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

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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 4 of 8)
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lish would put upon this section, if he were to enter upon the study of it
unembarrassed by theories. So far as the syntax of the sentence is concerned,
there is no authority whatever, for regarding the thii-d clause in this enumera-
tion as exegetical of the second. And further,, he who makes the third
exegetical of the second" must, if he will be consistent, make the second exe-
getical of the first. This, as predicted, Mr. Dobbin has done. He has reduced
the three clauses to one, and tells you to-day, that there is but one ground erf
assurance !

Mb. Dobbin — I beg your pardon.

Moderator — You wiU be heard again, but dont interrupt now.

Mr. Dobbin — A word of explanation.

Dr. Watts — I hope you will allow him to explain.

Mr. Dobbin — What I said was that, to a true behever in Christ who is not
assured, there is only one ground of assurance, and that is contained in the
second clause of the Larger Catechism.

Dr. Watts— Will the Assembly take note of that explanation? I had
chai'ged Mr. Dobbin v/ith the reduction of the three grounds of assurance to
one. He interrupted me in order to explain. Well, what is his explanation ?
It is simply a confirmation of my charge. To a true believer, who is not
assured, he tells us there is but one ground of assurance. To the true be-
liever ! Why, who was speaking of any other kind of believers ? Is not the
believer distinguished, in the context from hypodites and other unregenerate
persons ? We are speaking of the true behever, and of the true behever' s
grounds of assurance, and, with the Westminster Divines, I say that these
grounds are the three ah-eady enumerated.

But we are told that in attempting to interpret the language of the Con-
fession on tliis subject, we should be guided by, or at least take into account,
the works of contemporary writers. With this principle I entirely agree j
and I simply ask, to what contemporary authorities shall our appeal be made ?
Mr. Macnaughtan has already given us names of high repute, and quoted from
works of the very highest ecclesiastical authority in proof of our interpre-
tation. There is, however, an authority above all these — an authority to which
tills Assembly will bow~to which I would briefly ask your attention. That
authority is the Larger Catechism— a document compiled for the express


purpose of interpreting the Confession of Faith. On turning to this author-
itative exposition, there are two questions present themselves. 1. Is the
subject in question expounded in the Catechism ? 2. Do tl^e Westminster
Divines specify three distinct grounds of assurance ? Both of these questions
I answer in the aifirmative. I will read for you the answer to the 80th question :
" Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavoiu* to walk in all good consci-
ence before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded
upon the truth of God's promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern
in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, and bear-
ing witness with their spuits that they are the childien of God, be infallibly
assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto

Now let it be observed that this language is designed to be expository of
the language of the Confession already cited, chap, xviii., sec. 2. It is
this fact wluch gives to it peculiar weight and significancy in this controversy.
In this answer the Westminster Divines tell us, more fully and expressely,
what they embraced in the grounds of assurance as specified in the Con-
fession. In this exposition, however, we have still three grounds enumerated.
We have, 1. The objective truth. 2. Tho subjective state. 3. The testi-
mony of the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirits. Will the appel-
lants try the alchemy of theu-pecuhar exegesis on these three clauses, and reduce
them to one, as they have essayed to do with the three clauses of the Con-
fession ? I Apprehend there ai'e two very grave diffictdties in the way of such
an achievement. In the first place, the peculiar wording of the second clause
of the Catechism is against them. If the brethren will turn to the Confession
and compare the three clauses there enumerated, with the three clauses given
in the Catechism, they will find that the middle clause of the Catechism differs
from the middle clause of the Confession. Now I ask you to observe closely
wherein the difference consists. The second clause of the Catechism intro-
duces a subjective operation of the Holy Spirit, whereby He enables the be-
liever to discern in himself those graces to which the promises of life are
made. This, as you are 3,ware, is exactly what the appellants say the second
and tliird clauses of the Confession taken together mean. The operation of the
Holy Spirit in opening the eyes of the believer to apprehend the gracious work
wrought within, is the only operation or testimony which they will allow. All
that they hold, therefore, in regard to the Spirit's testimony, is embraced in
the second clause of the Catechism. When the Westminster Divines penned
that second clause they had exhausted the theology of our appellants on the
testimony of the Holy Spirit. It is manifest, however, that they had not
exhausted their own. After writing that second clause, in which they teach
that the Holy Spirit does enable the believer to examine himself, they go still
farther and specify in a third clause, a third ground of assurance. Having
told us that true believers may be inf aUibly assiu*ed of their being in the
estate of grace and of their persevering therein unto salvation, " by faith
grounded on the truth of God's promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to
discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made,"
they still add, "and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the
children of God." Now, I ask, is it possible that such a body of men, as the
Westminster Divines confessedly were, would be giiilty of such tautology ?
Would they in the third clause state over again, what they had already, and
with such precision of phrase, stated in the second ? Nay, verily. They were
men accustomed to discriminate, and when they singled out and distinguished
the testimony and witness-bearing of the Holy Sph-it as a third element in
their enumeration of the grounds of assm-ance, they meant that it should be
so regarded.

