .As already
remarked, as practically a subordinate clause to
the preceding verse, with the virtual effect of a
genitive absolute. He had painted in the seventh
chapter the dreadful conflict between indwelling
sin and the intruded principle of holiness which
springs up in every Christian's breast. And he
had pointed to the very fact of this conflict as a


banner of hope. For he identifies the fact of the
conflict with the presence of the Holy Spirit work-
ing in the soul; and in the presence of the Holy
Spirit is the earnest of victory. The Spirit would
not be found in a soul which was not purchased
for God and in process of fitting for the heavenly
Kingdom. Let no one talk of living on the low
plane of the seventh chapter of Romans. Low
plane, indeed! It is a low plane where there is
no confiict. Where there is conflict — with the
Spirit of God as one party in the battle — there is
progressive advance towards the perfection of
Christian life. So Paul treats it. He points to
the conflict as indicative of the presence of the
Spirit; he points to the presence of the Spirit
as the earnest of victory; and on this experi-
ence he foimds his promise of eternal bhss.
Then comes our passage, introduced with one
of his tremendous "therefores." "Accordingly,
then, brethren," — since the Holy Spirit is in you
and the end is sure, — "accordingly, then, we are
debtors not to the flesh to live after the flesh, but
to the Spirit to live after the Spirit. . . . For as
many as are being led" (notice the progressive
present) "by the Spirit of God, these are sons of
God, for" (after all), "the spirit that ye received
was not a spirit of bondage, but a spirit of adop-
tion, whereby we cry Abba, Father, — the Spirit
Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we
are children of God." "The Spirit Himself"


bearing this witness? When? How? Why, of
course, in this very cry framed by Him in our
souls, "Abba, Father!" Not a separate wit-
ness; but just this witness and no other. The
witness of the Spirit, then, is to be found in His
hidden ministrations by which the filial spirit is
created in our hearts, and comes to birth in this
joyful cry.

We must not fancy, however, that, therefore,
the witness of the Spirit adds nothing to the syl-
logistic way of concluding that we are children of
God. It does not add another way of reaching
this conclusion, but it does add strength of con-
clusion to this way. The Spirit is the spirit of
truth and will not witness that he is a child of
God who is not one. But he who really is a child
of God will necessarily possess marks and signs
of being so. The Spirit makes all these marks and
signs valid and available for a true conclusion —
and leads the heart and mind to this true con-
clusion. He does not operate by producing con-
viction without reason; an unreasonable conclu-
sion. Nor yet apart from the reason; equally
unreasonable. Nor by producing more reasons
for the conclusion. But by giving their true
weight and validity to the reasons which exist
and so leading to the true conclusion, with Divine
assurance. The function of the witness of the
Spirit of God is, therefore, to give to our halting
conclusions the weight of His Divine certitude.


It may be our reasoning by which the conclusion
is reached. It is the testimony of the Spirit
which gives to a conclusion thus reached inde-
fectible certainty. It is the Spirit alone who is
the author, therefore, of the Christian's firm as-
surance. We have grounds, good grounds, for
belie\^g that we are in Christ, apart from His
witness. Through His witness these good grounds
produce their full effect in our minds and hearts.


Rom. 8:26, 27: — "And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth
our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the
Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which
cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth
what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession
for the saints according to the will of God."

The direct teaching of this passage obv-iously is
that the Holy Ghost, dwelling in Christian men,
indites their petitions, and thus secures for them
both that they shall ask God for what they really
need and that they shall obtain what they ask.
There is here asserted both an effect of the Spirit's
working on the heart of the believer and an effect
of this. His working on God. Even Christian
men are full of weakness, and neither know what
they should pray for in each time of need, nor
are able to pray for it with the fervidness of desire
which God would have them use. It is by the
operation of the Spirit of God on their hearts
that they are thus led to pray aright in matter
and manner, and that their petitions are rendered

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Online LibraryBenjamin Breckinridge WarfieldFaith and life; 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary → online text (page 11 of 27)