4. Another effect we have of his, Rom. 8:16, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” You know whose children we are by nature,—children of Satan and of the curse, or of wrath. By the Spirit we are put into another capacity, and are adopted to be the children of God, inasmuch as by receiving the Spirit of our Father we become the children of our Father. Thence is he called, verse 15, “The Spirit of adoption.” Now, sometimes the soul, because it hath somewhat remaining in it of the principle that it had in its old condition, is put to question whether it be a child of God or no; and thereupon, as in a thing of the greatest importance, puts in its claim, with all the evidences that it hath to make good its title. The Spirit comes and bears witness in this case. An allusion it is to judicial proceedings in point of titles and evidences. The judge being set, the person concerned lays his claim, produceth his evidences, and pleads them; his adversaries endeavouring all that in them lies to invalidate them, and disannul his plea, and to cast him in his claim. In the midst of the trial, a person of known and approved integrity comes into the court, and gives testimony fully and directly on the behalf of the claimer; which stops the mouths of all his adversaries, and fills the man that pleaded with joy and satisfaction. So is it in this case. The soul, by the power of its own conscience, is brought before the law of God. There a man puts in his plea,—that he is a child of God, that he belongs to God’s family; and for this end produceth all his evidences, every thing whereby faith gives him an interest in God. Satan, in the meantime, opposeth with all his might; sin and law assist him; many flaws are found in his evidences; the truth of them all is questioned; and the soul hangs in suspense as to the issue. In the midst of the plea and contest the Comforter comes, and, by a word of promise or otherwise, overpowers the heart with a comfortable persuasion (and bears down all objections) that his plea is good, and that he is a child of God. And therefore it is said of him, Συμμαρτυρεῖ τῷ Πνεύματι ἡμῶν. When our spirits are pleading their right and title, he comes in and bears witness on our side; at the same time enabling us to put forth acts of filial obedience, kind and child-like; which is called “crying, Abba, Father” Gal. 4:6. Remember still the manner of the Spirit’s working, before mentioned,—that he doth it effectually, voluntarily, and freely. Hence sometimes the dispute hangs long,—the cause is pleading many years. The law seems sometimes to prevail, sin and Satan to rejoice; and the poor soul is filled with dread about its inheritance. Perhaps its own witness, from its faith, sanctification, former experience, keeps up the plea with some life and comfort; but the work is not done, the conquest is not fully obtained, until the Spirit, who worketh freely and effectually, when and how he will, comes in with his testimony also; clothing his power with a word of promise, he makes all parties concerned to attend unto him, and puts an end to the controversy.
Herein he gives us holy communion with himself. The soul knows his voice when he speaks, “Nec hominem sonat.” There is something too great in it to be the effect of a created power. When the Lord Jesus Christ at one word stilled the raging of the sea and wind, all that were with him knew there was divine power at hand, Matt. 8:25–27. And when the Holy Ghost by one word stills the tumults and storms that are raised in the soul, giving it an immediate calm and security, it knows his divine power, and rejoices in his presence. Owen, Works, 2:241–242.
I will give you a scripture more for this, Rom. 8:16,—mark that place,—It is the Spirit, saith he, that ‘beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God.’ He doth not only say he beareth witness to our spirits, but he beareth witness with our spirits. Our spirits, our graces, (that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,) never witness unless the Holy Ghost witness with them; if he do not give in his testimony with them, your graces will give no witness at all; if he do not enlighten the eyes of your mind to know, you will not know the hope of your calling, you will have no assurance. Goodwin, Works, 1:306.
“…with our spirits”; for our own spirits are no witnesses to ourselves: the Father and Son are co-witnesses of the Spirit, but not our own spirits; the spirits of the saints are they which receive the witness of the Spirit of God, to which it is made; not to their ears, for it is not an audible testimony; but to their hearts, it is internal; to their renewed souls, where faith is wrought to receive it; to their understandings, that they may know and be assured of it; to their spirits, which are apt to faint and doubt about it. Now it is “the Spirit itself” that bears this witness, and not others, or by others, but he himself in person; who is a divine witness, whose testimony therefore must be greater than others, and a faithful one, who will never deceive; for he witnesses what he knows, and what is sure and certain: his very being and habitation in the saints are witnesses and proofs of their adoption; his powerful operations and divine landings persuade to a belief of the truth of it; and by shedding abroad the Father’s love in the heart, and by the application of Gospel promises, he causes and encourages them to “cry Abba”, Father; which is a wonderful instance of his condescension and grace.