But the Catechism differs from the Confession in another important particu-
lar. In the Confession the word and is not used between the clauses, whilst
in the Catechism it is introduced both between the first and second, and be-
tween the second and thu-d. On this fact I base an argument the force of
which Mr. Dobbin will feel, as he has unwittingly conceded the principle on


which it is founded. In his second pamphlet entitled, " A Letter/' &c., p. 2&,
he argues as follows : —

" 2. What say the Standards of the Presbyterian Church ? Hear the Con-
fession of Faith, chap, xviii. 2 —

" Assurance of Faith, founded upon the Divine truth of the promises of sal-
vation — the inward evidence of these graces to which the promises are made,
the testimony of the Spu-it of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we
are the childi-en of God."

" The Westminster Divines saw their way too clearly to put an " and " be-
tween the Spirit's graces, the Spirit's work, and the Spirit's testimony to our
adoption. These are not two things, they are one and the same. The Cate-
chism, cap. 2, q. 80, speaks the same language : — ' Such as truly believe, may
be infallibly assured, by faith grounded on the truth of God's promises, and
by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the
promises are made, and hearing witness with their spirit, that they are the
children of God,' — i.e., enabling them to discern in themselves the graces of
the Spirit, and thus * bearing witness.' The Spirit's work and the Spirit's
witness are not two things, but one. This indenture witnesseth."

Here we are told that " The Westminster Divines saw their way too clearly
to put an " and " between the Spu-it's graces — the Spirit's work, and the
Spirit's testimony to our adoption." In making this statement, Mr. Dobbin
evidently regards it as an ai-gument in favour of his views, that the West-
minster Divines do not put an " and " between the clauses, and as mani-
festly concedes that it would be an argument against him if they had put in
that little word. Well then, the argument is narrowed down by this con-
cession to a question of fact. The question is simply this, — Did the West-
minster Divines put in the word "and" between these clauses ? Mr. Dobbin
says, they saw their way too clearly to put an " and" between the Spirit's
work and the Spirit's testimony, whilst we affirm that they have put an "and"
in this very position. This Mr. Dobbin denies, and this we affirm, and, if
we may become appellants, we appeal to the Larger Catechism. Why it
would seem as if some strange fatality or infatuation had ruled the hour in
which Mr. Dobbin acknowledged that the use of an " and " would be fatal
to his argument ; for immediately after he had quoted the Confession, in
which the " and " is not used, he cites the Catechism where the " and " is
used — cites the Catechism " and " and all ! In view of this concession, then,
I contend that Mr. Dobbin is bound to confess before this Assembly that
our Standards are against him, and that they do, according to his own show-
ing, teach that there is a third ground of assm-ance — the distinct and
direct testimony of the Holy Spirit.

