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will God forsake those who trust in him: never will he suffer Satan to pluck one of them out of his hands.” He may leave them to endure many conflicts : but he will be with them, and succour them with great might, and make them “more than conquerors" over all their enemies. No one need to be discouraged on account of his weakness; for “ God will perfect his own strength in their weakness.” " His hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor is his ear heavy, that he cannot hear.” Still is he as able, and as willing, to save his people as ever; “nor shall one of his little ones ever perish.” Look on your enemies then, my dear children, (that is the meaning of the word translated - little children :" it does not here refer to age or stature, but is a term of endearment, and is so used by our Lord himself to his disciples P;) and say to every one of them, “Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain 9.” Only " be ye of God;" and all the powers of darkness shall fall before you, and “Satan himself be bruised under your feet shortly?."]
p John xiii. 33. 9 Zech. iv. 7. r Rom. xvi. 20.
THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, AND THE SPIRIT OF ERROR.
1 John iv. 6. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit
of error. IN matters of eternal moment, every man must think for himself. We should take nothing upon trust; but bring to the test of Scripture the doctrines we hear, and the persons who profess to instruct us in the mind of God. This may appear presumptuous, in persons who have not made theology their peculiar study : but it is not presumptuous' in any one who has the Scriptures in his hands, and a Divine Instructor to apply to. It was to the Church at large, and not to any particular person, that St. John said, “ Beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits, whether they be of God.” Even in the apostolic age, “ many false prophets had gone out into the world :" and certainly there are not a few at this day, who, whilst they profess to preach the Gospel, hold forth an extremely erroneous standand of truth and duty. But the Gospel itself affords us a sufficient
test, whereby to try whatever is set before us. Moreover we should feel the same jealousy respecting ourselves, and use the same precautions in estimating our own character. There is “ a spirit of truth ;" but there is also “a spirit of error :" and the two may easily be mistaken for each other; and, through that mistake, a most erroneous judgment be formed of our conduct. To keep you
To keep you from any such mistakes, I will shew, I. The different spirits by which men are actuatedThere is, in some, “ a spirit of truth”—
[In some there is a simplicity of mind, that desires nothing but what is right and true. They are open to conviction : they will weigh with candour whatever is set before them: they will not knowingly harbour any prejudices or prepossessions. They take pains to acquire knowledge: they, in particular, search into the fountain of all knowledge, the book of God: and, conscious of their need of divine instruction, they will look up to God for the teachings of his Spirit, and readily submit to whatever they find to be his revealed will. They are like Cornelius, who, though a heathen, hesitated not to send for Peter, who was a Jew, and to receive without gainsaying all that that divine instructor was commissioned to reveal.] There is, in others, “a spirit of error"
[There is in some a perverseness of mind, which, instead of affecting truth, loves rather paradox and disputation. There is in them an inaptitude to receive instruction. They have certain principles in their mind, which bias them on all subjects; and they have a certain pleasure in being singular. Things which are plain and obvious to others are not so to them, because their minds are fertile in supplying objections: to find which, they will travel far out of their road; and, having found them, they will lay a far greater stress on them than such trifling difficulties can in any way deserve. Hence, on almost all subjects, they are at issue with their nearest friends, unless indeed they have prevailed to draw others into the same vortex with themselves.
But, as these imagine themselves to be influenced by a very opposite spirit, it will be proper for us to inquire, II. How we are to discriminate between them
As in natural substances we may, by a chemical process, discover of what they are compounded; so may we, by the application of certain tests, find how far the foregoing ingredients enter into the composition of our minds. In the context, two tests are proposed; namely, the world, and the Gospel; and by these “we may know” the two different spirits which we have been considering. 1. Take the world, then, as a test
[If we have " a spirit of truth," there will be a readiness to see and acknowledge the vanity of all things here below. The whole world, and all that it contains, will appear to us lighter than vanity itself. Its views will appear erroneous in the extreme: its habits, altogether contrary to the mind of God. Eternity will be taken into the account in every estimate of the things of time, and every thing be viewed with a direct reference to that.