Here it may be proper to observe, from what has been said, that what many persons call the witness of the Spirit, that they are the children of God, has nothing in it spiritual and divine; and consequently, that the affections built upon it, are vain and delusive. That which many call the witness of the Spirit, is no other than an immediate suggestion and impression of that fact, otherwise secret, that they are made the children of God, and so that their sins are pardoned, and that God has given them a title to heaven. This kind of knowledge, viz. knowing that a certain person is converted, and delivered from hell, and entitled to heaven, is no divine sort of knowledge in itself. This sort of fact requires no more divine suggestion, in order to impress it on the mind, than what Balaam had impressed on his mind. It requires no higher sort of idea for a man to have the apprehension of his own conversion impressed upon him, than to have the apprehension of his neighbour’s conversion, in like manner. God, if he pleased, might impress the knowledge of this fact, that be had forgiven his neighbour’s sins, and given him a title to heaven, as well as any other fact, without any communication of his holiness. The excellency and importance of the fact, does not at all hinder a natural man’s mind being susceptible of an immediate suggestion and impression of it. Balaam had as important facts as this immediately impressed on his mind, without any gracious influence; particularly, the coming of Christ, his setting up his glorious kingdom, the blessedness of the spiritual Israel in his peculiar favour, and their happiness living and dying. Yea, Abimelech king of the Philistines had God’s special favour to Abraham revealed to him, Gen. 20:6, 7. He revealed to Laban his special favour to Jacob, sec Gen. 31:24. and Psal. 105:15. And if a truly good man should have an immediate revelation from God, in like manner, concerning his favour to his neighbour, or himself; would it be any higher kind of influence? Would it be any more than a common influence of God’s Spirit, as the gift of prophecy, and all revelation by immediate suggestion is? See 1 Cor. 13:2. And though it be true, that a natural man cannot have an individual suggestion from the Spirit of God, that he is converted, because it is not true; yet that does not arise from the nature of the influence, as too high for him. The influence which immediately suggests this fact, when it is true, is of no different kind from that which immediately suggests other true facts: and so the kind and nature of the influence is not above what is common to natural men.
But this is a mean ignoble notion of the witness of the Spirit of God given to his dear children, to suppose that there is nothing in the nature of that influence, but what is common to natural men, altogether unsanctified, and the children of hell; and that therefore the gift itself has nothing of the holy nature or vital communication of that Spirit. This notion greatly debases that most exalted kind of operation which there is in the true witness of the Spirit.* That which is called the witness of the Spirit, Rom. 8. is elsewhere in the New Testament called the seal of the Spirit, 2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:13. and 4:13. alluding to the seal of princes, annexed to the instrument, by which they advanced any of their subjects to some high honour and dignity, as a token of their special favour. Which is an evidence that the influence of the Spirit of the Prince of princes, in sealing his favourites, is far from being of a common kind; and that there is no effect of God’s Spirit whatsoever, which is in its nature more divine; nothing more holy, peculiar, inimitable, and distinguishing of divinity. Nothing is more royal than the royal seal; nothing more sacred to a prince, and more peculiarly denoting what belongs to him; it being the very design of it, to be the most peculiar stamp and confirmation of the royal authority. It is the great note of distinction, whereby that which proceeds from the king, or belongs to him, may be known from every thing else. And therefore undoubtedly the seal of the great King of heaven and earth enstamped on the heart, is something high and holy in its own nature, some excellent communication from the infinite fountain of divine beauty and glory; and not merely making known a secret fact by revelation or suggestion; which is a sort of influence of the Spirit of God of which the children of the devil have often been the subjects. The seal of the Spirit is an effect of the Spirit of God on the heart, of which natural men while such, can form no manner of notion. Rev. 2:17. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it.” There is all reason to suppose that what is here spoken of, is the same evidence, or blessed token of special favour, which is elsewhere called the seal of the Spirit.
