From Rev. Richard Watson’s sermon, “God With Us”, preached in August, 1829 (bold mine):
“For in Him we live, and move, and have our being,” Acts xviii, 28.
The question, whether we are left to ourselves to form religious opinions, is settled by the fact that God has granted us a revelation from Himself on all the subjects connected with our moral state and relations. He has, however, done more than this; He condescends to become the secret teacher of the meaning of His own revealed word; and not only to present it to our attention, but to “open our understandings,” that we may know the Scriptures. It is thus that He visits us as “the day spring from on high, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, and to guide their feet into the way of peace.”
But as this view supposes a secret influence of God upon the mind, it cannot be tolerated by those who boast themselves to be rational Christians. It is bringing God too near to man for their philosophy. But in their case the doctrine of direct Divine influence is rejected, not, I fear, from humility, which is often the pretence, but from self sufficiency. So near, indeed, will such persons allow that God has been to man, that He has spoken to us by “holy men of old;” so near, that He authenticated their inspiration by “signs, and miracles, and divers gifts of the Holy Ghost;” but when this extraordinary work of the Spirit was accomplished, it is contended, nothing more was necessary; and that man, left to himself, is as competent to collect the sense of holy Scripture, as that of any common and uninspired writing on any subject within the comprehension of an ordinary intellect. This theory is often exhibited in plausible guise; but it will be sufficient for its refutation, if we can show that it leaves the case of man wholly unprovided for; and that if God were to stand thus “far from us” in our inquiries into the mysteries of his religion, not one of us could ever come to the effectual knowledge of the truth.
1. Man is not only indifferent, but even averse and hostile to that very truth which he is urged to study, and which his unassisted powers are said to be adequate fully to apprehend. Here is the first difficulty which presents itself. We may not, indeed, be averse to every part of revealed truth. The Bible has a history, a poetry, a charm in the style of its narrative, a power in its exhibition of character, and a sublimity of doctrine, which shall often engage the attention, and gratify the taste, of even worldly and unregenerate men. But the test lies not here.
Do they love the truth which reproves and condemns them? the truth which faithfully lays open their soul’s danger, and presses it upon their fears? the truth which strips them of all plea of worthiness and merit, and brings down the most virtuous among them to the common level of all sinners, as to merit, in the sight of God, to be “justified freely by his grace,” “through faith?”
We daily see the contrary; and as to every such truth, when presented to them, so far are they from having the disposition calmly and with interest to investigate its evidence and its import, they exclaim, “Hast thou found me, o mine enemy?”
What, then, shall bring the minds of such men — supposing them even to be able, without assistance from the teaching Spirit, to enter fully into their meaning — to study such truths, so necessary to their salvation, with an intense anxiety not to be mistaken in them, and with perfect sincerity? A power independent of man’s heart must be supposed.
No man of his own accord ever took the Scriptures, and read himself into self knowledge, penitence, alarm, and abasement; no man ever persuaded another to do this; and, in the nature of the case, a visitation from on high must be supposed, to conquer the natural aversion of the heart to truths of this class, and to make a man willing to take the gauge of his own wretchedness and danger, and to offer up all his pride and false hope “to be hewn in pieces before the Lord,” by the sword which proceedeth out of His mouth.
2. We are to consider that the love of sin, in some form or other, is found in every man while in his natural and unregenerate state. But wherever this is found, it infallibly darkens the judgment on all subjects of vital importance in religion. This was exhibited among the Pharisees of our Lord’s time. I grant the case is an extreme one; and that it presents an awful picture of men so blinded by their passions, as to be impenetrable to the force of the most stupendous evidence , and to persecute unto death the incarnate Son of God, notwithstanding that obvious stamp of divinity which His “mighty works” had impressed upon him.
But this dark picture is drawn, that, by seeing the full effect of the principle, we may be made aware of its malignant character. A principle which could produce such effects in them cannot exist in any degree without perverting the judgment as to all those truths of religion, on which it is of the first importance that we should have the clearest conceptions. But if this same principle—the love of sin and the world—is found in all unregenerate persons, how is the meaning of the word of God to be attained fully by them, as the meaning of any other writing against which no such passion, and its darkening influence, operates?
If you say that man must first conquer his evil propensities, and then come to the study of truth, you set him upon doing this without a right knowledge of that Divine revelation which alone fully describes his case, and teaches its remedy. If you bid him apply to God in prayer for the previous cure of his evil nature, in order to prepare him to receive the truth, then you suppose that God renews the heart of man independent of his word, which is expressly declared to be the instrument of our regeneration, and of sanctifying the Church; and farther, if you are obliged, in order to meet the cas , to admit a direct Divine influence upon the will and affections, why should you hesitate to admit it as operating upon the understanding also?
My brethren, we are not left without full information on this important point. There are two grand offices of the Holy Spirit which answer to each other, and which bring us fully out of the difficulty. He is the Teacher of men; but He is first the Spirit who “convinces” or reproves of sin; and when He thus fulfils His office by that power which He exerts through the word preached, read, or brought to mind, He strikes life into the soul which was before dead in trespasses and sins, and by awakening the fears makes truth the object of desire, however painful and reproving, if it may lead to salvation.The love of error is cured by this flash upon the conscience, and the soul stands prepared to be led by the teaching of God into all truth. Thus we see that we could never come to the knowledge of the truth, if God were far from us; and if we admit this, we cannot stagger at the next step, that He is the constant guide of the humbled spirit. Yes, the words of our Saviour are eternally true—”I am the light of the world; if any man follow me,” with a docile mind, “he shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life;” and when the teacher God is near, His law brightens before us into all the lustre of its celestial and awful purity; redemption exhibits a more illustrious fitness; duties are seen under higher reasons; holiness is arrayed in lovelier beauty; and promises disclose their heights and depths of meaning. Thus the understanding, filled with increasing light and conviction, leads up the other powers to their legitimate and vigorous exercise; the choice of the will is decided; the excitement of holy desires becomes more habitual and intense; effort is invigorated; the various graces of the regenerate character bloom and bear fruit under the clear heaven of a spirit filled with the light and influence of God; and “the man of God is thoroughly furnished for every good word and work.”