The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
This witness of the Spirit varies —
I. IN THE SAME INDIVIDUAL.
1. "There have been moments," says some weary soul, "when I have had that witness — in some time of great spiritual struggle, when through my very weakness there came a strength which made me conquer even myself, and also in moments of great spiritual exaltation; but there has come a reaction after the victory, a depression after the joy, and the evidence which seemed so strong has worn gradually away. If that had been the witness of God's strong unchanging Spirit, surely it could not have been so?"
2. Yes, it could be, and is so; for God's Spirit bears witness with our spirit. It is just as, in natural things, the sun in heaven bears witness with our human sight to the existence of physical objects; and its shining is constant and unchanging, but the evidence of it varies with the conditions of our vision. It cannot but be so when there is so intimate a connection between our body and spirit, and the one acts on, and is reacted on, by the other. We know how a depressed or nervous physical condition will tinge our feelings, will make us take a widely different view of things from that which we had taken before. Who is there who has not experienced the difference of a bright spring morning and a dull November day? Our spiritual nature has its noontide, when we work in the light and rejoice in the brightness of God's love; and it will have its night, when we can only see the light, as it were, coming from some passionless moon, or from the cold steel stars in some far-off heaven.
3. Those moments of dulness and of coldness in our religious life are times of peril. There is a danger of despair, and the remedy is a more perfect trust in God. There is danger of turning to spiritual stimulants. Never try by physical means, or so-called religious exercises, to galvanise yourself into feeling what you know you do not feel. The true remedy is to strengthen and improve generally your spiritual nature, instead of nervously looking for artificial tests of its vitality. More earnest communing with God; more thoughts of Him and His great love, and less of ourselves and of our feelings; more study of the deep meaning of His Word; more seeking to do His will; more use of the means of grace will be helps to us in such moments. The keen appetite and the clear vision will return with the increasing health of the spiritual man in us, and again and again those glad moments will be ours, when we feel the Spirit bearing "witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God."
II. IN DIFFERENT INDIVIDUALS.
1. The witness of the Spirit must vary, as do our individual natures. The boat in the harbour is none less safe because it has not come across the storm-swept sea, but only down some inland river with no grand convulsions, but still with strange, commonplace, yet fascinating dangers of its own. It is a perilous and a very wrong thing to set up some one, sole, exclusive, monotonous standard of spiritual evidence and of spiritual life. There is no rigid rule of uniformity in God's treatment of souls.
2. The risen Lord came under great variety of circumstances, and with every differing kind of evidence of His presence, to each and all of His disciples. First, He came to the loving hearts of women, whose words seemed only "idle tales" to the apostles themselves; and then with logical demonstration to the cold reasoning intellect of St. Thomas; now to individual disciples walking on the common highway, and who only saw Him when He broke and blessed the bread, and it revealed to them why their hearts had so burned within them on the way; and then to the assembled Church with words of benediction and of peace. And thus still He and His Holy Spirit's witness come — now to some tender soul who cannot reason, but can only love, with simply an angel's message, which not only the world, but the Church, may for a moment think but an "idle tale"; and again to some consummate, lordly intellect, which is at last convinced by touching the nail-print and the riven side. Now He comes to solitary individuals on the dusty highway of life, who know not whence sprang every earnest pulsation of their burning hearts, till some day, perhaps in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, they see at last that it must have been He that was with them; and, again, He is present to the assembled Church when in some hour of danger it has shut the door, and then found that He is with them in the midst.
3. Do not think that you are not near to Christ, that He does not love you, because you have not had some one else's experience, because you are not like some saint whose biography you admire. There has been a terrible tendency to magnify, in every age, some one sole idea of Christian usefulness and beauty. At one time it has been solely the ascetic, and again solely the active life. At one time it has been the purely contemplative, and again the exclusively intellectual. This has done much to rob many a sweet life of its hopefulness; to create in others an almost unconscious hypocrisy. Surely the Master's life is a protest against it: "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus" — all utterly different and unlike natures. We are too ready to unduly exalt Mary at the expense of her sister and her brother. Many a Lazarus and many a Martha are full of sorrow and even despair because they are not like Mary.
(T. T. Shore, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: