W. D. (William Dool) Killen.

A reply to the Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Belfast, and Rev. William Dobbin, of Anaghlone, or, Revivalism, assurance, the witness of the spirit defended, in speeches delivered at the General Assembly, June 12, 1866 online

. (page 2 of 8)
Online LibraryW. D. (William Dool) KillenA reply to the Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Belfast, and Rev. William Dobbin, of Anaghlone, or, Revivalism, assurance, the witness of the spirit defended, in speeches delivered at the General Assembly, June 12, 1866 → online text (page 2 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

between the operations of his own mind and the operations on it by the Spirit
of God. The indwelling of the Spirit in the believer is a mystery which we
may never be able fully to explore ; and the connexion between the opera-
tions of the Spirit of God within us and the operations of our own spirit is
a connexion which it may be impossible for us to understand. But stiU we
may be satisfied of the general fact that we are under the influence of the
spirit of grace. And the very text adduced by Mr. Nelson, if I rightly under-
stood him, to establish a different conclusion, appears to me to prove precisely
the reverse — " The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound
thereof, but canst not teU whence it cometh and whither it goeth — so is every
man that is born of the Spu-it." John iii. 8. Had Mr. Nelson adduced these
words to prove that no one can thoroughly expound the philosophy of the
winds or the metaphysics of regeneration, I might have endorsed Ms argu-
ment ; but if quoted to show that no one can teU whither he is regenerated,
I must pronounce the commentary unsound and unscholarly. " The wind
bloweth where it listeth," Surely a man can tell that the wind is blowing.
He may not be able to point out the very moment when it begins to rise — and
the believer may be equally unable to fix on the exact date of his regeneration.
But surely we can tell when the wind shakes the forest and spreads desolation
all around. May we not also be prepared to declare that we have actually
experienced the great spiritual change called regeneration — ^that we have
passed from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God ?

I think it right to observe. Moderator, in conclusion, that the space assigned
to the subject of assurance in our Standards attests the importance attached to
it by the Westminster Divines. A whole chapter is devoted to its exposition
in the Confession of Faith. And no wonder : for it is one of the most precious
doctrines of evangelical Protestantism. If no man can be assmred of his
regeneration, Christianity must be a very different thing from what it is re-
presented to be in the New Testament. If we can have no assurance of grace
and salvation, where is the anchor of the soul sure and steadfast? How can
we realize the peace of God that passeth aU understanding ? How can we
rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory ? Mr. Nelson told us in his
address that times of trial are probably approaching, and that the scenes of
the Grassmarket may be soon renewed ; and he apparently suggested that,
under such cii-cumstances, none but men of his enlightened character can be
expected to be prepared for the ordeal. Moderator, I entertain very different
views. Should the times of persecution return, I confess, I expect nothing
from the mockers at Revivals and the eulogists of Benedict Spinoza. I ought
to know something of the character of the men who in times past have suf-
fered martyrdom ; and of this I can assure Mr. Nelson that they were not men
of dubious faith — that they were not men whose teaching was calculated to
engender infidelity — ^that they were not men who could not tell whether they
were in Christ or out of Chi-ist — that they were not men who were ashamed
to declare that they were pardoned sinners, redeemed by the blood of the
Prince of Life. They knew in whom they had believed. 'JTiey were strong
in faith giving glory to God. And thus it was that in presence of the fu'GS


of martyrdom they stood unappalled It was this assurance of salvation that •
enabled Luther to stand up against the world. It was this assurance of sal-
vation that enabled Calvin, at the peril of his life, to do battle with the Pope
and all his myrmidons. And it was this assurance of salvation that enabled
Paul to say, in the prospect of decapitation, — " I have fought a good fight, I
have finished my course. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid
up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall
give me at that day." I trust the day wiU never come when this doctrine of
assurance wiU be either made light of or rejected by our Irish Presbyterian


