Ralph Wardlaw.

Discourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy online

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ye shall receive ; seek, and ye shall find ; knock, and it
shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh re-
ceiveth ; and he that seeketh findeth ; and to him that
knocketli it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of
any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone ? or if
he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? or if he shall ask
an egg, will he off'er him a scorpion ? If ye, then, being
evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how
much more will your heavenly Father give tlie Holy Spirit
unto them that ask him ?"*

Where this joy, then, is awanting or deficient, its defi-
ciency or its absence must arise, I should apprehend, from
one or other of three causes. In the first place — consti-
tutional distemper, in body, or in mind, or by reciprocal
influeYice, in both : — in which case, the patient stands in
need of the counsel and aid of the physician, as much as
of the minister of the gospel, and tlie Christian friend ; —
and very frequently the exertions of all the three fail of
the desired success. Secondly — erroneous or defective
views of Divine truth :— either, for example, a want of
sufficiently clear and simple conceptions of the nature of
the gospel — of the unbounded riches, and absolute free-
* Luke xi. 9 — 13.


dom, of the grace whicli it reveals, and of the simplicity
of that faith by which sinners obtain an interest in its
blessings ; — or a want of extensive and properly digested
knowledge, confusion of ideas, contracted, partial, and
inconsistent views of the scheme of redemption, and of
the general system of revealed doctrine, by which a man
is necessarily exposed to be ^^ soon shaken in mind," and
consequently to perpetual fluctuation of feeling : — Or,
thirdly — departure from God, either in open, or in secret
sin; backsliding in life, or at least in heart; for there
may be a great deal of the latter, where, in the sight of
fellow-creatures, there is very little of the former. The
"joy of God's salvation" is a holy ^oy ; not to be found
in the ways of sin ; not to be experienced in " an evil
heart of unbelief, departing from the living God."

If we are destitute of Christian comfort and joy, it is, I
think, of essential importance to have the conviction deeply
impressed upon our minds, that the canse is in ourselves,
— entirely m ourselves. It is not God that withdraws
from us ; but we that withdraw from God. When we
have withdrawn, indeed, and by our backsliding deprived
ourselves of the " joy of tlie Lord," and of the light of his
countenance," he may make us to feel our folly and our sin,
by refraining for a time from restoring it. But still, let us
remember that the cause is in us : and that, in every in-
stance in which tlie effect does not arise from bodily or
mental disorder, the cause is, in its nature, criminal. Tlie
manner in which some have spoken and written respect-
ing the want of religious comfort, as arising from the
sovereign hidiyig of God^s countenance, while I am satis-
fied that it is not, at least in general, their intention, to
deny that there is a cause, and tliat that cause is sin in us,
has yet frequently appeared to me too much calculated to
produce and to foster an impression of a different kind ;
— to lead us, when in tiiis situation, or w hen we see oth-


ers in it, to look upon ourselves, or on our fellow-profes-
sors, rather as tried in the course of Divine providence,
than as decidedly " sinning against our own souls ;" —
and thus, in either case, to pitif, rather than to condemn."^
Nay, sometimes, (such is the deceitfulness of the human
heart) persons get hold of the notion, which has, perhaps,
been suggested to them by the inconsiderate compassion of
a well-meaning, but mistaken friend, that their doubts and
apprehensions are favourable symptoms of their spiritual
state ; and under the influence of a lurking, unavowed im-
pression of this nature, they cherish the melancholy, repel
the consolations of the gospel, arc proof against " the voice
of the charmer, charm he ever so wisely ;" — and, while
they exhaust upon themselves the whole vocabulary of re-
proachful epithets, their very complaints of themselves are
dictated by secret self-satisfaction, and are contributing to
its increase. In dealing with cases of this description, we
ought surely to be on our guard against any principle,
which tends to give ease to the mind in a state of unbe-
lief and departure from God ; which identifies dejection
and despair with the afflictive visitations of Providence ;
and which thus enables such persons, with plausible self-
deception, to maintain their good opinion of themselves
and of their state, by finding the cause of their doubts in
the sovereignty of God, rather than in their own sin.

As to men, who talk about religious melancholy^ — a
phrase of current use in the gay and thoughtless world,
they ^^ understand neither what they say, nor whereof
ihey affirm." They are naturally fond of the association
which the expression implies ; because it furnishes a plau-
sible and ready apology, for their unaifected horror at
whatever Avears, in the remotest degree, the aspect of en-
thusiasmf — the term by which they indiscriminately de-
signate all true piety and serious religion. But, in truth,
* See note N.


tlic phrase involves a contradiction. It is like speaking
of the darkness of noon-day. There is no melancholy in
religion ; — nor is there any religion in melancholy : — and,
where disease is not the cause of dejection, it is, in every
instance, not religion, but the want, or the deficiency of
religion, to Avliich the evil is justly to be ascribed.

