Sonship, and the leading of the Spirit of God.

H. H. Snell.

Christian Friend vol. 17, 1890, p. 18.

It is only by the surpassing riches of the grace of God that any of us are His children; and because it is wholly of grace, it must be therefore on the principle of faith, and not of works. Hence we read, "Ye are all the children [sons] of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26.) It is, however, very blessed to know it on the authority of the word of God as a divine certainty; but more blessed still to have the enjoyment of this new and everlasting relationship by the truth brought home to our hearts in the power of the Holy Ghost. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." Another inspired apostle says, "Beloved, now are we the sons [children] of God." (Rom. 8:16; 1 John 3:2.) It is scarcely possible that anything can be more simply or more definitely stated. There is no "if" or "but" in the sentence; no "hoping to be" or room for the shadow of a "doubt." The fact is unmistakably set forth, that all who truly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are "children of God." Let us never forget that this is what the Spirit of God teaches, and it is therefore God's truth, and not man's opinion. Till we receive what God says about the death and bloodshedding of His own Son, and because He says it, we are not believers, not children of God. But having been born of the Spirit, and having received the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit is given to indwell us as God's seal, His anointing, the earnest of the inheritance, to lead us also and teach us, so that we might know and enjoy, on the authority of Scripture, our new and everlasting relationship of children. He witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God; and it is a never-ending source of holy enjoyment, thanksgiving, and praise. In this way the soul begins to know God as Father. "Because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." (Gal. 4:6.)

Nor is this all; for we are further instructed, "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." (Rom. 8:17.) Let us not, dear reader, lightly pass this by, but consider how far we know and enjoy this blessed relationship to God into which we have been brought. Let us remember that we have "joy and peace in believing;" not in knowing the doctrine merely, but in receiving the truth of it into our hearts as from the mouth of God. Thus eating the words of God for ourselves, making them our own, we live day by day in the comfort of this unchangeable and everlasting relationship. Sure it is that, however pious we may appear, we cannot walk as children of God unless we know we are His children. Many will say, "Yes, I see it," or, "I have known it for some years," but to live day by day in the enjoyment of it as a settled reality, and look on to the blessed prospect laid out before us, produces gladness of heart and holy liberty as nothing else can. Let us then not fail to receive from God by His word, and enjoy before Him, the astounding truth that His own unfathomable grace has made us His children to care for and comfort for ever to His own everlasting praise and glory.

Observe, too, that the Spirit given to us to make us know that we are God's children is spoken of as "the Spirit of His Son," that we may have in our measure His own feelings and affections; and that He is also spoken of as "the Spirit of adoption," to make us realize our position, and give us thoughts, feelings, and affections suited to Abba, Father. Our Lord prayed that the love wherewith the Father loved Him may be in us, and also referred to a time when the world will know that the Father has loved us as He loved Him. Precious grace!

The Holy Spirit is also our Leader. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." And be it remembered that He is here also to guide us into all the truth. He is never spoken of as driving us, but in all the tenderness of a loving nurse leading the little children. This is in full keeping with divine love; and being led by Him is a mark of sonship. As to this leading of the Spirit of God, it is easy to say, "I am led of the Spirit to do this or that;" but it is certain that He never leads us to have confidence in the flesh, or to covet a position in the world which has crucified the Lord of glory, or to do anything contrary to His word. Doubtless His usual way of leading is by the written word, though as to time, place, circumstances, and other details, if we walk in the truth, watch His eye and hand, having no will of our own in activity, but with all humility having an eye to His glory, He will assuredly guide. The Spirit is the Glorifier and Testifier of the Son of God, and takes of the things of the Father, and of the Son, and shows them unto us; and these are important landmarks never to be lost sight of. To separate, therefore, the operations of the Spirit of God from the testimony of the written Word, and from the person of the Son, would be misleading and unsound.

The Holy Spirit brings us into conscious association with Christ. Even if He occupies us with ourselves to reprove us for sin, it is to bring us with self-judgment into the presence of God. As we are called into the fellowship of the Son of God, to have parted company with Him is to have descended to the thoughts of the flesh. Communion with the Father and the Son is the normal state of the child of God; and it is maintained only in the power of the Holy Spirit. The world does not receive the Holy Spirit "because," as our Lord said, "it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him;" to His disciples, however, He blessedly added, "But ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." (John 14:17.) All believers who know they are God's children, know, in some feeble measure, the Holy Spirit, and something of His gracious operations and ways. Those who have the Spirit of God dwelling in them have a personal consciousness of God's love, for it is shed abroad in their hearts; they delight to bow to Jesus as their Lord as well as Saviour; and they know that they are God's children. They realize also His power in ministering the precious things of the Son of God to them, while drawing their hearts upward to Christ, and outward for Christ. Examples of the leading and operations of the Spirit abound in Scripture, not only in associating our hearts and minds with Christ, but always in the most suitable and seasonable way as meeting our circumstances and service. Let us look briefly at some of them.