Rev. J. Macnaughtan said: —

MoDEBATOB, FATHERS, AND BRETHREN, — Let me entreat the Assembly
to remember that we have entered on the discussion of deep and delicate
questions in theology, that do very immediately concern the glory of the
Spirit, and that any symptom of approval or of disapprobation ought to be re-
strained, — for my part, I claim respectfully your prayerful attention, and
desire so to speak as not to grieve the Holy Spirit, nor offend the least of
Christ's little ones. Moderator, I cannot help feeling the immense respon-
sibility I incur by taking part in this discussion, and the important issues
that are at stake, dependant on your sustaining or reversing the finding of
the Commission. It is not now a question as between Mr. Dobbin and Mr.
Crawford. You have not to determine if either of these two ministers is
correct in his interpretation of Bible truth as exhibited in the Standards of
this church ; — a broader issue than that has been raised ; the divergence in
sentiment is between the appellants and the Commission ; you have here on
the one side Dr. Cooke, Dr. Mm-phy, Dr. Killen, Dr. Watts, Mr. Bentoul, Mr.
Moore, Mr. Eobinson, and myself, with other ministers, whose outspoken
and pubKshed sentiments are before the church ; and on the other, you have
Messrs. Dobbin and Nelson. The question is, which of these two
parties holds orthodox sentiments, and is the defender of the faith, as set
forth in our Confession and Catechism; if you sustain the finding of this
Commission, you sustain our views of the truth, and pronounce on the errorism
of the appellants ; if you agree with them, you ought to place us at your bar
and deal with us as having departed from the truth of God. Sir, it will be a
startling spectacle to all this church, when we are arraigned for having
deserted the Standard, and allowed its goodly folds to be draggled in the
mire, while these two are honoured for the fidelity and courage with which they
have raised the banner, and floated it again in the pure light of heaven.
Such a result is, no doubt, within the limits of the barest possibility, but far
beyond the range of human probability. I wiU not believe that this church
wiU elect these appellants, as their Gamaliels and consent to sit at their feet.
If it were so, it would be to me the strangest commentary that has ever been
furnished on the texts, that " Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God
can perfect praise," and that He sometimes "chooses the weak things of the
world to confound the mighty — and things that are not, to bring to nought
the things that are."

Sir, I will not allow myself to follow the person who spoke on Friday, in
his personal allusions, I have too much respect for myself, and too much re-
gard for this venerable Assembly to do so. He may think of me what he likes,
and find it easier to abuse men than to answer their arguments. It is a small
thing for me to be judged of his judgment. I may be taunted as a stranger,
and a foreigner, but what of that ? if I am not a stranger to the covenant of


promise, and have not acted as a stranger as regards the interest of this church.
If it were necessary, I could say, in the presence of my brethren, that I have
at least given as largely of my means, and of my energies, for advancing the hon-
oiir and the interest of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland as the appellants
have done. Moderator, a very transparent, though studied, effort has been made
to raise a false issue in the case by discussing the Revival of 1859. It is as-
sumed that it is an open question, whether the great work connected with
that memorable year, was a work of grace or a grand delusion ? That, sir, is
no open question in this Assembly. It is not a subject in which the chm-ch,
as such, has given forth no judgment and pronounced no opinion. Sir, this
Assembly has spoken out repeatedly and emphatically on that whole question.
And it is not now at the end of seven years that this church will permit any
one irregularly to introduce his delusions to the Assembly, and endeavour
to get at a finding, which, if sought at aU, must be sought in a more open and
regular method of an overture, asking the church to alter her sentiments,
and recall her resolutions. Is any one in this house ignorant of what the
opinions of the Assembly are on the subject of the Revival in 1859 — I assume
that the appellants are, I will therefore refresh their memories. In 1859 the
Assembly adopted the following resolutions : —

1. That we desire to express profound thankfulness to God, that it has
pleased Him to pour out His Spirit on so many of our congregations ; and
that we recognize, with reverence and awe, and, at the same time, with inex-
pressible joy, that sovereign and infinite grace, which, notwithstanding our
many shortcomings, has bestowed on us such evident and abundant tokens of
of the Divine favour.