What has misled many in their notion of that influence of the Spirit of God of which we are speaking, is the word WITNESS, its being called the witness of the Spirit. Hence they have taken it to be not any work of the Spirit upon the heart, giving evidence from whence men may argue that they are the children of God, but an inward immediate suggestion, as though God inwardly spoke to the man, and told him that he was his child, by a kind of secret voice, or impression. The manner in which the word witness, or testimony, is often used in the New Testament, viz. holding forth evidence from whence a thing may be argued and proved to be true. Thus, Heb. 2:4. God is said to bear witness, with signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost. Now these miracles are called God’s witness, not because they are of the nature of assertions, but evidences and proofs. So Acts 14:3. “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” And John 5:36. “But I have greater witness than that of John; for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” Again, chap. 10:25. “The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.” So the water and the blood are said to bear witness, 1 John 5:8. not that they asserted any thing, but they were evidences. So God’s works of providence, in rain and fruitful seasons, are witnesses of God’s being and goodness, i. e. they were evidences of these things. And when the Scripture speaks of the seal of the Spirit, it is an expression which properly denotes—not an immediate voice or suggestion, but—some work or effect of the Spirit left as a divine mark upon the soul, to be an evidence, by which God’s children might be known. The seals of princes were their distinguishing marks; and thus the seal of God is his mark, Rev. 7:3. “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads;” Ezek. 9:4. “Set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and that cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst thereof.” When God sets his seal on a man’s heart by his Spirit, there is some holy stamp, some image impressed, and left upon the heart by the Spirit, as by the seal upon the wax. And this holy stamp, or impressed image, exhibiting clear evidence to the conscience, that the subject of it is the child of God, is the very thing which in Scripture is called the seal of the Spirit, and the witness or evidence of the Spirit. And this mark enstamped by the Spirit on God’s children, is his own image. That is the evidence by which they are known to be God’s children; they have the image of their Father stamped upon their hearts by the Spirit of adoption. Seals anciently had engraven on them two things, viz. the image and the name of the person whose seal it was. Therefore when Christ says to his spouse, Cant. 8:6. “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:” it is as much as to say, let my name and image remain impressed there. The seals of princes, moreover, were wont to bear their image; so that what they set their seal and royal mark upon, had their image left on it. It was their manner also to have their image engraven on their jewels and precious stones; the image of Augustus engraven on a precious stone, was used as the seal of the Roman emperors, in the times of Christ and the apostles.* The saints are the jewels of Jesus Christ, the great potentate, who possesses the empire of the universe: and these jewels have his image enstamped upon them by his royal signet, which is the Holy Spirit. And this is undoubtedly what the Scripture means by the seal of the Spirit; especially when it is fair and plain to the eye of conscience; which is what the Scripture calls our spirit. This is truly an effect that is spiritual, supernatural, and divine. This is in itself of a holy nature, being a communication of the divine nature and beauty. That kind of influence of the Spirit which gives and leaves this stamp upon the heart, is such as no natural man can have. If there were any such thing as a witness of the Spirit by immediate suggestion or revelation, this would be vastly more noble and excellent, and as much above it as the heaven is above the earth. This the devil cannot imitate. Edwards, Works, 1:272–273.
And the third major ground of assurance of faith is the witness of the Holy Spirit with our spirit: ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God’ (Rom. 8:16). Now this is crucial and at this point I must express a criticism of the Revised Standard Version. You will find that the RSV links verses 15 and 16 together and instead of saying, ‘But ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God’, it has: ‘When we cry Abba, Father, it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’ Instead of two things, it makes it one; that is, He bears witness by making me cry, Abba, Father.
But the Authorised [King James] Version does not say that and is undoubtedly right. These two things are separate and distinct. The Spirit of adoption is something that is in our spirits. Indeed, Paul has been saying that: ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father’ (vv. 14–15). But the witness of the Holy Spirit with our spirit is something different, something additional—a witness. You notice that Paul does not say here, ‘that is borne through our spirit’; but ‘the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit’. Our spirits cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ Yes, and we must not say that that is the Spirit bearing witness in me. My spirit cries, ‘Abba, Father.’ Yes, but on top of that, the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit; He does not bear witness to it. My spirit does one thing and the Holy Spirit does something alongside.
As I have said, this is very important. This is, to me, one of the higher reaches of the Christian life. It is something that is very difficult to describe, and yet our Lord talked a lot about it. You will find the record in John 14, when He begins to introduce His teaching concerning the Holy Spirit. You will find that He says there that He and the Father will come to us and that they will take up their abode in us (v. 23). That is what I am talking about. That is what the Spirit does. When the Holy Spirit, this other Comforter, has come, the effect will be that the Father and the Son will come to us and will take up their abode in us. Indeed our Lord uses another word which is very striking. In connection with this selfsame teaching, He says, ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him’—notice—‘and will manifest myself to him’ (v. 21). He will manifest Himself in a spiritual manner to this person and that is something that is done by the Holy Spirit, about whom He is speaking.
