The Witness of the Spirit

February 23, 2017 // 2016 // Issue 2+Convention Herald

THE LIGHT ON THIS precious doctrine of Christian Assurance has shone more brightly ever since the night of John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience. He said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Wesley was thirty-five years old at the time of his Aldersgate experience. He then began a long ministry of over fifty years. The doctrine of Christian assurance that he taught and preached did not basically change in that long ministry of over half a century.

Wesley taught that there is an assurance that may be called the testimony of our own conscience. His sermon “The Witness of the Spirit, “based on II Corinthians 1:12, gives his views on this phase of Christian assurance. He and his co-laborers taught a stronger view of Christian assurance. This is that there is in addition to the witness of one’s own spirit, the further witness of the Holy Spirit to man’s spirit.

This testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given Himself for me; and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.

This testimony of the Spirit cannot be explained…. but there are marks whereby one may know that he is not deceived nor presuming. There is humble joy, a yielding spirit, a mildness and sweetness, a tenderness of soul, a keeping of His commandments, the fruits of the Spirit……Thus we may be assured that we are not mistaken in the witness of the Spirit by the Scriptural marks and Christian fruits and graces that attend it. The strongest texts for the direct witness of the Spirit are Romans 8:15, 16 and Galatians 4:6. Thus we learn that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit in a distinct and immediate testimony, and also with our spirit in a concurrent testimony.

Assurance of one’s acceptance with God is a necessity if we are to derive the comforts that salvation promises. The issues are so great. There is a hell to shun and a heaven to gain. The soul must know. Conviction takes away false hope and shows that awful solemnity of being under the displeasure of God. To know that one is forgiven and reconciled with God is an absolute necessity for living with any degree of comfort and peace. This need is met by the divine assurance.

Many of us have seen a soul leave the altar with an unsatisfied longing in the heart.This longing for divine assurance is the Spirit’s protection against deception. The soul has been troubled with the burden of sins and the awareness of God’s displeasure as well as the longing cry of his own heart. He wants to know — to be sure all is well.

We must not make the teaching of assurance so weak that we lower the standard of Christian experience but neither must we make it so strong that “we make sorry those whom God has not made sorry.” The correct view is that this witness is sometimes clouded, that sometimes it is not as strong as at other times, and that this does not necessarily mean that the soul has broken his relationship with God. This does not mean that we may be indifferent about it. Far from it! It is a warning to go down before God and seek His face until He again lifts up the light of His countenance upon us.

What can we do to lead people into the enjoyment of the blessings of assurance? We need to preach it, write about it and bring it into our worship services in songs and testimonies. A man may be a Christian and yet fail to enjoy some blessing of the Gospel because he has not heard about it. The early Methodists preached about assurance; they sang about it; and their people experienced it and testified about it. We can be more careful when dealing with souls, at the altar or elsewhere, that we do not take it upon ourselves to tell them when God has wrought in their hearts either salvation or entire sanctification. It is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit to assure the soul of his acceptance with God. If we interfere with His work we will grieve the Spirit and rob the soul. We can encourage every soul to cherish the desire expressed in Charles Wesley’s hymn:

Short of the love I would not stop,
A stranger to the Gospel hope,
The sense of sin forgiven;
I would not , Lord, my soul deceive,
Without the inward witness live,
That antepast of heaven.

If now the witness were in me,
Would He not testify of thee,
In Jesus reconciled?
And should I not with faith draw nigh,
And boldly, “Abba, Father, “cry ,
And know myself Thy child?