2. That in the new and unprecedentedly solemn circumstances in which
the church is placed, we deeply feel the need of being directed by wisdom
from on high ; and would therefore now caU on Him who giveth liberally and
upbraideth not, to bestow the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound
mind, that we may know what we ought to do in this time of special visi-

3. That, while the Assembly leaves to ministers to deal in Christian wis-
dom with individual cases as they arise, the brethren are earnestly reminded
of the necessity of guarding, on the one hand, against cherishing imdue sus-
picions of the reality of the work of the Holy Spirit ; and on the other, of
adopting any course of procedure whereby our people may be led to mistake
bodily impressions, or even convictions of sin, for genuine conversion to

4. That, whilst gladly recognizing as one of the most marked evidences of
of the genuineness of this work, the fact stated by all the brethren, that it
has been originated and promoted by means of that system of saving truth
set forth in the Standards of the church, we would earnestly entreat all our
ministers and members to watch against the introduction from any quarter,
of error in doctrine or practice, lest Satan should get an advantage over us,
and the Spirit of Truth be provoked to withdraw.

Moderator, I certainly did expect after all the parade and proclamation about
literary taste and Theological study, that we would have had some clear defini-
tion of saving faith, and some attempt at close reasoning, to prove that there
is no indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer, in the sense
maintained by the Commission, but I waited for that in vain. It seemed to
me that if a Theologian approached the question before the house, he would
probably consider first. What saving faith is, and involves; secondly. To what
height of confidence it may risein the experienceof some Christians, and if to the
fulness of assurance; and thirdly. What are the varied evidences on which the
assurance of a personal interest in Christ may rest, and whether the witness of
the Spirit with om* spirits that we are the sons of God, is, or may be, a distinct
evidence. Sir, we have had a somewhat extraordinary definition of faith, and
it was almost the only word of theology in the speech of Friday. Faith, we
were told, is the mental link that unites the soul to the Saviour, and that it
does not properly embrace a single element of personal safety. Is that the


teaching of the Standards of this church ? Is it the teaching of the chxircheg
of Christ? Is it the teaching of the Spirit of God in His Holy Word? I
afiirm that it is not ; and that the man who says it, holds heretical opinions.
Saving faith is not a mere mental act by which we receive and admit a pre-
cise truth, it involves, as an essential element, the heart's resting and relying
on that truth as bearing on the salvation of the soul ; indeed, as we shall see
immediately, the grand object of saving faith is not a truth, but the person
of the Lord Jesus, and the act of it is trusting to Him for our individual sal-
vation. This has been the sentiment and definition of all sound Theologians,
and it is not to be set aside by such crudities as have been uttered by the

Let us listen for a moment to the voice of the church of God on this ques-
tion : — Eobert Bruce, a father of the Scottish Eef ormation, who wrote a
treatise on the way to true peace, warns men against a " general faith,"
and says, " it is Popery, for the Papist dares not apply the promise of mercy
to his own soul, he accounts it presumption to say, * I am justified and saved,'
but true faith rests specially on the mercy of God in Christ, and especially
on the promise of mercy and grace in Jesus." John Knox says, " If thou
wouldest test thy faith, ask, ' Dost thou beheve that Christ will deliver thy
soul, and that He will do it according to His promise.' " What is faith ? is the
33rd question in Beza's Catechism. The answer is, "Not simply that know-
ledge which is common to the Devils themselves, but a firm assent accompanying
that knowledge, whereby a person pecuHarly applies to himself the promise of
eternal life in Christ, even as confidently as if he were already possessed of it."
In James Melville's Catechism, we have the question — "What is thy faith?" —
" My sure belief that God both may and will save me in the blood of Jesus
Christ, because He is almighty, and hath promised to do so." In Adamson's
Catechism, printed in 1627, it is asked what is faith ? "It is a true and certain
knowledge of God in Christ, with an assurance of getting salvation by Him.
In Dod and Cleaver's Catechism — What is faith ? "A persuasion of the favour
of God towards me in Christ Jesus." In Dr. Owen's Catechism — What is justi-
fying faith ? "A gracious resting on the free promises of God in Christ for
mercy, with a firm persuasion of heart that God is a reconciled God to us in
the Son of His love." In the Compend of tlie Christian Eeligion, issued by the
Dutch Church, it is asked, ^Tiat is faith ? — "A sure knowledge of God, and
of the promises revealed to us in the Gospel, and a hearty confidence that
all my sins are forgiven me for Christ's sake." In the Confession of Faith,
chap, xiv., it is said, — " The principle acts of saving faith are, accepting, re-
ceiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and
eternal Hfe, by virtue of the covenant of grace." And the same thing is re-
peated in the Shorter and Larger Catechisms, so that, by consent of the
churches of Christ, saving faith is an act of trust, not in a mere truth, but in
a revealed person, that person the Savioiir of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ.
A trust which the great majority of the Eeformers have associated with the
act and element of appropriation. Yea more, fhe question which the first
preachers of Christianity addressed to their hearers was, " Do you believe on
the Lord Jesus Christ ?" And only he who answered in the affii-mative
was for that time held to be a Christian. Yes, not a truth alone, but Jesus
Chi-ist is the object of faith. Without this aU is hoUow, cold, speculative —
Christ must be our trust. Christ made of God unto us wisdom and righteous-
ness, sanctification and redemption. Hence the language of the written word, —
Look unto me, — Come unto me, — Ye believe in God believe also in me — To as
many as received Him to them gave He power to become the sons of God.
Nor is this position in the least weakened by the fact, that the intense anx-
iety of an awakened soul does not, in the first instance, centre so much on the
person of the Eedeemer as on the offer of pardon that is secured by His blood.
For Clu-ist's work is largely the manifestation of pardon secured for the
sinner, and guaranteed to every soul that is united to that Saviour.