Then there are statements in the first chapters of the book of Revelation about the ‘hidden manna’ and the ‘white stone’ that are given to the believer, and about the hidden name—the new name. Nobody else understands it; they do not know anything about these things, but believers do; that is the Spirit witnessing with their spirit. Indeed, Paul has already said it in Romans 5 when he says, ‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us’ (v. 5). So what is this? It is something that is difficult to put into words, but it is an operation of the Holy Spirit within us which is definite and distinct and by means of which He gives us a realisation and a consciousness of the living Lord. Christ manifests Himself to us and we know Him with a kind of inner intuition, over and above all that we believe about Him by faith. He is made real to us. I am very fond of quoting Hudson Taylor’s prayer about this:
Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me
A living bright reality.
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any outward object seen,
More dear, more intimately nigh
Than e’en the sweetest earthly tie.
That is it. It is something to which God’s people have testified from the very beginning.
Now this is the ultimate, the final ground of assurance. It is a certain knowledge because He is real to us, because He has manifested Himself to us according to His promise. And it is interesting to notice the saints who testify to this. Again, it cuts across all the different schools of theology. Luther had an experience of that; Jonathan Edwards had it; Whitefield had it; so did Wesley, Finney and Moody. In many respects they did not belong to the same schools theologically, but they all together witnessed to this experience which the Holy Spirit had given them when He testified with their spirits, and they felt it to be overwhelming.
Moody was walking down a street in New York City when it happened to him. He had to hold up his hands and pray God to stop; he was afraid he would be crushed and killed physically because of the glory and the grandeur and the transcendence of the experience. That is the ultimate ground of assurance though the feelings accompanying it may vary tremendously. Again, in the case of Finney it came as wave after wave upon him, and he was drenched with perspiration. Read the accounts of these men and what they have to tell you. For John Wesley it was not so overwhelming, but was a ‘strange warming’ of his heart. And so we could go on. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997), 160–162.
Manton:[2.] The witness of the Spirit. Because this is often mistaken, I shall the more distinctly lay it before you.
(1.) The Spirit layeth down marks in scripture which may decide this question, whether ye are the children of God, yea or no. As for instance: 1 John 3:10, ‘In this the children of God are manifested, and the children of the devil; whosoever doth not righteousness is not of God; neither he that loveth not his brother.’ And again, Rom. 8:14, ‘As many as are led by the Spirit, are the sons of God.’ So every where in the Scripture God expressly telleth us who shall go to heaven, and who shall go to hell; and that there is no neutral and middle estate between the holy and carnal; all are of one sort or other. Now if we should go no further, the text would bear a good sense. The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, when our conscience can witness our sincerity in a course of obedience unto God. The Spirit’s witness in Scripture, that this is a sound, so a true evidence; and the testimony of conscience confirmed by Scripture; for whatever is spoken in scripture, is supposed to be the very voice and testimony of the Spirit: as Acts 28:25, ‘Well spake the Holy Ghost by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers;’ so Heb. 3:7, ‘Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, to-day if ye will hear his voice.’ So the Spirit speaketh or witnesseth to our spirits,—namely, in the word; supposing what is to be supposed, this must not be slighted. Yet this is not all; for the context speaketh not of a witness without, but motion within, whereby we are restrained from sin, and inclined to cry, Abba, Father.
(2.) He worketh such graces in us, as are peculiar to God’s children, and evidences of our interest in the favour of God; as when he doth renew and sanctify the soul. And so many of the choicest divines take the word witness for evidence, or the objective testimony; namely, that the presence, and dwelling, and working of the sanctifying Spirit in us is the argument and matter of the proof, upon which the whole cause or traverse dependeth. That it is so to be taken, is clear in that exclusive mark: Rom. 8:9, ‘But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.’ And in that positive mark: 1 John 3:24, ‘And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him; and hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us;’ and again, 1 John 4:13, ‘Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us his Spirit.’ That holy and charitable spirit; the gracious operations of his presence, are the argument whence we conclude.