But the question with me, is not simply whether our Standards teach
that there is a third ground of assurance, consisting of the direct testimony
of the Holy Spirit to our adoption ? This is an important question but,
it is not the only one, to be considered. We must recognise the authority of
God's Word, as ultimate and final in tliis, as in all other matters of faith and
practice. In this, I am glad to find the appellants agree with us. Mr.
Dobbin, in his speech appealed to Scripture, and quoted the following pas-
sages to prove, among other things, that there is no such element in the
grounds of the believer's assurance as the direct testimony of the Holy Spirit.
" Wherefore the rather, brethi-en, give all diligence to make your calling and
election sure." — 2 Peter i. 10. " We know that we have passed from death
unto life, because we love the brethren." — 1 John iii. 14. " And we desire
that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of
hope unto the end." — Heb. vi. 11. These passages Mr. Dobbin alleges are
the passages chiefly relied on by the advocates of an assurance which is cer-
tain and infallible, and yet, he tells us, they say nothing of the testimony of
the Holy Spirit as a distinct ground of assurance, WeU, Mr. Moderator, this
is reaUy too bad. He sets out to prove from Scripture, that there is no other
ground recognised, as the basis of the believer's assm-ance, than the subjec-
tive graces wrought by the Holy Spirit, and quotes and criticises three or

four texts which no one ever employed in proof of the direct testimony of the
Holy Spii'it. The doctrine, forsooth, is not taught in these passages, and
therefore it is taught nowhere ! Why, sir, a man might as well claim that
he had vanquished the British army because he had fired a pop-gun at three
British soldiers.

I would now beg leave to introduce to your attention a few of those
passages on which the advocates of the direct testimony of the Holy Spii-it do
rely. The first, I would mention, is Eom. v. 5: "And hope maketh not
ashamed ; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy
Ghost which is given unto us." The whole preceding context is so thoroughly
opposed to the anti-revivalists that the Assembly will bear with me whUe
I quote it in its entirety. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have" —
have what? — "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." When?
When have we, or when is it our privilege to have, this peace ? Is it after a
month or a year, or the present life ? Nay verily. It is a peace consequent
on, and immediately consequent on, justification. " Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Did the revivalists
teach anything more in conflict with the doctrine of the appellants, as set
forth in their attack on Mr. Crawford, than is here taught by the Apostle
Paul ? They said a man might have peace at once, and the Apostle says the
same thing.

But this is not all. The believer has higher privileges than mere peace.
He has access into a grace wherein he stands and rejoices in hope of the
glory of God. This is not the dubious emotion of the theology of the
appellants. The hope is a hope that thriUs with ecstasy, and causes the
believer to shout for joy.

And further, so confident is the believer that he can meet the trials of this
present life in their direst forms, without giving way to despondency.
Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope.
Afflictions do not subvert his confidence, but on the contrary strengthen
that grace.

Thus far the passage introduces only the first and second grounds of
assurance. At this point, however, the third element appears. Having
spoken of the believer's hope, consequent upon his reconciliation with God
in justification, and of the effect of that hope upon the believer during
affliction, and of the reflex influence of affliction upon the hope, the Apostle
adds: — "And hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed
abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us." Now I
admit that if the love of God here referred to, be not God's love towards us,
I have no right to quote the passage in proof of the direct testimony of the
Holy Spirit. If it mean om* love to God, then the passage can not be cited
as a proof -text by us. But the subsequent context proves that our interpre-
tation is the true one. The love in question is the love illustrated in the
gift and sacrifice of Christ. It is His love towards us which God com-
mendeth by the suffering of His Son for us, even when we were without
strength, when we were ungodly, when we were enemies This is the love
which the Holy Spirit sheds abroad in om- hearts. The love in question,
therefore, is not a subjective affection, produced in the soul by the agency
of the Holy Ghost, but the love which God himself cherishes towards us.
Of this love, as entertained towards us by God, the Holy Spirit assures us.
The persuasion that God loves us is produced, according to the teaching of
this text, by the immediate and direct agency of the Spii-it of God given unto
us. , This passage, therefore, ought not to have been overlooked by the appel-