I think. Moderator, we are now prepared to look at the second question — viz..
To what height may this confidence of faith rise ? and does it not warrant


the infallible assurance on the part of a believer in this world, that he is
savingly iinited to Christ — has his sins pardoned, and is an heir of eternal
life? This is a deeply important part of this interesting question, and
involves considerations that affect the glory of God, and the comf oi-t of his re-
deemed. To understate or exaggerate the truth regarding it might preach a
false peace to tmredeemed souls, or might spread a cloud of doubt over trusting
spirits entitled to be rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory. But,
Moderator, the question with us, in tliis debate, is a somewhat narrowed one,
it is limited to the enquiry. What do the Standards affirm on the question ?
Nor is there any difficulty in perceiving the positions occupied in relation
to this question by Mr. Crawford and the Commission, and by Mr. Dobbin
and his one supporter. That position is marked and defined by Mr. Dobbin's
question and answer — " Is it competent to any man certainly to know that
he is regenerated ? I unhesitatingly answer. It is not. And again, judging
from the evidence that can be suppUed, and from the nature of the human
mind, no man can justly affirm that he is regenerated, and that his sins are
forgiven ; and again. If any man assert that he knows assuredly that his
sins are forgiven, we reply. My friend, you are proclaiming a certainty
which the natui-e of the case does not admit of." The Comj)ilers of the Con-
fession of Faith undoubtedly gave the doctrine of assurance a larger place in
their system of theology than Mr. Dobbin does, and held opinions in my
judgment inconsistent with his reckless assertions. The entire 18th chap, of
the Confession of Faith, is devoted to the doctrine of the assurance of grace
and salvation. And in the first section, it is affirmed, — " That such as truly

believe on the Lord Jesus, may in this life be certainly assiired that

they are in the state of grace." What does this state of grace mean ? An
unrenewed, or a regenerate condition ? The darkness and the death of sin,
or the light and Hf e of a pardoned estate ? Surely not the former, but the
latter, — Yet this disputant, who entered court to convict a brother of heresy,
on this very question asserts that no man can justly affirm that he is regener-
ated, and that his sins are forgiven — ^while this Confession, which he has sub-
scribed as the declaration of his faith, maintains that a believer may in this
life be certainly assured that he is in a state of grace. Nor is that all,
for the next section is in these terms : — " This certainty is not a bare con-
jectural or probable persuasion, grounded upon a faUiblehope ; but sua. infall-
ible assurance of faith," &c., &c. And again in the Larger Catechism, quest.
80 — " Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of
grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation ?" And the

answer : — " Such as truly beheve may be infallihhj assured that they

are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation." This,
Moderator, is the teaching of the Church, to my mind so clear and conclusive,
that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. I confess. Mod-
erator, I do not understand in what clearer, or more distinct and forcible way
the Compilers of our Standards could have taught the doctrines, that a man
may in this life assuredly know that he is a child of God, — that his sins are
forgiven, — that he is now regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, — and
through the power of grace is indeed a new creature.

