by Ebenezer Erskine
This vision represents of the deliverance of the children of Israel out of their Babylonish captivity-which is for us a type of our spiritual redemption purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, by the mighty operation of the Holy Spirit of God.
As the majority of a church and people in Covenant with God may be in a very dead and languishing condition as to their souls, so the breathings and influences of the Holy Spirit of God are absolutely necessary for their revival. Let us consider:
1. This deadness is nothing else but a disease of the soul, by which it is rendered unfit and incapable for holy and spiritual exercises. And this is either total or partial. Those who are totally dead have nothing of spiritual life in them at all. They are "in the gall of bitterness, and under the bond of iniquity" without God, without Christ, and therefore without hope.
But there is also a partial death incident to believers, in whose souls God has implanted a principle of spiritual life. This partial death consists in a decay of spiritual principles and habits. Their faith, their love, their hope, and other graces lie dormant in the soul, like the life of the tree that lies hid in its root, without fruit or blossoms, during the winter season.
The flame of such a one's affections, his zeal, love, desire, may be reduced to a few coals and cinders. The mind, which once could meditate with delight upon God and Christ, and the Covenant, and things that are above, may instead dote upon the fading vanities of a present world. The common gifts of the Spirit may be in a great measure blasted-and, worst of all, the saving graces, and fruits of the Spirit, may become woefully impaired.
This partial death of believers may be two-fold: there is a deadness which is felt by God's people, and a deadness which is not felt. The Lord was departed from Samson, "and he wist not" (Judg. 16:20). But there is a deadness which is felt, when God's people have a sense of their deadness, and are lamenting it. And it is an evidence of some revival when the Lord's people are beginning to cry out, "Wilt thou not revive us again; that thy people may rejoice in thee?" (Ps. 85:6:).
1) As neglect of food will soon cause the body to languish, if the means of grace be not diligently improved, the spiritual life of the soul will soon languish and wither.
2) Surfeiting the soul with sensual pleasure is another great cause of spiritual death: "Whoredom and wine, and new wine take away the heart" (Hos. 4:11). If Samson do but sleep on Delilah's lap, she will betray him into the hands of the Philistines, and cut the locks wherein his strength lies.
3) Inactivity and sloth in salvation and regeneration-work is another cause of spiritual deadness. If we do not exercise ourselves unto godliness, and endeavor to abound in the work of the Lord, the spiritual life will soon dwindle away.
4) The contagion of evil example, by a carnal world and irreligious relatives, has a fatal influence this way. If we cast ourselves into the society of the wicked, without a special call and warrant from Providence, it will be next to an impossibility to keep ourselves free of the contagion: "Can a man carry fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burnt? Can a man walk upon hot coals, and his feet not be burnt? Evil communications corrupt good manners."
5) Our own lusts also war against the soul, causing grievous wounds. If the filth and guilt of these wounds be not carefully washed away by the blood and Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, they will exceedingly impair our spiritual life.
6) God sometimes suspends the influences of His Spirit. He may do this to humble His people, or try them to see if they will live on Him by faith, when they cannot live by sight or sense. And sometimes He does it to correct them for their iniquities.
1) Lack of appetite for the bread and water of life is a symptom of spiritual death. Are not sabbaths, sacraments, sermons, fast-days, and feast-days, burdens to many among us, so that they would he ready to say with the Israelites of old: "What a weariness is this?" Whereas, the soul that is in a lively condition is ready to say, "One day in thy courts is better than a thousand" (Ps. 84:10).
2) If one does not grow, it is a dangerous situation. Many are going backward instead of forward. The thriving Christian is a growing Christian.
3) Perhaps the day has been, O believer, when the beauty of holiness adorned every step of your conversation; but now, alas! the beauty of your conversation is sullied and stained, by "lying among the pots" of sin.
4) Death also wastes the strength (see Eccl. 12:3). Perhaps once you could have said with Paul, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" But now, like a dead fish, you are carried down the stream.
5) A dead man cannot move, except as he is moved from without. So it is a sign of spiritual death, even in believers, when external motives and considerations have a greater influence upon them than an internal principle of faith and love.
1. The nature of the Holy Spirit's work:
These influences of the Spirit, are given for various ends. Dr. Owen, in his Discourses on the Spirit, observes that these saving influences are given to the elect of God for regeneration, to the regenerate for sanctification, to the sanctified for consolation, and to the comforted Christians for edification and establishment, until they arrive at perfection in glory.