The next text to which I would call attention is Eom. viii. 16 — " The Spirit
itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the chUdi*en of God." To
this passage Mr. Dobbin has given some attention in one of his pamphlets.
In " A Letter," p. 25, Mr. Dobbin asks, " What is the meaning of this Scrip-
ture ?" and proceeds to expound it. By a most unwai-rantable reference of
the relative auto to the preceding context, he eudeavoui-s to show that the

spirit which the Apostle represents as bearing witness with our spirit, is not
the Holy Spirit, but the filial spii-it within us. T need not tell this Assembly
* that such a reference of auto is contrary to Greek usage, or vindicate, before
this body, the translation given in our English Version. " The Spirit itself
beareth witness with our spu-it that we are the children of God," is the only
rendering which the original will admit. Now that this witnessing Spirit, is
the Holy Spirit, appears from the following considerations : —

1. The scope of the previous context. It is admitted on all hands that the
Apostle has just been speaking of those filial affections of which the Holy
Spirit is the author. If, therefore, it can be "proven that in this verse there
is evidence of the introduction of a new source of assm*ancc, it must follow
that this new som*ce is distinct from, and additional to the evidence furnished
by those filial affections of which the Apostle had just been speaking.

2. Now this evidence of a change of subject we contend, is given in the in-
troductory words of the 16th verse. Such is manifestly the proper force of
the phi-ase "the Spirit itself." The Apostle does not simply say the Spirit,
but the Spirit itself, beareth witness, &c. The term itself, expresses the inde-
pendence of the testimony ascribed to the Spirit. The obvious intention,
therefore, is to distinguish the testimony which he proceeds to describe, from
the evidence already adduced. This new testimony, therefore, whatever the
natiu-e of it is, must be distinct from that f m*nished by our own filial affections
of which the Holy Spirit is the author.

3. This view is confirmed by the manifest distinction between the Spii-it
itseK and our spirit, in this verse. By the former is meant the Holy Spirit,
and by the latter, the soul of the believer as the subject of the filial affec-
tions previously described. The inference, therefore, seems to be clear, that
the Spirit, in the following testimony and act of testifying, is to be dis-
tinguished from our own spirits as the subject of these affections. His testi-
mony is to be regarded as distinct from that fm-nished by our own affections
as sons.

4. The conclusion to which we are led by aU these considerations, is con-
firmed by the term employed to express the method in which the Spirit itself
renders this testimony. It is the term summarturei. The proper force of this
term, as distinguished from the simple form of the verb, is to express the idea of
a concm-rent testimony. It is to give testimony which agrees with that given
by some other witness. In the trial of our Saviour, the lack of this concurrence,
rendered a verdict based on the testimony of the suborned witnesses im-
practicable, as the Jewish law requu-ed the concurrent testimony of at least
two witnesses. In regard to the sonship of the believer, however, there is a
concurrent testimony. Not only does his own filial affections towards God
prove that he is His child, but the Holy Spirit himself adds His own inde-
pendent witness to the truth of this subjective ^;estimony. The testimony,
therefore, on which the believer's assurance of his adoption rests, is not simply
his own filial feelings, but those attested by the direct witness of the Holy
Spirit. His assurance, therefore, is not merely rational, or conjectural, but in-
fallible, for it is founded ultimately on the witness of Him who cannot err,
and who cannot lie. Some men may call this fanaticism, or what they please.
I care not for that. They may call upon me to show how the Holy Spirit
can testify directly to the soul and immediately assiu-e the believer that he
is a child of God. I candidly acknowledge my inability to meet the demand.
But does it follow, because we cannot tell how the Spii'it does a thing, that
therefore He does not do it ? I cannot tell how the Spirit regenerates
the soul, I cannot tell how He sanctifies it, I cannot tell how He carries on
the intercession within, I cannot tell how he does anything.* Does my

* I may be permitted to state, as a matter of interest to the brethren, that in a letter received
from Dr. Ilodge on this deeply interesting subject, he employs the phrase "personal intercourse"
to indicate his views as to the way in which the Ilqly Spirit bears witness with the spirit of the
believer. I need not sav that the Scriptures warrant the use of this phrase, by what they teach of
the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, nor delay to argue that, by an intercourse which embraces com-
munion with the soul throughout the entire range of its i)owers, the God who created it, can assure
it of His love towards it. It is no argument against this doctrine to allege that the presence of the

ignorance warrant a universal scepticism ? I say this, Mr. Moderator, that
on the ground taken by the appellants, in regard to the testimony of the
Holy Spirit, there can be no such thing as the saving faith described in our
Standai-ds. That faith which saves the soid — that faith which is the faith
of God's elect, rests ultimately and finally, on the direct testimony of the
Holy Ghost.