Moderator, I know it is quite easy to appear to be very learned and
very metaphysical, about the kinds of evidence that are suited to the
nature of the human mind, and to get into a maze about the word
infallible. Sir, the word is not ours, it is the word selected, and X
think advisedly, by the Westminster Divines. Shallower thinkers confound
it with the absolute and the immutable, as pertaining to other depart-
ments of human knowledge. It is not the kind of confidence that
is arrived at as the result of mathematical demonstration. That never
alters, and is not dependant on our varying experiences, for, from the nature
of assurance, it has its limitation, because our rehgious knowledge is not
intuitive but largely inferential, and because adapted to our condition as pro-
bationary. Our sky may at one time be serene and clear, without any vapour
to intercept the glory of the risen sun ; and at another be overcast with clouds.


and all the brightness and warmth of the sunshine be unseen and unfelt.
The absolutely perfect and unchanging is reserved for the land where the sun
shall no more be clouded, for the Lord is the glory, and the Lamb the light
thereof. There, in the pure empyrean, the redeemed shall dwell with the Lord
andthefact of their eternal union with Emmanuel, be as clear and as immutable
as the light of that glory, which constitutes the splendour of the paradise of

But withal, and notwithstanding this abatemert.., a believer may here know
that he is in a state of grace, and know it infallibly that he is reconciled to
God, that he is the Lord's, and so safe — safe for eternity. Still let us remember
the distinction between perfect certainty and certainty which, from the
nature of things, is necessarily incomplete. Perfect certainty is where a thing
is so known that it cannot be better known, so know that the mind can
never, under any circumstance, be made more certain of its reality. Such cer-
tainty is not possible in this world, perhaps not even in the next, at all events
it can only exist among creatures absolutely perfect, and constantly in a
condition of absolute perfectness. But to return to our argument.

This is a blessed truth which, I am persuaded, the church will never part
with ! It was this assurance that gave strength and triumph to the old
warriors of the cross in martyr times — it is this assurance that still casts
a wondrous sublimity around the death scenes of pious souls, lifting them
above all fears of the grave, — ^because they can say, "We know in whom we
have believed, and are persuaded that He is able to keep what we have com-
mitted to His charge against that day."

Sir, there is one point more connected with this department of the subject,
that I must refer to — viz., the connexion between faith and assurance
as alluded to in the finding of the Commission, we say that assurance
is not of the esssence of faith ; and on this point, I admit that some of Mr.
Crawford's expressions were not sufficiently guarded. But that is not much
to be wondered at, when we consider that many even of the Reformers seem
to have confounded what is called the assurance of sense, with the assmrance
of faith, — ^that is, the persuasion that we are indeed in a state of grace, with
the persuasion that God is true when He offers us salvation, and that there-
fore we may warrantably close with His offer. And if Mr. Dobbin, instead of
charging Mr. Crawford with Arminianism, Antinomianism, and I dont know
how many isms, had complained of some inconsiderate expressions, whatever
we might have thought of his taste, and of his temper, we would have been
forced, to some extent, to agree with him, and sustain his objection. Sir, we
have affirmed in our finding, that assurance is not of the essence of faith,
meaning thereby that a man may be a true believer in the Lord Jesus, and yet
not be a partaker of this blessing, and may wait long before he obtains it. Yea,
that after he has attained to a full and infallible assurance of faith, he may,
by falling into some special sin, by wounding his conscience, or grieving the
Holy Spirit of God, lose for a time his clear sense of the special love of God,
and yet the principle and grace of faith may still abide in his soul. We be-
lieve, sir, that that is the doctrine both of Scripture and of our Standards.

Assurance is not a grace separate and distinct from faith, as hope, and
love, and repentance are. It is faith itself in its full developement, faith
risen up to its altitude of sublimity, the rich and ripened cluster that
tells what fruit the flower of faith produces ; and therefore something to be
aimed at, sought for, expected, waited for by every follower of Christ.
I am amazed, sir, beyond masure, to hear it questioned that a believer wovQd
be warranted in saying, " My sins are pardoned," — " My beloved is mine and

2 4 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryW. D. (William Dool) KillenA reply to the Rev. Isaac Nelson, of Belfast, and Rev. William Dobbin, of Anaghlone, or, Revivalism, assurance, the witness of the spirit defended, in speeches delivered at the General Assembly, June 12, 1866 → online text (page 2 of 8)