The Holy Spirit is the author and cause of all saving influences. He prepares and disposes the soul of man for the acceptance of the things of God, which are not received nor discerned by the natural mind. He ploughs up the fallow ground of the heart and turns it into a fruitful field. He preserves, cherishes, and maintains the fruit of the Spirit by renewed influences. He cherishes the smoking flax, and at last turns it into a lamp of glory in heaven.
2. The variety of these influences: "There are diversities of gifts and operations, but the same Spirit," (1 Cor. 11:4).
There are convincing influences (John 16:8). The Spirit of the Lord, like a stormy north wind, blows hard upon the sinner's face, and awakens him; breaks his carnal peace and security, brings him to himself, and lets him see his danger.
There are enlightening influences. There is a "veil and face of a covering that is spread over all nations" (Isa. 25:7). The wind of the Holy Ghost must blow off this veil of ignorance and unbelief; and then the poor sinner comes to see a wonderful great God, a wonderful Redeemer, a wonderful Covenant, and a wonderful holy law. "By the Spirit we know the things that are freely given to us of God" (1 Cor. 2:12).
There are renewing influences. We are "saved by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5).
There are comforting influences. The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, and His consolations are strong, filling the soul with a joy that is "unspeakable, and full of glory."
There are corroborating and strengthening influences. It is He that "gives power to the faint, and increases strength to them that have no might."
There are drawing and enlarging influences of the Spirit. The poor believer many times is not able to move one step in the way of the Lord-but, O! when the Spirit of the Lord comes, then come liberty and enlargement.
There are sin-mortifying influences. We, through the Spirit, are said to "mortify the deeds of the body, that so we may live."
There are interceding influences: "The Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26). He makes us to wrestle and pray; therefore he is called "the Spirit of grace and supplications" (Zech. 12:10).
There are sealing and witnessing influences of the Spirit: He "witnesseth with our spirits, that we are the sons of God," And, "Ye are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of the inheritance." (Eph. 1:13-14).
1) The breathings of the Spirit are sovereignly free as to the time of their donation, free as to their duration and continuance, free as to the measure, and free as to the manner of their working.
2) He breathes on the soul sometimes very surprisingly: Can you not recall, believer, that sometimes, when you have been in a very heartless and lifeless condition, a gale from heaven has surprised you? "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Ps. 30:5).
3) The Spirit, which is the candle of the Lord, "searcheth the lower parts of the belly." He makes a discovery of these lusts and idols that sulk in the secret chambers of the heart.
4) The breathings of this wind are sometimes very powerful. The Spirit of the Lord, especially at first conversion, may break in upon the soul like the rushing of a mighty wind, as He did upon the apostles, breaking down the strongholds of iniquity, casting to the ground every high thought of the soul that exalts itself against Christ.
5) Although He can act thus powerfully and irresistibly, yet it is with an overcoming sweetness, and there is not the least violence offered to any of the natural faculties of the soul.
6) There is something in the operation of the eternal Spirit and His influences beyond the reach, not only of natural but of sanctified reason. "Thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goes" (John 3:8).
4. The necessity of these breathings:
1) That they are necessary, will appear from the express declaration of Christ: "Without me, ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). Also, says the Apostle Paul, "We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is of God" (2 Cor. 3:5). Further, they are promised in the Covenant, and therefore necessary (see Isa. 44:3 and Ezek. 36:27).
2) Why are these breathings necessary? They are necessary, first, to quicken the elect of God, when they are stark dead in trespasses and sins. Can ever the dry bones live, unless this omnipotent wind blow upon them? "No man," says Christ, "can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him." Second, these influences are necessary for the suitable discharge of every duty of religion. You cannot read, you cannot hear, you can not pray or praise, you cannot communicate to any advantage, unless the wind of the Holy Spirit blow upon you. Again, they are necessary for accomplishing our spiritual warfare against sin, Satan, and the world. We will never be able to combat our spiritual enemies, if He do not help us. Finally, the Spirit's influences are necessary for conviction, illumination, renovation, consolation, enlargement, mortification of sin, and for assurance of our adoption.
5. The seasons of these influences of the Spirit:
1) The Spirit's reviving influences blow, very ordinarily, in a day of conversion. This is a season when this wind breathes on the soul, when God puts His Spirit within it, when the soul is first espoused unto Christ (see Ezek. 36:26).
2) When the soul has been deeply humbled under a sense of sin and unworthiness. When Ephraim is brought low, acknowledging his sin and folly, then the Spirit of the Lord comes with a reviving gale upon his spirit.
