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William Paley.

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Online LibraryWilliam PaleyThe works of William Paley ... : Containing his life, Moral and political philosophy, Evidences of Christianity, Natural theology, Tracts, Horæ Paulinæ, Clergyman's companion, and sermons, printed verbatim from the original editions .. → online text (page 155 of 161)
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religious warfare, different from what will, or per-
haps can, be found in a mind unacquainted with
this doctrine ; or in a mind rejecting it, or in a
mind unconcerned about these tilings one way or
other.



SERMON XXIV.

ON THE INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT.

(PART II.)

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and
that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you 7 — 1 Cor.
iii. IG.

It is undoubtedly a difficulty in the doctrine of
spiritual influence, that we do not so perceive the
action of the Spirit, as to distinguish it from the
suggestions of our own minds. Many good men
acknowledge, that they are not conscious of any
such immediate perceptions. They, who lay
claim to them, caimot advance, like the apostles,
such proofs of their claim as must necessarily satis-
fy others, or, perhaps, secure themselves from de-
lusion. And this is matle a ground of objection
to the doctrine itself Now, I think, the objec-
tion proceeds upon an erroneous principle, name-
ly, our expecting more than is promised. The
agency and influence of the Divine Spirit are
spoken of in Scripture, and are promised ; but it
is no where promised that its operations shall be
always sensible, viz. distinguishable at the time
from the impulses, dictates, and thoughts of our
own minds. I do not take upon me to say that
they are never so : I only say that it is not neces-
sary, in the nature of things, that they should be
so ; nor is it asserted in the Scripture that they are
so ; nor is it pronused that they will be so.

The nature of the thing does not imply or re-
quire it : by which I mean, that, according to the
constitution of the human mind, as far as we are
acquainted with that constitution, a foreign influ-
ence or impulse may act upon it without being
distinguished in our perception from its natural
operations, that is, without being perceived at the
time. The case appears to me to be this : The
order in which ideas and motives rise up in our
minds is utterly unknown to us, consequently it



will be unknown when that order is disturbed, or
altered, or afl'ected ; therefore it may be altered, it
may be affected, by the interposition of a foreign
influence, without that interposition being per-
ceived.

Again, and in like manner, not only the order
in which thoughts and motives rise up in our
minds is unknown to ourselves, but the causes
also are unknown, and are incalculablje, upon
which the vividness of the ideas, the force and
strength, and impression of the motives which
enter into our minds, depend. Therefore that
vividness may be made more or less, that force
may be increased or diminished, and both by the
influence of a spiritual agent, without any distinct
sensation of such agency being felt at the time.
Was the case otherwise ; was the order, according
to which thoughts and motives rise up in our
minds i'lyied, and being fi.xed, known ; then I do
admit the order could not be altered or violated,
nor a tbreign agent interfere to alter or violate it,
without our being immediately sensible of what
was passing. As also, if the causes upon which
the power and strength of cither good or bad mo-
tives dejjend were ascertained, then it would lilie-
wise be ascertained when this force was ever in-
creased or diminished by external influence and
operation ; then it might be true, that external
influence could not act upon us without being
perceived. But in the ignorance under which we
are concerning the thoughts- and motives of our
minds, when left to themselves, we must, natu-
rally speaking, be, at the time, both ignorant and
insensible of the presence of an interfering power ;
one ignorance will correspond with the other;
whilst, nevertheless, the assistance and benefit de-
rived from that power, may, in reality, be exceed-
ingly great.

In this instance, philosophy, in my opinion,
comes in aid of religion. In the ordinary state of
the mind, both the presence and the power of tho
motives which act upon it, proceed from causes
of which we know nothing. This philosophy
confesses, and indeed teaches. From whence it
follows, that when these causes are interrupted or
influenced, that interruption and that infiuence
will he equally unknown to us. Just reasoning
shows this proposition to be a consequence of the
former. From whence it follows again, that im-
mediately and at the time perceiving the operation
of the Iloly Spirit is not only not necessary to
the reality of these operations, but that it is not
consonant to the frame of the human mind that
it should be so. I repeat again, that we take not
upon us to assert that it is never so. Undoubtedly
God can, if he please, give that tact and quality to
his communications, that they shall be perceived
to be divine communications at the time. And
this probably was very frequently the case with
the prophets, with the apostles, and with inspired
men of old. But it is not the case naturally; by
which I mean, that it is not the case according to
the constitution of the human soul. It does not
appear by experience to be the case usually.
What would be the effect of the influence of the
Divine Spirit being always or generally accom-
panied with a distinct notice, it is difficult even to
coniecture. One thing may be said of it, that it
would be putting us undera quite different dis-
pensation. It would be putting us under a mira-
culous dispensation ; for the agency of tiie Spirit
in our souls distinctly perceived is, properly speak-



SERMONS ON SEVERAL SUBJECTS.



