Saturday, June 24, 2006

What is a Wesleyan? Witness of the Spirit

"The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God," (Rom 8.16 ESV)

When one thinks of Wesleyanism one often either thinks, "He's not a Calvinist" or one thinks of the doctrine of Christian perfection, both of which were covered in earlier posts. However, there is another Wesleyan distinctive: the witness of the Spirit. Listen to Wesley's words from his Sermons, number 11, "The Witness of the Spirit":
It more nearly concerns the Methodists, so called, clearly to understand, explain, and defend this doctrine; because it is one grand part of the testimony which God has given them to bear to all mankind. It is by this peculiar blessing upon them in searching the Scriptures, confirmed by the experience of his children, that this great evangelical truth has been recovered, which had been or many years well nigh lost and forgotten.
For John Wesley himself to say that God has given the Methodists the obligation of teaching the witness of the Spirit to the world is a fascinating statement. Wesley surely felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders to announce his belief before others.

What is the witness of the Spirit? It's like trying to grab a wet fish; you know he's there but he's hard to grab hold of! Wesley attempts a definition:
I observed many years ago, 'It is hard to find words in the language of men, to explain the deep things of God. Indeed there are none that will adequately express what the Spirit of God works in his children. But perhaps one might say, (desiring any who are taught of God, to correct, soften, or strengthen the expression,) By the testimony of the Spirit, I mean, an inward impression on the soul whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.'

After twenty years' further consideration, I see no cause to retract any part of this. Neither do I conceive how any of these expressions may be altered, so as to make them more intelligible. I can only add, that if any of the children of God will point out any other expressions, which are more clear, or more agreeable to the word of God, I will readily lay these aside."
If the venerable evangelist defined it with difficulty we should approach it with caution. However, another question arises--is the witness of the Holy Spirit the same for everybody? Wesley replies in the negative:
Meantime let it be observed, I do not mean hereby, that the Spirit of God testifies this by any outward voice; no, nor always by an inward voice, although he may do this sometimes. Neither do I suppose, that he always applies to the heart (though he often may) one or more texts of Scripture. But he so works upon the soul by his immediate influence, and by a strong, though inexplicable operation, that the stormy wind and troubled waves subside, and there is a sweet calm; the heart resting as in the arms of Jesus, and the sinner being clearly satisfied that God is reconciled, that all his 'iniquities are forgiven, and his sins covered.'
Wesley leaves things a bit indefinite, doesn't he? He recognized that the Spirit is sovereign and may choose different methods for making his children aware that they belong to him and are saved.

Do you have this Holy Spirit witness? Do you know without a doubt that you are born again? If not, please continue to seek the Lord until he blesses you with this grace. It is a blessed doctrine that the late Calvinistic Methodist, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones of the Whitefieldian school of thought, emphasizes so strongly in his book, Joy Unspeakable.
"Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!"
(Psa 105.4 ESV)