3) After a dark night of desertion, when the Lord returns again, it is a time of sweet influences. After Zion had been crying, "The Lord hath forsaken me, my God hath forgotten me," came a sweet gale of the Spirit, "Can a woman forget her child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget thee."
4) Times of earnest prayer and wrestling, and serious meditation; for He gives his Spirit to them that ask it. This is agreeable to the promise, Ezek. 36:37; see also Ps. 63:1-6,8.
5) The day of death has sometimes been found to be a day of such pleasant gales of the Spirit that the dying enter into the haven of glory with the triumphant song in their mouth, saying, "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ." Thus David, Simeon, and Paul, etc.
IV. The sort of life wrought in the souls of God's elect by these influences of the Holy Spirit:
1) It is a life of faith (Gal. 2:20).
2) It is a life of justification. The believer gets the sentence of death in the Law canceled: "There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). And not only so, but he has the everlasting righteousness of Immanuel God-man imputed to him.
3) It is a life of reconciliation with God. God and the elect have fellowship one with another: "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).
4) It is a life of holiness and sanctification: for the Spirit of the Lord is a cleansing, purifying, and renewing Spirit: He renews the soul after the image of God; makes the heart, that was a "cage of unclean birds," a fit temple for the Holy Ghost to dwell in.
5) It is a life of comfort and consolation. His consolations are so strong that they furnish the soul with ground of joy in the blackest and cloudiest day (Hab. 3:17-18). "We rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory."
6) It is a life of liberty, for "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Christ, by His Spirit, sets the captives of the mighty at liberty, and "delivers the prey from the terrible."
7) It is a hidden life: "Your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). And believers are called God's "hidden ones" (Ps. 83:3). The fountain of this life is hid, namely, an unseen Christ; for "with him is the fountain of life."
8) It is a heavenly life. "Our conversation is in heaven," says the apostle. They look on themselves as pilgrims and strangers on the earth. "Their eyes are set upon the land that is very far off, and the King in his beauty."
9) It is a royal life: for they are "made kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 1:6). Awaiting them is "a crown of glory which fadeth not away." A royal guard, the angels of God, continually attends them.
10) It is an eternal life: "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). The saving knowledge of a God in Christ, is but the first dawning of eternal glory in the soul.
V. The use of the doctrine.
1. If these breathings have blown upon your soul, then He has blown away "the veil and face of the covering" that was naturally upon your mind and understanding. He has given you other views of spiritual and divine things than you can have by any natural or acquired knowledge.
2. If the wind of the Holy Ghost has blown upon your soul, He has blown away some of the filth that did cleave to your soul, and has transformed you into His own image: "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, thou art changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18). If you have the Spirit, the "same mind will be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." You will imitate and resemble Him in His holiness, meekness, self-denial, patience. He is a holy God; and wherever He comes, He works holiness, and makes the soul holy.
3. If this wind has blown upon your souls, then it has driven you from the law, and made you consent to salvation through the righteousness of the Son of God, resting in Christ only: "I through the law," (says the apostle,) "am dead to the law, that I might live unto God."
4. If you have felt the breathings of this wind you will see the things of time to be but mere trash and vanity. You will "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God."
5. If this wind has blown upon your soul, you will yield yourselves to the conduct of the Spirit speaking in His word; for "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God."
6. If you follow the Spirit, then "you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh," but, on the contrary, you will study to "crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts." The way you walk will be a way of holiness, for he is a Spirit of sanctification; and a way of truth; for the Spirit of the Lord is a Spirit of truth.
Finally, if you would receive the reviving gales of the Spirit:
1. Be aware of your deadness, and mourn over it; for the Lord "comforts them that mourn in Zion." He will "give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."
2. Be much in meditation. "While I was musing the fire burned," says David, (Ps. 39:3); and "When I meditate on thee in the night-watches, my soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness" (Ps. 63:5-6).
3. Cry mightily to God, that He would pour down His Spirit from on high: for "if ye, being evil," says Christ, "know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:13). We are to turn God's promises into prayers: "For these things I will he inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them" (Ezek. 37:37).
4. Wait on God in all the duties and ordinances of His appointment, particularly the preaching of the word. But beware of a legal frame of spirit in your attending upon these ordinances, as if thereby you could merit anything at God's hand-for "we receive the Spirit," (says the apostle,) "not by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith." Gospel ordinances are the usual chariots in which the Spirit rides, when He makes His entrance at first, or when He returns into the soul after absence.
5. Study to have union with Christ; for it is upon them that are in Christ, that "the Spirit of God and of glory" rests: "He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit" with him.