581



ing, a miracle. Now miracles are instruments in
the hand of God of signal and extraordinary ef-
fects, produced upon signal and extraordinary oc-
casions. Neither internally nor externally do
they form the ordinary course of his proceeding
with his reasonable creatures.

And in this there is a clo.se analogy with the
course of nature, as carried on under the divine
government. We have every rea.son which Scrip-
ture can give us, for believing that God frequently
interposes to turn and guide the order of events in
the world, so as to make them execute his pur-
pose : yet we do not so perceive these interpositions,
as, either always or generally, to distinguish them
from the natural progress of things. His provi-
dence is real, but unseen. We distinguish not
between the acts of God and the course of nature.
It is so with the Spirit. When, therefore, we
teach tliat good men may be led, or bad men con-
verted, by the Spirit of God, and yet they them-
selves not distinguish his holy intluenee ; we teach
no more than is conformable, as, I think, has beeir
shown, to the frame of the human mind, or rather
to our degree of acquaintance with that frame;
and also analogous to the exercise of divine power
in other things ; and also necessary to be so ; un-
less it should have pleased God to put us under a
quite different dispensation, that is, under a dis-
pensation of constant miracles.

I do not apprehend that the doctrine of spiritual
influence carries the agency of the Deity much
farther than the doctrine of providence carries it;
or, however, than the doctrine of prayer carries it.
For sdl prayer supposes the Deity to be intimate
with our minds.

But if we do not know the influence of the Spi-
rit by a distinguishing perception at the time, by
what means do we know any thing of it at all ? I
answer by its effects, and by those alone. And
this I conceive to. be. that which our Saviour said
to Ni&idemus. " The wind bloweth where it
listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but
canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it
goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit:"
that is, thou perceivest an effect, but the cause
which produces that effect operates in its own way,
without thy knowing its rule or manner of opera-
tion. With regard to the cause, " thou canst not
tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth." A
chaRge or improvement iri thy religious state is
necessary. The agency and help of the Spirit in
workmg that change or promoting that improve-
ment, are likewise necessary.

" Except a man be born of the Spirit, he cannot
enter into the kingdom of God." But according
to what particular manner, or according to what
rule the Spirit acts, is as unknown to its as the
causes are which regulate the blowing of the wind,
the most incalculable and unknown thing in the
world. Its origi.i is unknown; its mode is un-
known ; but still it is known in its effects : and so
it is with the Spirit. If the change have taken
place ; if the improvement be produced and be
proceeding; if our religious affiiirs go on well,
then have we ground for trust, that the enabling,
assisting Spirit of God is with us ; though we have
no other knowledge or perception of the matter
than what this allbrds.

Perhaps there is no subject whatever, in which
we ought to be so careful not to go before our
guide as in this of spiritual Lntiuence. We ought
neither to expect more than what is promised, nor



to take upon ourselves to determine what the
Scriptures have not determined. I'his safe rule
will produce both caution in judging of ourselves,
and moderation in judging, or rather a backward-
ness in taking upon us to judge of others. The
modes of operation of God's Spirit are probably
extremely various and numerous. This variety
is intimated by our Saviour's comparing it with
the blowing of the wind. We have no right to
limit it to any particular mode, Ibrasmuch as the
Scriptures have not limited it ; nor does observa-
tion" enable us to do it with any degree of certainty.