To the whole of this doctrine of Divine influence, it has
been objected, that its tendency is, by leading us to de-
pend on supernatural aid, to slacken all exertion of our
own powers.

That the doctrine is capable of being so perverted and
abused, by ignorance, enthusiasm, or sloth, it is not ne-
cessary to deny. But wlienever it is rightly understood,
not only does the objection vanish, but the very contrary
appears to be the truth. It is quite enough to remind the
objector, that the Spirit of God operates hy means ; and
that these means it is our duty and our business, sedu-
lously and perseveringly to use. Our dependence on Di-
vine influence does not lessen our dependence on the em-
ployment of means : — for, in order to the production of
the effect, the means are as essential as the influence.
Were we left to our own unassisted efforts, a conscious-
ness of our insufficiency, confirmed by daily experience,
might well fill us with despair of success. And such de-
spair tends, more than any thing besides, to paralize the
nerves of active exertion. On the contrary, when we are
assured of Divine aid, we feel encouraged to use the ap-
pointed means v,\i\\ alacrity and diligence; because we
are supported and animated by the promise of present
success, and the blessed hope of a happy issue. It is on
this principle, accordingly, that the apostle Paul founds
his exhortation to spiritual activity : ^' Wherefore, my
beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence
only, but now much more in my absence ; work out your
own salvation with fear and trembling : for it is God that


worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleas-
ure."* This language clearly shows that in the mind of
the apostle the objection had no validity : — for the very
consideration, which the objector supposes must slacken
exertion, he, on the contrary, brings forward as a power-
ful stimulus to duty.

If it be so, that the operation of the Spirit accompanies,
and is proportioned to, our use of the means of spiritual
improvement ; it must be chiefly, I should think, by the
neglect of these means, that we incur the guilt of ^'^ quench-
ing the Spirit .-"f and more especially when to the neglect
of means we add the positive practice of any thing that
has an opposite tendency. *^ Quench not the Spirit," may
be considered as the counterpart to another exhortation,
addressed by the same apostle to Timothy, on a similar
subject : — " Wherefore I put thee in remembrance, that
thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the lay-
ing on of my hands. "J In the original language, these
words contain an allusion to the stirring up of a fire,§. to
make it burn with greater brightness and heat ; just as in
the other exhortation there is an allusion to the extinguish-
ing of a fire, II by failing to supply it with fuel,*[[ or by
the application of water, or any other quenching mate-
rial. Although the latter of these exhortations refers
to the miraculous gifts bestowed on the young evange-
list by the imposition of the apostle's hands, there ap-

* Phil. ii. 12, 13. 1 1 Thess. v. 19. t 2 Tim. i. 6.

1 That the word is applicable to this kind of ijidirect quenching.
— suffering to go out, — one instance may snffice to show. The fool-
ish virgins in the parable say to the wise : " Give us of your oil : for
our lamps are gone out ;" ot< at Xxi^TraSei iy.uv 2BENNTNTAI: where
the meaning is, not that they had actually quenched them, or j^nt them
out, but that they had allowed them, through carelessness. — throHa;h
want of oil and trimming, — to expire. Matth. xxv. 8.


pears to be no propriety in limiting to such gifts the ap.
plication of the former. Instead of -' quenching the Spir-
it," it is our duty, and will prove our liighest interest, to
cherish all his motions in our souls, and earnestly to seek,
that all the various means of spiritual advancement which
we use may he used under the impression of our depend-
ence on liis blessing, and may be seconded and rendered
cflectual !)y his holy energy.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of purity, and peace, and
love. Every thought of the mind, every emotion of the
heart, every word, and every action^ that is in any respect
contrary to these attributes, is represented as displeasing
and grieving to this Divine Agent : — and against all such
conduct we are admonished, by considerations of grati-
tude for the important benefits which we derive from Him ;
— benefits connected not only w ith our present security
and happiness, but with our eternal salvation : — " Ye
have not so learned Christ : if so be that ye have lieard
him, and have been tauglit by him, as the truth is in Jesus :
that ye put off concerning the former conversation, the old
man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts :
and be renewed in the spirit of your mind ; and that ye
put on the new man, which after God is created in right-
eousness, and true holiness. Wherefore, putting away
lying, speak every man truth w ith his neighbour : for we
are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not ;
let not tiie sun go down upon your wrath : neither give
place to the devil. Let him tliat stole, steal no more ;
but rather let him labour, working with his hands the
thing which is good, that he may liave to give to him that
needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of
your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying,
that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve
not the Holy Spirit of God, w liereby ye are sealed unto
ihe day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath,