(3.) He helpeth us to discern this work in our souls more clearly. Conscience doth its part to discover it; and the Spirit of God doth his part; namely, as he helpeth us to know and see that grace which he giveth and actuateth in us; for he revealeth ‘the things given us of God,’ 1 Cor. 2:12, not only in the gospel, though chiefly; but also in our hearts. The workman that made a thing can best warrant it to the buyer. First he sanctifieth, and then he certifieth; sometimes we overlook our evidences, through the darkness and confusion that is in our hearts. Hagar saw not the fountain that was near her, till God opened her eyes, Gen. 21:19. There is a misgiving in the conscience; we cannot see grace in the midst of weakness and imperfections. Mary wept for the absence of Christ, when yet he stood by her, John 20:14, 15. The Spirit dwelleth and worketh in their hearts, but they know it not.
(4.) He helpeth us not only to see grace, but to judge of the sincerity of grace. It is more easy to prove that we believe, than to know that our faith is saving; to love Christ, than to know that we love him in sincerity; because of the deceitfulness of the heart, and the mixtures of unbelief, self-love, and other sins; and some degrees may be in hypocrites, as temporary faith, tastes, imperfect love, partial obedience. And besides, grace where it is weak, is hardly perceived; the air will show itself in a windy season; the fire when it is blown up into a flame, it is no more hidden. Grace strengthened, increased, acted, is more evident to conscience; habits are discerned by acts and exercise, and God is wont to reward the faithful soul with his assuring seal of light and comfort: 1 John 3:18, ‘Love not in word, or in tongue only, but in deed and in truth.’ The less we are christians in show, and the more in sincerity, the more joy and peace.
(5.) He helpeth us with boldness to conclude from these evidences. Many times when the premises are clear, the conclusion is suspended. We find in case of condemnation, it is suspended out of self-love; many know that they that live after the flesh shall die, yet they will not judge themselves; and the same may be done in case of self-approbation, out of legal fear or jealousy; for persons of great fancy, and large affections, are always full of scruples, or loathness to apply the comforts due to them. The Spirit concludeth for them, that they are the children of God: 1 John 3:14, ‘We know that we have passed from death to life;’ 1 John 2:3, ‘And hereby we know that we know him.’
(6.) He causeth us to feel the comfort of this conclusion: Rom. 15:13, ‘Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing;’ it is an impression of the comforting Spirit; and Acts 9:31, ‘They walked in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.’ The Spirit is necessary to this actual joy; for it is possible a man may be persuaded of his sincerity, or have no doubting of it, and have too much deadness and dulness of soul; not so comforted. Well then, it is not an oracle, as to Christ, Mat. 3:17; nor an internal suggestion, Thou art a child of God; we have no warrant for that from scripture. It is not only to, but with conscience. Now conscience goeth upon rational evidence; and we reason and argue from what we feel, or find in ourselves; and it is according to the covenant, where privileges are assigned the believer: John 1:12, ‘To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God;’ to the penitent: Acts 2:38, ‘Repent, and you shall receive the Holy Ghost;’ to the obedient: ‘He is become the author of salvation to all that obey him.’ Manton, Works, 12:127–129.
Reformed theologians generally have a somewhat different conception of the testimony of the Holy Spirit, added to that of our own spirit. While some are inclined to think that Paul in Rom. 8:15, 16 speaks of but a single witness, that of the Holy Spirit, the majority are of the opinion that he has two witnesses in mind, the witness of the believing spirit and that of the Spirit of God. There can be little doubt that the apostle refers to a double testimony. At the same time it is perfectly clear that he conceives of the two as most intimately related, the one as grounded in the other. This is evident from the fact that, according to Rom. 8:15, believers cry “in the Spirit,” Abba, Father; and that Gal. 4:6 represents this cry as that of the Spirit himself. It may be said that the Spirit of God testifies through our spirit, but also to our spirit.