The conversion of a sinner, for instance, may
be sudden ; nay, may be instantaneous, yet be
both sincere and permanent. We have no au-
thority whatever to deny the possibility of this.
On the contrary, we ought to rejoice when we
observe in any one even the appearance of such a
change. And this change may not only by pos-
sibility be sudden, but sudden changes may be
more frequent than our observations would lead
us to expect. For we can observe only effects,
and these must have time to show themselves in ;
while the change of heart may be already wrought.
It is a change of heart which is attributable to the
Spirit of God, and this may be sudden. The
fruits, the corresponding effects, internal reforma-
tion and external good actions, will follow in due
time. " I will take the stony heart out of their
flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh." —
(Ezck. xi. 19.) These words may well describe
Gods dealings with his moral creatures, and the
operations of his grace. Then follows a descrip-
tion of the effects of these dealings, of these opera-
tions, of that grace, viz. that they may walk in
my statutes, and keep my ordinances and do them;"
which represents a permanent habit and course
of life (a thing of continuance,) resulting from an
inward change, (wliich might be a thing produced
at once.)

In the mean time it may be true, that the more
ordinary course of God's grace is gradual and
successive ; helping from time to time our endea-
vours, succouring our infirmities, strengthening,
our resolutions; "making with the temptation a
way to escape ;" promoting our improvement, as-
sisting our progress ; warning, rebuking, encou-
raging, comforting, attending us, as it were,
through the different stages of our laborious ad-
vance in the road of salvation.

And as the operations of the Spirit are indefi-
nite, so far as we know, in respect of time, so are
they likewise in respect of mode. They may act,
and observation affords reason to believe that they
do sometimes act, by adding force and efficacy to
instruction, advice, or admonition. A passage
of Scripture sometimes strikes the heart with
wonderful power ; adheres, as it were, and cleaves
to the memory, till it has wrought its work. An
impressive sermon is often known to sink very
deep. It is not, perhaps, too much to hope, that
the Spirit of God should accompany his ordi-
nances, provided a person bring to them serious-
ness, humility, and devotion. For example, the
devout receiving of the holy sacrament may draw
down upon us the gift and benefit of divine grace,
or increase our measure of it. This, as being the
most solemn act of our religion, and also an ap-
pointjnent of the rehgion itself, may be properly
placed first; but every species of prayer, provided
it be earnest ; every act of worship, provided it be
sincere, may participate in the same effect ; may
49*



583



SERMONS ON SEVERAL SUBJECTS.



be to lis the occasion, the time, and the instru-
ment of this greatest of all gifts.

In all these instances, and in all indeed that
relate to the operations of the Spirit, we are to
judge, if we will take upon us to judge at all,
(which I do not see that we are obliged to do,)
hot only with great candour and moderation, but
also with great reserve and caution ; and as to
the modes of Divine grace, or of its proceedings in
the hearts of men, as of things undetermined in
Scripture, and undeterminable by us. In our own
case, which it is of infinitely more importance to
each of us to manage rightly, than it is to judge
€ven truly of other men's, we are to use perse-
voringly, every appointed, every reasonable, every
probable, every virtuous endeavour to render our-
selves objects of that merciful assistance, which
undoubtedly and confessedly we much want, and
which, in one way or other, God, we are assured,
is willing to afford.



SERMON XXV.

ON THE INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT.

(PAET III.)

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God; and
that the Spirit of God dwelletli in you 7 — 1 Cor.
iii. 16.

As all doctrine ought to end in practice, and all
sound instruction lead to right conduct, it comes,
in the last place, to be considered, what obligations
follow from the tenet of an assisting grace and
spiritual influence ; what is to he done on our part
in consequence of holding such a persuasion;
what is the behaviour corresponding and consist-
ent with such an opinion. For we must always
bear in mind, that the Grace and Spirit of God
no more take away our freedom of action, our
personal and moral liberty, than the advice, the
admonitions, the suggestions, the reproofs, the
expostulations, the counsels of a friend or parent
would take them away. We may act either right
or wrong, notwithstanding these interferences. It
still depends upon ourselves which of the two we
will do. We are not machines under these im-
pressions ; nor are we under the impression of the
Holy Spirit. Therefore there is a class of duties
relating to this subject, as much as any other;
and more,perhap.s, than any other important.