This I consider a vital point with Protestants as against Romanists, and a
vital principle in the application of the purchased redemption. That the doc-
trine I propound is the doctrine of the Westminster Divines is Tuiquestionable,
I refer the Assembly to chap, i., sec. 5, of the Confession. "We may be
moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverend
esteem of the Holy Scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy
of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the pai-ts, the
scope of the whole, (which is to give all glory to God,) the full discovery it
makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable ex-
cellencies, and the entire perfection thereof , are arguments whereby it doth
abundantly evidexice itself to b3 the Word of God ; yet nohvithstaiiding our full
persuasion and assurance of tlie infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is
from, the inward tvorh of the Holy Spirit, hearing witness by and with the word in
our hearts." Now let it be observed that the Westminster Divines are not
here speaking of the assurance of our adoption, but of the assurance which
a man must have regarding the divine authority of the Scriptures from the
very moment in which he first believes. This assurance they ascribe to the
testimony of the Holy Ghost. It is manifest, therefore, that the testimony
on which it rests, is a dii'ect and immediate testimony prior to sanctification.
This is the faith described in oui- Standards. It is not the offspring of verbal
criticisms and m.ental analysis, birt a faith which rests on the dli-ect testimony
of God's Spirit. He who has this faith, has a faith that stands, not in the
wisdom of man, but in the power of God.

And this leads me to remark that the appellants seem to have a very
confused notion of saving faith, Mr. Nelson recommended to the members
of Assembly a very learned work on this subject, by a very learned man, the
Bishop of Ossory. I would endorse that recommendation and extend it to
Mr. Nelson himself. If we are to judge from the acquaintance with its con-
tents, manifested in his citation of it, there would seem to be some ground
for an extension of the recommendation. Mr. Nelson attempted to give us
the Bishop's definition of faith. I took down the words carefully. They
were as follows : — " Faith in God thi-ough Christ is the mental link which
unites the soul to Christ." WeU, I have here the book in question and shall
read from Dr. O'Brien's definition in his own words. " Faith in Christ, or
faith in God through Christ," says the good Bishop, " is trust in Christ, as
the procTU'cr of salvation for Christ's sake." Ser. 1. p. 17. The Bishop then
quotes Matthew vi. 30; Luke xii. 28; Mark iv. 40; Matthew xiv. 25 — 31 j
and refers to the definition and illustrations of faith given Hebrews xi.
to show that faith is a principle possessed, and not a mere act performed. This
is orthodox. I have no hesitation in endorsing the Bishop of Ossory's defini-
tion of faith. It is exactly the doctrine of our Standards, which define faith,
not as " a mental link," but as a saving grace. A mental link cannot be a
saving grace. A mental link cannot be the heaven- descended gift of which
the Apostle speaks, Eph. ii. 8. Faith is God's gift, and is a grace — a
principle of holy action — a principle out of which holy exercises flow, but it
is not " a mental link." The Assembly will agree with me, that it is not
altogether unnecessary to recommend our friend, Mr. Nelson, to read Dr.
O'Brien's book once more. It will do him good, as he is evidently not at home
among theological definitions.

I proceed now to test Mr. Nelson's knowledge of Hebrew, as displayed in
his recent criticisms. He has made very large professions in regard to his

Spirit cannot be a matter of consciousness, since this is not affirmed or assured. We simply hold
that by His personal intercourse He produces an assurance which, it must be admitted, comes
within the sphere of consciousness.


attainments in Hebrew lore. Assuming that he is capable of instructing this
Assembly on all matters linguistic and theologic, he has favoiu-ed us with a

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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 4 of 8)