On the other hand, let the world be brought as a test to one who is blinded by "a spirit of error;" and how manifest will be the delusion under which he is labouring! He cannot see that the world is so vain or so mistaken as enthusiasts imagine : there is nothing so evil in its ways : its pursuits are highly rational ; its pleasures altogether innocent; its friends and votaries in a state of acceptance with God. Nothing in it is to be condemned, except its excesses and its crimes. In a word, as the Pharisees “ derided our Lord” when he spake of covetousness, because “ they were covetous," so the man who is led by “a spirit of error” shuts his eyes against the plainest truths, and will admit nothing which thwarts his own worldly and carnal inclinations.] 2. Take the Gospel as a test
[This is still more calculated to try the hidden dispositions of the soul. If we are actuated by a spirit of truth, we shall receive whatever God has spoken in his word, as little children. We shall not dispute against it, because it does not accord with our pre-conceived opinions; but shall rather form our opinions from it, than presume to sit in judgment upon it. The deepest truths which are there revealed will not offend us. It will be no stumbling-block to us, to find that God himself has become incarnate, and died upon the cross under the guilt of his creatures' sins: our only inquiry will be, Is this revealed ? if it be, then is it true, whether we can understand it or not. Nor shall we be averse to the way of obtaining salvation simply by faith in Christ; because, if it be pointed out as the only way of access to God, and the only means of obtaining blessings from him, then is it with all readiness and humility to be complied with, nor will a thought be suffered to rise against it. This is “ the honest and good heart," which our blessed Lord commends as the proper soil wherein to sow the seed of life, and as the principle which we must cultivate with all possible care.
But far different will be the conduct of one who is carried away by “ a spirit of error.” The blessed word of God to him is rather a field wherein to exercise and display his own ingenuity. Nothing is acceptable to him that does not commend itself to his reason : he sits in judgment upon every thing, pronouncing this reasonable, and that unreasonable ; and the great mystery of redemption, through the blood and righteousness of our incarnate God, he regards as foolishness. This is the spirit of Arians, and Socinians, and numberless others, who, instead of receiving the sacred oracles with the simplicity of a little child, deal with them as they would with a merely human composition; receiving what they like, merely because it accords with their own views, and rejecting all the rest as erroneous and absurd.
Thus by these tests we may distinguish “what spirit we are of." They call into action the hidden principles of the heart; and give occasion for the manifestation of them, in a way that is clear, and that admits of no doubt.]
Let me now proceed to mark, III. The importance of distinguishing them aright
A just discernment of these spirits will enable us, 1. To account for the conduct of others
[It appears strange, at first sight, that a religion so worthy of God, and so suitable to man, as Christianity is, should not be readily received, and universally obeyed. How can it be, that its principles should be so generally controverted, and its practice so generally condemned? Is there any want of evidence, that the religion itself is from God? or, is there any thing really unreasonable in a life of faith and holiness ? No: the fact is, that the pride of human nature is averse to receive a free salvation; and the corruption of human nature knows not how to bear the restraints which the Gospel imposes on it. Hence the spirit of man rises against the Gospel itself; and either fashions it to a standard of his own, or rejects it altogether, as unworthy to be received. Here then, at once, we see whence it is that worldlings continue worldly, and infidels retain their infidelity. They say in their hearts, " Who is lord over us? They hate to be reformed : “they hold fast deceit:" they shut their eyes against the light : they “cast God's word behind them ;" and say, in effect, “ We will not have this man, the Lord Jesus Christ, to reign over us." This explains that phenomenon which proves such a stumbling-block to Jews and Gentiles. They say, 'If your religion be so clear, whence is it that there is such a diversity of opinions respecting it?' The answer is, ' Amongst those who are humble and contrite, there is no difference as to any fundamental part of doctrine, or practice: and, if there be amongst others, it is because they are led away by a "spirit of error," and “blinded by the god of this world."] 2. To form a correct judgment of our own
[To attain a knowledge of ourselves, we must diligently mark our own motives and principles of action. We see in others a bias; and we must observe how far there may be any undue influence upon our own minds. If we will candidly examine ourselves, we shall see that, in ten thousand instances, there is a leaning to self, through the workings of pride, or interest, or passion; and that, to be perfectly impartial in our views and actions, is an attainment of no common magnitude. To have no wish but to conform ourselves to the will of God, is a measure of grace that is but rarely found; so rare is “a spirit of truth" in its full extent, and so prevalent“ a spirit of error."
Hence there is no man who has not occasion to humble himself for his defects; nor any who has not to watch continually against the deceitfulness of his own heart.] Let me further IMPRESS this subject on your minds,
by adding, 1. A word of caution
[The persons who most need to have this subject brought home to their own hearts, are the most backward to bestow a thought upon it; so blinded are they by the very evil against which they ought to guard. But I would affectionately remind them, that confidence in error will not make error cease to be what it is; and that a pertinacity in error may cause God to give them over to judicial blindness and hardness. We read, that “ God gives over some to a strong delusion, to believe a lie, that they may be damned, because they believe not the truth, but obey unrighteousnessa.". Their “ believing a lie" does not make it true; nor does its being delusion prevent their being “damned” for yielding to it. O brethren! provoke not God so to abandon you ; but beg of him to give you more simplicity of mind, and to put“ truth in your inward parts."]
a 2 Thess. ii. 11, 12.