And, first, I would apply myself to an objection,
which belongs to this,, namely, the practical part
of the subject; which objection is, that the doc-
trine of spiritual influence, and the preaching of
this doctrine, causes men to attend chiefly to the
feelings within them, to place religion in feelings
and sensations, and to be content with such feel-
ings and sensations, without coming to active du-
ties and real usefulness: th.at it tends to produce
a contemplative religion, accompanied with a sort
of abstraction from the interests of this world, as
respecting either ourselves or others; a sort of
quietism and indiflference which contributes no-
thing to the good of mankind, or to make a man
serviceable in his generation ; that men of this de-
scription sit brooding over what passes in their
hearts, without performing any good actions, or
well discharging their social or domestic obliga-
tions, or indeed guarding their outward conduct
with sufficient care.



Now, if there be any foundation in fact for this
charge, it arises from some persons holding this
doctrine defectively ; I mean from their not attend-
ing to one main point in the doctrine, which is,
that the promise is not to those who have the Spi-
rit, but to those who are led by the Spirit ; not to
those who are favoured vvith its suggestions, but
to those who give themselves up iofulloic, and do
actually ./bZtow these suggestions. Now, though a
person, by attending to his feelings and conscious-
nesses may persuade himself that he has the Spi-
rit of God ; yet if he stop and rest in tliese sensa-
tions without consequential practical exertions,
it can by no possibility be said of him, nor, one
would think, could he possibly bring himself to
believe, that he is led by the Spirit, that he follows
the Spirit ; for these terms necessarily imply
something done under that influence, necessarily
carry the thoughts to a course of conduct entered
into and pursued in obedience to, and by virtue of,
that influence. Whether the objection here no-
ticed has any foundation in the conduct of those
who hold the doctrine of which we treat, 1 am
uncertain; accounts are diflferent: -but at any
rate the objection lies not against the doctrine,
but against a defective apprehension of it. For,
in confirmation of all which we have said, we may
produce the example of St. Paul. No one carried
the doctrine of spiritual influence higher than he
did, or spoke of it so much ; yet no character in
the world could be farther than his was from rest-
ing in feehngs and sensations. On the contrary,
it was all activity and usefulness. His whole his-
tory confirms what he said of himself, that "in
labours," in positive exertions, both of mind and
body, he was " above measure." It will be said,
perhaps, that these exertions were in a particular
way, viz. in making converts to his opinions; but
it was the way in which, as he believed, he was
promoting the interest of his fellow-creatures in
the greatest degree possible for him to piroinote it ;
and it was the way also which he believed to be
enjoined upon him by the express and particular
command of God. Had there been any other me-
thod, any other course and line of beneficent en-
deavours, in which he thought he could have been
more useful, and had the choice been left to him-
self, (which it was not,) the same principle, the
same eager desire of doing good, would have
manifested itself with equal vigour in that other
line. His sentiments and precepts corresponded
with his example : " Do good unto all men, espe-
cially unto them that are of the household of
Christ." Here doing is enjoined. Nothing less
than doing can satisfy this precept. Feelings and
sensations will not, though of the best kind.
" Let him that stole, steal no more, but rather let
him labour with his hands, that he may have to
give to him that needelh." This is carrying ac-
tive beneficence as far as it can go. Men are
commanded to relieve the necessities of their poor
brethren out of the earnings of their manual la-
bour, nay, to labour for that very purpose ; and
their doing so is stated as the best expiation for
former dishonesties, and the best proof how much
and how truly they are changed from what they
were. " Let him that ruleth, do it with diligence."
This is a precept which cannot be complied with
without activity. These instructions could not
come from a man who placed religion in feelings
and sensations.

Having noticed this objection (for it well de-



SERMONS ON SEVERAL SUBJECTS.



583



served notice,) I proceed to state the particular
duties which relate to the doctrine of spiritual as-
sistance. And the first of these duties is to pray
for it. It is by prayer that it is to be sought ; by
prayer that it is to be obtained. This the Scrip-
tures expressly teach. "-How much more will
your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to
them that ask him?" The foundation of prayer,
in ail cases, is a sense of want. No man prays
in earnest or to any purpose for what he does not
^feel that he wants. Know then and feel the
weakness of your nature. Know the infinite im-
portance of holding on, nevertheless, in a course
of virtue. Know these two points thoroughly,
and you can stand in need of no additional mo-
tive (indeed none can be added.) to excite in you
strong unwearied supplications for Divine help ;
' not a cold asking for it in any prescribed form of
prayer, but cryings and supplications for it, strong
and unwearied. The description in the Epistle
to the Hebrews, of our Lord's own devt>tion, maj'
serve to describe the devotion of a Christian, pray-
ing, as he ought, for the Spirit; that is, praying
from a deep understanding of his own condition,
a conviction of his wants and necessities. " He
oflered up pra^'ers and supplications with strong
crying and tears unto him that was able to save
him from death ; and was heard in that he feared."
This is devotion in reality.

