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Of Seasons of Desertion or supposed Absence of the
There are seasons in the lives of good men, when their sense of spiritual things is comparatively dull; and many, at these times, have been alarmed with an idea of being totally deserted by the Spirit, and have fallen into a state of despondency. But if there were no other proof that the grace of God is still vouchsafed to them, their uneasiness alone would evince it. While pain is felt, the surgeon apprehends not a mortification.
But the alarm, it may be presumed, is, to the pious Christian, unnecessary. For it is certain that the visitations of the Holy Spirit are sometimes more sensible than at others; and that when they are not sensible at all, its guidance and benign protection may continue unaltered. The light sometimes shines with a bright and strong effulgence to guide us into the right way; but while we are proceeding in it safely and regularly, and without an inclination to deviate, or immediate danger of falling, the rays may be emitted less powerfully, because less necessary. The moment there appears danger of wandering or of stumbling, the lamp is ready to shine with instantaneous radiance. Thus an infant, just beginning to walk, is guided by the parent's hand, watched by the parent's eye, and encouraged by the parent's voice, and yet it is often permitted to go alone, without assistance or encouragement, in order to exercise its strength, and to give it a due degree of confidence. But the tender mother may still hold the leadingstring unobserved by the infant, and, at the very first lapse, save the fall. The sun, though obscured by clouds, affords both light and warmth, guides mankind in all their operations, and supports both animal and vegetative life.
The mistaken opinion that ecstacy and rapture are always necessary to evince the presence of the Holy Spirit, has brought the doctrine into discredit among the sober and rational, and introduced much misery among the ignorant, the weak, and the fanciful. The sober and rational neither experienced such ardour without intermission, nor did they believe the nature of man, as he is now constituted, capable of supporting it. The' ignorant, the weak, and the fanciful, endeavouring to raise themselves to a height which they could either not reach or not maintain, fell from disappointment to dejection, and from dejection to despair.
In truth, the influence of the Spirit rushes not like a continual torrent, but flows as a gentle river, which, indeed, for the most part, displays its silver surface in the meadows, but may sometimes conceal itself, without being lost, in a subterranean channel.
While we retain faith, hope, and charity, and while we seek the favour of God in fervent prayer, we have every reason to believe that grace abounds in us, though we should not, for a considerable time, be favoured with the livelier experience of its immediate energy. If we persevere in a virtuous course, we may rest assured that God will, at all proper intervals, and for our reward and
encouragement, show us the light of his countenance.
Let the pious Christian remember, that hope is placed, in the celebrated enumeration of Christian virtues, next to faith, and before charity. Let him, therefore, take care not to indulge the least tendency to such melancholy ideas of desertion as may lead to despair. God will not behold a sincerely contrite heart, anxious to find grace, without affording it; and though, for wise purposes of trial, it is possible that he may not, for a short time, bestow it in its more sensible influences, yet there is every reason to believe, that he who sincerely grieves because he thinks himself less favoured by the Holy Spirit than usual, is, on that very account, in a state of grace, and therefore safe.
Of the Doctrine that the Operations of the Holy · Spirit are never distinguishable from the Opera
tions of our own Minds.
Ingenious and philosophical divines, desirous of discouraging, to the utmost of their power, all fanciful pretentions to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have boldly affirmed that its influence is not to be distinguished from the ordinary operations of the human mind. Their endeavour to prevent the evils of a wild imagination deserves praise; but they should be cautious of misrepresenting the effects of divine agency, and denying truth, with a design of obviating error.
From the plain and repeated accounts of Scripture, it appears that this divine agency produces a very great alteration in the mind; a much greater than could be produced by its own natural operations. It is God that worketh in you, saith St. Paul, both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
I speak with the utmost diffidence, when I say that it appears probable that such powerful energy is sometimes distinguishable from the spontaneous operations of the mind. I am sensible that the doctrine may open a door to fanatical extravagance; but if it is the true doctrine, it ought to be maintained, whatever may be the consequences.
The influence of the Holy Ghost is represented in Scripture as consolatory. When a good man, in deep affliction, feels, in consequence of his prayer and devotion, a spring of comfort flowing upon his mind, such as no reasoning of his own, no external circumstances, no condolence of his friends could produce, is there not reason to believe that the influence of God's Holy Spirit is upon him, and that it is distinguishable from his own thoughts and imagination? The operations of his own mind lead only to horror and dismay; but a light rises up in the darkness; and is it not easy to perceive that this unexpected radiance is the dayspring from on high ?
1 Phil. ii. 13.
When the pious Christian, employed in fervent prayer, finds himself full of holy joy and humble confidence, and feels his heart melt within him, overflowing with love of God and charity to man, is there not more presumption in attributing this state to the mere operations of his own mind, than to the God of spirits, actually dispensing that grace or favour which he has promised, in the gospel, to the faithful ?
When temptations to sin assault with violence, and a man feels himself strengthened, so as to be able to overcome, at the very moment of his intended surrender, shall he erect the victorious trophies to his own virtue ? His own reason and resolution had betrayed him, the operations of his own unassisted mind tended to concession; but God gave him strength from his holy place, and to God only is due the praise.
Innumerable are the circumstances and situations in life, in which comfort, illuminations, protection, and strength, are afforded in a degree and manner, which it is much more unreasonable to think could be produced by the mere operations of the mind, than that they were supplied by the author and giver of all good.
In making the distinction between the operations of the Holy Spirit and those of the human mind, the wisest men will ever be obnoxious to mistake. The weak, wicked, and hypocritical may deceive themselves, or others in it, to the injury or offence of many. But still the inconveniences of this perversion cannot entirely justify divines in their confident and repeated assertions, that since the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, such as were bestowed on the apostles, have ceased, the opera