Even in Reformed circles the testimony of the human spirit is often represented as being exclusively the product of a reflective process, and not at all the result of a spontaneous conviction which issues, without any consciousness of argumentative procedure, from living spiritual affections. And yet it would seem that Paul has in mind such an instinctive witnessing, when he says that we cry in the Spirit, Abba, Father. Certainly a man’s judgment, on reviewing himself and finding that he has the fruits of the Spirit, is a witness of his own spirit that he is a child of God. “But,” says Sheldon, “there is a swifter and intenser witness than this. The mother whose heart is actually bound up in her child does not need, in order to convince herself that she has parental love, to reflect upon an approved catalogue of the fruits of parental love. The outgoing of her heart to her offspring is an immediate experience of parental love, an original knowledge which reflection may ratify, but to whose vivacity and certainty it can add little or nothing. So spiritual emotions and affections in the heart,—the feeling of trust, the blended reverence and confidence, the joyful complacency which accompanies the thought of God, the thirst for divine fellowship, and the sense of that fellowship,—irradiate one’s relation to God before time is taken for any formal induction.” And it is just this immediate consciousness of love to God, of trust and confidence in him, of reverence and childlike fear, of longings for God and satisfaction in his blessed communion, and of joy in obedient service, that prompts the spontaneous cry, arising from the depths of the soul, “Abba, Father.” It is a human cry, but a cry of divine origin, born of the Spirit of God.
But the believer, knowing the deceitfulness of his own heart, and conscious of his inability to understand, to fathom, and to evaluate the deep things of God, may be inclined to doubt his own testimony, especially in seasons of spiritual darkness and when satan sows the seeds of distrust in the heart. Therefore the apostle points to the fact that there is another and more fundamental testimony than that of the human consciousness; a testimony of one who knows, a testimony that is absolutely reliable, a testimony that can never be invalidated. It is the testimony of the Holy Spirit, who knows the deep things of God, who is absolutely infallible in his judgment, and who will maintain his estimate of believers in spite of all adversaries. “The spirit himself beareth witness with (or, to) our spirit, that we are children of God.” If the believer confidently addresses God as his Father in heaven, God recognizes the believer as his child.
This testimony of the Holy Spirit should not be conceived of as a communication, conveyed to the believer by a secret voice, and giving him the assurance that he is a child of God; nor as a specific operation of the Holy Spirit on the mind, by which he directs attention to a passage of Scripture containing that assurance. Neither should it be regarded as a testimony that is given once for all at the moment of conversion, to which the believer can confidently appeal ever after, no matter whether he be yielding the fruits of the Spirit, or be following the lusts of the flesh. The Spirit of God testifies continually by his indwelling in the hearts of those that fear the Lord, and by all those gracious operations in the renewal of man that are so manifestly divine. He opens the eye of faith to the beauty and glory of the promises of God, illumines the mind so that their spiritual import is understood, and fills the heart with a sense of their appropriateness for lost sinners. He discloses to the spiritual eye the gracious character of the Saviour, causes the sinner to flee to him for refuge and to seek shelter in the shadow of his wings, and leads the soul to a trustful repose, safe in the arms of Jesus. He speaks in all the movements of the new life: in the love of God that is shed abroad in our hearts, in the filial spirit, the spirit of love and reverence and obedience, in his intercessions in the inner man with groanings that cannot be uttered, in the manifold experiences of comfort in suffering, strength in weakness, victory in seasons of temptation, and perseverence under the trials of faith. These are all works of the Holy Spirit. In so far as they are in us and abound, they bear witness to the reality of our reconciliation with God, and in the very voice of the Spirit give us the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we are children of God. These vital spiritual affections shine with their own light, and thus constitute the testimony of the Holy Spirit that carries conviction to the soul. The more the life of faith develops, the greater our progress in the way of sanctification, the clearer will the voice of the spirit ring out, dispelling all doubts and filling the heart with joy and peace.
We meet with a closely related idea, where Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as a seal with which believers are sealed, and as an earnest of their inheritance. This twofold significance of the Spirit finds expression in a single passage, Eph. 1:13, 14 … “in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God’s own possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Now a seal is used for various purposes: (1) to authenticate or mark as true and genuine; (2) to mark as one’s property; and (3) to insure security or safety. The sealing of believers has this threefold significance. Being in possession of the Holy Spirit, they have the witness within themselves that they are true children of God, 1 John 5:10; Rom. 5:5; 8:16. By the seal of the Spirit that is impressed upon them they are also marked as belonging to God, so that others readily recognize them as children of God. Moreover, the fact that they are said to be sealed unto the day of redemption, Eph. 4:30, clearly indicates that the sealing of God secures their safety, that they are thereby rendered sure of their final salvation. The Spirit is even the earnest of their inheritance. In him believers possess the first fruits of the full harvest of salvation that will be reaped in the great day of the coming of Jesus Christ. Louis Berkhof, The Assurance of Faith, 58–63.