The Divine Response
John Wesley had much contention with “humanists” who were willing to accept the most exacting definitions of faith, but who insisted on stopping at the limit where the human leaves off and the divine begins. And because Wesley insisted on going further, and testifying to a real, knowable, divine response, these humanists called him an enthusiast — a term used as we now use the word fanatic. Wesley was patient, having himself come from the cave in which these opposers still lived. But he was unequivocal, and summed up by saying, “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.”
Wesley and his coadjutors preached their thesis with such force and effectiveness that it seemed for a time they had convinced the evangelical Christian world. But old heresies are forever arising in new forms and under new names, and truth must be reasserted for each succeeding generation. That the fathers knew and proclaimed the truth does not guarantee that the children know and receive the benefits of that truth.
Half truths often have the force of falsehood, and full truths wrongly applied sometimes serve to overshadow, and even to nullify truths of equal rank. Take the subject of the inspiration and dependability of the Bible; this is a thesis worth dying for. And yet it sometimes happens that good men become so enamored with the theme of an inerrant Bible that they permit themselves to stop with this external witness, and refuse or by negligence fail to go fully after that personal certitude that can come only by reason of the Spirit’s witness within. Or one may become so loyal to the fact of the atoning merit of the blood of Jesus that he comes to identify efficacy with efficiency, and thinks of provision as though it were possession. Or one may lay such emphasis on repentance that he takes this for forgiveness. Or he may enlarge so fully on consecration that this becomes a substitute for divinely wrought sanctification.
The curse of Phariseeism, accepting form for power, was not alone an ailment of the ancients. It is the affliction of all in any age who allow any thing, be it ever so sacred and scriptural, to become a substitute for that definite divine response which God makes to the truly trusting heart when “the Spirit answers to the blood,” and faith is justified by realization.
Sometimes grace is interpreted as some sort of provision by which God is enabled to account things different from what they really are, so that one may be “positionally” holy while yet in truth sinful and depraved. But this is just a revival of an old heresy. True holiness is imparted by the Spirit, as well as imputed through the blood, and there is a divine response by means of which the trusting penitent is really made new, and by reason of which the fully consecrated believer is sanctified and cleansed from sin.
Nor does the province of vital religion stop with crises. It is true that we walk by faith as contrasted with sight. But this does not mean that we walk in unconfirmed presumption. It is also true that we are always to be confident, but this does not bar the fact that we can also be conscious of God’s presence as we live for and with Him from day to day. That which is called “the witness of the Spirit” in connection with the crises of experience becomes “full assurance” in constant form with those who “go on to know the Lord.”