In Acts 2, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, stood up to preach. And to what did the Spirit of God lead him? His sermon, from beginning to end, was concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter refers his hearers first to the prophet Joel, who spoke of the Spirit being poured out. He proves that Psalm 16 was fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. He quotes from Psalm 132 to show that Messiah must be of the fruit of David's loins according to the flesh. He turns to Psalm 110 to show the fulfilment of the ascension and session of Christ at God's right hand, till He comes forth to judge, and His enemies are made His footstool. He also sets Christ before the people as the One who received in glory the Holy Spirit, and sent Him down. Peter brings in all his hearers guilty of the crucifixion of Christ, but earnestly commends to them God's grace as willing to give them remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We ask, Could there be a finer example of the Spirit's leading and operation in using the written Word concerning the glorified Saviour consequent upon His finished work upon the cross? And could any line of things be more suitable to the preacher and the hearers in their then circumstances and need?

Let us look also at Stephen in Acts 7. How did the Spirit lead him? We read that "he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." The Spirit occupies him with the glorified Man on the throne of God as an absorbing Object, and the most suitable ministry that he could have at that time. His testimony, therefore, was not one word about himself or his sufferings, but of Jesus. He said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." Could there be a more touching witness of the Spirit's leading an afflicted soul into the present sustaining and comforting blessing of the ever-living Son of God? Can we conceive anything that could be more truly meat in due season? And what was its effect? Was he not so strengthened to bear his terrible sufferings that in his measure, like our blessed Lord, he could pray for his murderers, and calmly commit his spirit to his Saviour, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

We read of John that he "was in the Spirit on the Lord's day." And what did he see and hear and learn? He heard a great voice as of a trumpet saying, "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last." He saw the Son of man, in His own faithfulness and grace, "in the midst" of the assemblies on earth. And he learned his own nothingness and weakness, the mystery of the Lord's person, and that He had died and was alive again, and that for evermore. He felt the surpassing tenderness of His right hand laid upon him, he tasted the exceeding comfort of His "Fear not," and knew Him now in the place of authority over death and hades, for He held the keys of both. Can anything, we ask, more fully show that when the Spirit leads He brings us to have to do with Christ, and that too in the best possible way to meet us in our present state or circumstances or service? How else could John have been fitted to discern and communicate to us the mysteries of the visions which were to pass before him for our guidance and untold blessing? Hence the next words were, "Write the things which thou hast seen," etc. Happy are those who thus go into service from personal intercourse with the Son of God. How else can we expect to be divinely used instruments?

So clearly is the testimony of the Spirit connected with true thoughts of Christ, that the apostle John lays it down as a test of those with whom we come in contact, that "every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God: and every spirit who does not confess Jesus Christ come in flesh is not of God" (N.T.), whatever their pretensions may be. So vital is this point that it is prefaced by the saying, "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God." Such also not only "love the brethren," but are subject to the apostle's words, "He that is of God heareth us … Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." (1 John 4:1-8.)

Look also at Barnabas when full of the Holy Ghost, and see what characterized his ministry. Did he not direct the young converts to have to do with the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes; "he exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord." (Acts 11:23-24.)

Take the apostle Paul as another example, not only in all his epistles ministering Christ, variously and yet seasonably, to each and all; but he serves also to show us that when a man is under the Holy Spirit's leading, he will have such a keen sense of what dishonours the Lord and perverts the truth of God, that his whole soul will be filled with holy indignation. He had anguish of heart, much affliction, and shed many tears over the Corinthian dishonour to Christ; he wept over professors, because they were ministering to the flesh instead of reckoning themselves dead with Christ, and thus were "enemies to the cross of Christ," as he states in his letter to the Philippian saints. (2 Cor. 2:4; Phil. 3:18.) But on another occasion, when "filled with the Holy Ghost," he found one perverting the truth, and seeking to turn away another from the faith, and Paul "set his eyes on him, and said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season," etc. (Acts 13:9-11.) We may be sure that when the Spirit leads, He gives us to have to do with Christ, to honour, serve, and look for Him, and to see every thing in relation to Him, according to His own blessed word of truth. May we more rejoice that we are God's children, and as such look for the constant leading and operations of the Spirit till Christ comes! H. H. S.