There are occasions also, which ought to call
forth these prayers with extraordinary and pecu-
liar force.

Is it superstition 1 is it not, on the contrary, a
iust and reasonable piety to implore of God the
guidance of his Holy Spirit, when we have any
thing of great importance to decide upon, or to
undertake ; especially any thing by which the hap-
piness of others, as well as our own, is likely to
be affected 1

It would be difficult to enumerate the passages
and occasions of a man's life, in which he is par-
ticularly bound to apply to God for the aid and
direction of liis Spirit. In general, in every turn,
as it may be called, of life ; whenever any thing
critical, any thing momentous, any thing which
is to fix our situation and course of hfe ; most es-
pecially any thing which is likely to have an in-
fluence upon our moral conduct and disposition,
and thereby aflect our condition, as candidates for
heaven, and as the religious servants of God, is to
be resolved upon ; there and then ought we to say
our prayers ; most ardently supplicating from our
Creator and Preserver the grace and guidance of
his Holy Spirit.

Is it not, again, a time for calling earnestly for
the Spirit of God, and for a greater .measure of
that Spirit, if he be pleased to grant it to us, when
we are recovering from some sin into which we
have been betrayed ? This case is always critical.
The question now is, whether we shall fall into a
settled course of sinning, or whether we shall be
restored to our former, and to better than our
former endeavours to maintain the line of duty.
That, under the sting and present alarm of our
conscience, we have iformed resolutions of virtue
for the future is supposed ; but whether these reso-
lutions will stand, is the point now at issue. And
in this peril of our souls we cannot be too earnest
or importunate in our supplications for Divine suc-
cour. It can never come to our aid at a time
when we more want it. Our fall proves our
weakness. Our desire of recovery proves, that,



though fallen, we may not be lost. This is a
condition which flies to aid and help, if aid and
help can be had ; and it is a condition to which the
promised support of the Spirit most peculiarly ap-
plies. On such an occasion, therefore, it will be
sought with struggles and strong contention of
mind, if we be serious in these matters. So
sought,. it will be obtained.

Again : Is it not always a fit subject of prayer,
that the Holy Spirit would inform, animate, warm,
and support our deration? St. Paul speaks of
the CO operation of the Spirit with us in this very
article. " Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our in-
firmities, for ice know not what we should pray
for as we ought; but the Spirit maketh interces-
sion for us with groanings that cannot be uttered."
The specific help here described is to supply our
ignorance. But the words speak also generally
of helping our infirmities; meaning, as the pas-
sage leads us to suppose, the infirmities which at-
tend our devotion. Now these infirmities are not
only ignorance, but coldness, vfanderings, ab-
sence ; for all which a remedy is to be sought in
the aid and help of the Spirit.

Next in order of time, to praying for the Spirit
of God, but still superior to it in importance, is lis-
tening and yielding ourselres to his suggestions.
This is the thing in which we fail.

Now, it being confessed that we cannot ordina-
rily distinguish at the time the suggestions of the
Spirit from the operations of our n)inds, it may be
asked, how are we to listen to them'? The answer
is, by attending universally to the admonitions
within us. Men do not Usten to their consciences.
It is through the whisperings of conscience that
the Spirit speaks. If men then are wilfully deaf
to their consciences, they cannot hear the Spirit.
If hearing, if being compelled to hear, the remon-
strances of conscience, they nevertheless decide,
and resolve, and determine to go against them ;
then they grieve, then they defy, then they do de-



Online LibraryWilliam PaleyThe works of William Paley ... : Containing his life, Moral and political philosophy, Evidences of Christianity, Natural theology, Tracts, Horæ Paulinæ, Clergyman's companion, and sermons, printed verbatim from the original editions .. → online text (page 155 of 161)