Andrew Fuller Friday: On the Doctrine of Divine Influence

Finally, If the doctrine of Divine influence be considered in its Scriptural connexions, it will be of essential importance in the Christian life; but if these be lost sight of, it will become injurious.

To say nothing of extraordinary influence, I conceive there is what may be termed an indirect influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, having inspired the prophets and apostles, testified in and by them, and often without effect. “Many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them, by thy Spirit, in thy prophets, yet would they not give ear.” The messages of the prophets being dictated by the Holy Spirit, resistance of them was resistance of him. It was in this way, I conceive, that the Spirit of God strove with the antediluvians, and that unbelievers are said always to have resisted the Holy Spirit. But the Divine influence to which I refer is that by which sinners are renewed and sanctified; concerning which two things require to be kept in view.

First, It accords with the Scripture. Is it the work of the Holy Spirit, for example, to illuminate the mind, or to guide us into truth? In order to try whether that which we account light be the effect of Divine teaching, or only a figment of our own imagination, we must bring it to the written word. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” The Holy Spirit teaches nothing but what is true, and what was true antecedently to his teaching it, and would have been true though we had never been taught it. Such are the glory of the Divine character, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, our own guilty and lost condition as sinners, and the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The test of Divine illumination, therefore, is whether that in which we conceive ourselves to be enlightened be a part of Divine truth as revealed in the Scriptures. Further, Is it the work of the Holy Spirit to lead us in the “paths of righteousness?” This also must be tried by the written word. The Holy Spirit leads us into nothing but what is right antecedently to our being led into it, and which would have been so though we had never been led into it. He that teacheth us to profit leadeth us “by the way that we should go.” The paths in which he leads us for his name’s sake are those of righteousness. Such are those of repentance for sin, faith in Christ, love to God and one another, and every species of Christian obedience. One test, therefore, of our being led by the Spirit of God, in any way wherein we walk, is, whether it be a part of the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures. As the Holy Spirit teaches us nothing but what was previously true, so he leads us into nothing but what was previously duty.

Secondly, Divine influence not only accords with the sacred Scriptures, but requires to be introduced in those connexions in which the Scriptures introduce it. We have heard it described as if it were a talent, the use or abuse of which would either issue in our salvation or heighten our guilt. This is true of opportunities and means of grace, or of what is above described as the indirect influence of the Holy Spirit; but not of his special influence. The things done for the Lord’s vineyard, concerning which he asks, “What more could I have done?” include the former, and not the latter. The mighty works done in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, relate, not to the special influences of the Spirit on their minds, but to the miracles wrought before their eyes, accompanied as they were by the heavenly doctrine. I do not remember an instance in the sacred Scriptures in which the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Spirit are thus represented. Divine influence has been introduced as an excuse for sin committed previously to our being the subject of it, as if, because it is necessary to any thing truly good being done by us, therefore it must be necessary to its being required of us. But if so, there would have been no complaints of Simon the Pharisee for his want of love to Christ; nor of unbelievers at the last judgment for the same thing; nor would Paul have carried with him so humbling a sense of his sin in having persecuted the church of God, while in unbelief, as to reckon himself the chief of sinners on account of it. The want of Divine influence has been introduced as an apology for negligence and slothfulness in the Christian life. What else do men mean when they speak of this and the other duty as “no further binding upon them than as the Lord shall enable them to discharge it?” If it be so, we have no sin to confess for “not doing that which we ought to have done;” for as far as the Lord enables us to discharge our obligations, we discharge them. The doctrine of Divine influence is introduced in the sacred Scriptures as a motive to activity: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his own good pleasure.”

Finally, We have often heard this doctrine introduced in the pulpit in such a way as to weaken the force of what has been previously said on behalf of God and righteousnss. When the sacred Scriptures speak of the cause of good, they ascribe every thing to God’s Holy Spirit. The writers seem to have no fear of going too far. And it is the same with them when they exhort, or warn, or expostulate; they discover no apprehension of going so far as to render void the grace of God. In all their writings, the one never seems to stand in the way of the other; each is allowed its full scope, without any apparent suspicion of inconsistency between them. But is it so with us? If one dares to exhort sinners in the words of Scripture, to “repent and believe the gospel,” he presently feels himself upon tender ground; and if he does not recede, yet he must qualify his words, or he will be suspected of disbelieving the work of the Spirit! To prevent this he must needs introduce it, though it be only to blunt the edge of his exhortation—“Repent and believe the gospel: I know, indeed, you cannot do this of yourselves; but you can pray for the Holy Spirit to enable you to do it.”

It is right to pray for the Holy Spirit, as well as for every thing else that we need, and to exhort others to do so; and it may be one of the first petitions of a mind returning to good, “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned:” but to introduce it instead of repenting and believing, and as something which a sinner can do, though he cannot do the other, is erroneous and dangerous.

Excerpt from: Letters on Systematic Divinity, Letter II.

Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 688–690). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.

By |August 14th, 2020|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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