and anger, and clamour, and evil- speaking, be put away
from you, with all malice : and be ye kind one to another,
tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for
Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore follow-
ers of God, as dear children ; and walk in love, as Christ
also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offer-
ing and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.''*
Examine, then, by the various tests of his presence and
operation, which I have thus, from the Scriptures, endeav-
oured to lay before you, — whether you " have the Spirit
of Christ." Had it not been my object to prove, from the
testimony of the word of God, the reality of his inward in-
fluences, as well as to point out \\\^\v nature and effects, —
I might, perhaps, have led you, for self-examination, to a
shorter process. This Holy Spirit is represented, both in
the Old and in the New Testament, as poured out, with-
out measure, on " the man Christ .Tesus." Now, the in-
fluence of this Spirit is the same in kind, although not in
degree, in his followers as in himself, — in the members, as
in the Head. He, therefore, who "has the Spirit of
Christ," will exhibit conformity to the character of Christ.
— Is there, then, any resemblance between you and the
Saviour ? Are you like him, in piety and devotion, — in re-
gard for the authority, and zeal for the glory of God ? —
Are you like him, in disinterested love and active benevo-
lence to men ? — to their bodies, — and still more to their
souls ? Are you like him, in purity, sincerity, temperance,
patience, self-denial, meekness, and humility ? — and in the
various other graces and virtues which adorned his per-
fect character ? Do you love to contemplate and study that
character, as the pattern which you are desirous to resem-
ble? Is the dissimilitude which you discover upon the
comparison, a ground of self-condemnation, and of un-
feigned grief? And is it your daily and earnest prayer to

* Eph. iv. 20 — 32. V. 1, 2.



God, that by his Spirit he would promote the icsemlilauce.
enabling you to ^' walk even as he walked ?'' Do you
evince the sincerity of this prayer by ^* striving against
sin," sedulously shunning every temptation, " keeping
yoiu' heart with all diligence," and in the uninterrupted
use of the appointed means of spiritual progress, ^* follow-
ing holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord ?'"
— These are fruits of the Spirit of Christ ; and, in pro-
portion to the degree in which they exist, evidences of
your being his. They are evidences of a practical and
unequivocal nature. Enthusiasts may pretend to such in-
ward consciousness of the Spirit's operation, as they can
distinguish from the ordinary feelings of the mind as cer-
tainly as the prophets were assured of their inspiration.
Pretensions of this sort have often brought great discredit
on the doctrine we have now been considering. Let us
rather judge ourselves, as the Scriptures seem to direct us,
by those holy effects in the character, which are there des-
cribed as the result of his enlightening and purifying in-
fluence. As the Spirit deals with men agreeably to the
principles of their rational nature, it is reasonable to ex-
pect, that the uinde of his inward operation should, in ma-
ny cases, be hardly distinguishable from the natural pro-
e;rcss, and various workings, of the human mind. But
mark the effects : — opposite as they are to the pride and
vanity, the im[»uri(y and m »)rldliness, of the human heart,
and to all the endless variety of its corruption ; — and in
these behold the proper and satisfactory indications of his
holy agency.

I am much inclined to be of opinion, that one thing,
which has tended in some degree to darken and perplex
the subject of Divine influence, has been, the imputing to
the agency of the Spirit certain feelings and states of mind,
and certain descriptions of conduct, in mitiival wen, for
which his agency docs not seem necessary to account. —


For example : — Is the influence of the Spirit at all neces-
sary, to account for that knowledge of the meaning of the
different propositions contained in the gospel testiraonyj
which is possessed by many, who have no spiritual under-
standing of its truth and excellence ? — Is such Divine in-
fluence necessary, to account for the alarm of conscience
which made the Roman Governor tremble before his pris-
oner, when he '^ reasoned of righteousness, temperance,
and judgment to come ?" — or for the pleasure and the par-
tial reformation of Herod when he listened to the faithful
admonitions of the Baptist ? — or for the half-persuasion of
Agrippa to become a Christian ? — I should think it is not.
All these, and many similar effects, may, without difficul-
ty, be accounted for, by the operation of principles which
are to be found, in all their force, in our fallen nature. I
should be disposed to lay it down as a principle on this
subject, that the agency of the Spirit ought not to be in-
troduced in any case, in which the effects prodased accord
with principles in our unrenewed nature ; that is, when
they are not inconsistent with that nature, and consequent-
ly require nothing beyond that nature satisfactorily to ac-
count for them. I may be in a mistake ; but I am not at
present aware that there are any actions, or states of mind,
ascribed in the Scriptures to unrenewed men, for which it
is not possible to account on principles merely natural,
without supposing the direct agency of the Spirit of God
on the mind to have had any share in their production.

God says to Noah, with regard to the antediluvian world
— '^* My spirit shall not alicays strive icith man.''^^ — May
not this expression be fairly interpreted as referring, not
to any direct internal operation of the Spirit of God, but
to his testifying to men their guilt and danger, warning,
instructing, and expostulating, by the ministry of Noah,
AA horn Peter designates " a jJveacher of ris;hteousnpss f^

* Gen. vi. o.


May not a similar interpretation be given of Stephen's
address to tlie Jewish council: — "Ye stiff-necked, and
uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the
Holy Ghost : as your fathers did, so do ye.'' It seems
evident from what he immediately adds, that their fathers,
to whom he compares tliem, resisted the Holy Ghost,
speaking in the prophets : — " which of the prophets have
not your fathers persecuted ? and they have slain them,
wlio showed before of the coming of the Just One.'' Is
it not, then, the same conduct of which he accuses the
chiUlren? — " resisting the Holy Ghost," not in any direct
inward operation on their minds — (for it is another and
very different Spirit that " w orketh in the children of dis-
obedience*') — but in all the convincing evidence arising
from his miraculous gifts, and from other sources, that
Christ and his apostles spoke under his influence.

AVith regard to the case of persons, who have seemed
for a timi' Jto " run well/' who have exhibited much of the
external appearance of genuine conversion, but who have
afterwards " gone back, and walked no more with Jesus,"
apostatizing from the truth, and from the ways of God ; —
whatever startling difficulties this case, in some of its more
striking varieties, may present to our minds, who cannot
" search the hearts and try the reins of the children of
men," it does not appear to me that facts of this descrip-
tion by any means disprove the correctness of the view,
which I am now i;iving. They only teach us, (and it is
a most important lesson) that there may l)e a very consid-
erable measure of outward appearance, deceiving to men,
who can look no further, who have so partial and limited
a view of the deceitfiilness of the heart, and of the endless
multiplicity of its delusive W(»rkinj:;s ; — while there is,
after all, a want of the inward reality ; — while " the heart
is not right with God^

On this subject, however — the operation of the Spirit


Oil the minds of the imregenerate, I wish to be understood
as speaking with diffidence ; as I am aware that many ex-
cellent and judicious men entertain sentiments respecting
it different from those which I have now stated.''*

I cannot take my leave of this subject, without again
entreating all present seriously to consider the solemn al-
ternative stated in the text. We must " have the Spirit
of Christ/' else we are " notie of his.'' 1 would beseech,
with peculiar earnestness, such as deny the existence and
influences of the Holy Spirit, to weigh what has been ad-
vanced with considerate attention, and humble candour.
For, if " the Spirit of Christ" in our text really refers to
the influences of that Divine person, whose Personality
and Divinity I formerly endeavoured to establish ; — it
then becomes a question of no trifling interest, whether it
be possible that they can " have the Spirit of Christ," who
deny entirely the reality and necessity of his operations,
and even his very existence ; and consequently, whether
they can be truly his,

I conclude by observing, that those prayers for Divine
influences, which occur so frequently in the New Testa-
ment, are at once a proof of their reality, a testimony to
their value, and an example of humble piety, which it well
becomes us to imitate. Let us, then, appropriate, and
make our own, the following supplications ; presenting
them to God for ourselves and for one another. "Where-
fore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus,
and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for
you, making mention of you in my prayers ; that the God
of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give
unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the know-
ledge of him : the eyes of your understanding being en-
lightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his call-
ing, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance iu
* Note O.


the saints.*- and what is the exceeding greatness of his
power to US-ward wiio believe, according to the working
of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when
lie raised liim from the dead and set him at his own right
hand :" — '* And the Lord make you to increase and
abound in love one towards another, and toward all, as
we do toward you : to the end he may stablish your hearts
unblameable in holiness, before God even o«ir Father, at
tlic coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all his saints :"
— ^* And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly : and
(I pray God) your whole spirit, and soul and body be
preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus
Christ :"' — '' The God of hope fill you m ith all joy and
])eacc in believing : that ye may abound in hope, through
the power of the Holy Ghost :" — "For this cause I bow
my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of
whom the whole family in heaven aud earth is named,
that he would grant you, according to the riches of his
glory, to be strengtiiened w ith might by his Spirit in the

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Online LibraryRalph WardlawDiscourses on the principal points of the Socinian controversy → online text (page 29 of 36)