Hywel Jones drew our attention to a letter of Charles Hodge (to a Dr Watt) preserved in the recently republished biography by Archibald Alexander.
DR. HODGE TO DR. WATTS
Princeton, October 5th, 1865,
My Dear Sir : —
Wistar has handed me your letter relating to the question raised among your brethren concerning the Witness of the Spirit. As you request an immediate answer, it is impossible for me to do more than state in a few words the view which I have been led to take on the subject, without any attempt to sustain that view either historically or exegetically. I write for you alone, as I have no idea that anything I say will be worthy of the attention of your committee.
We must, of course, renounce all hope to understand the mode of the divine operation either in nature or in grace; as we have no idea how mind operates on matter, or matter on mind, we cannot understand how God produces the effects which in the Scriptures are attributed to his agency. The fact is all we can expect to know.
1. It seems to be plainly taught in the Bible, and to be the commonly received doctrine, that in the external world God operates constantly through, with, and without second causes. Whatever in the external world, as in plants and animals, is indicative of design is to be referred to the present agency of mind, ie, to God. Matter cannot produce life, much less an immaterial, intelligent substance. Such substances, however, are constantly produced under the providential agency of God. The human soul operates in like manner through, with and independently of the functions of the body. Every time we speak or write, this threefold mode of exercise is evinced.
2. It is no less plain from Scripture and universally believed in the Church that the Spirit of God operates immediately on the soul. In the regeneration of infants this must be assumed.
3. It seems also clear that in the dealings of the Spirit with the souls of believers there is a constant exercise of His power in connection with and independent of the truth. We know not how one spirit operates on another; how evil spirits controlled the thoughts and feelings of the demoniacs, and of course we cannot pretend to know how the Holy Spirit controls the action of our minds, how He
excites our affections or gives the truth a greater power over them at one time than at another. But He is more immediately present with our souls than the soul is with the body, and constantly controls them in a way consistent with the nature of mind and the laws of spiritual intercourse.
4. We are clearly taught that saving faith rests on the witness of the Spirit and with the truth. This is represented in Scripture as something different from the evidence which the word itself contains of its own truth. It is "an unction from the Holy One." It is "the demonstration of the Spirit." The Spirit produces in our minds the infallible conviction that the Bible is true. This conviction is not the product of a process of reasoning, nor a conclusion from the facts of our own consciousness. If it were it would not be infallible, and our faith after all would rest in something human and not in the power of God.
5. In like manner the Spirit witnesses to the believer that he is a child of God. The assurance of his adoption the Apostle refers to two sources; first, the conscious filial exercises of the soul towards God, and, secondly, the witness of the Spirit, who bears witness together (summarture) with our spirits that we are the sons of God. Although compound words are frequently used in the same sense with the simple forms, this is only to be assumed under the stress of the context.
When the context admits of the full and proper force of the word it should be retained; much more when that force is required by the connection. The passage simply teaches that the Spirit produces in the mind of a believer the assurance of his adoption: as in Rom 5:5, He is said to produce the assurance that we are the objects of God's love.
There is no real ground for the charge of enthusiasm or fanaticism against this view of the subject,
(1). Because it attributes to the Spirit nothing out of analogy with the constant operations of God in the external world and on the minds of men in his providence.
(2). Because it is consistent with the constant representations of the Scriptures relating to the intercourse of the soul with God. We not only address Him and reveal or rather express to Him our thoughts and feelings, but He manifests Himself to us. We not only aver our love to Him, but He also reveals His love to us. The soul of the believer lives, or should live, in constant fellowship or intercourse with the Father of our spirits. He is at no loss for means and modes of communiating with his children.
(3). When our Confession attributes saving faith to the witness of God not only by or through but with the truth, it does not teach that God makes any new revelations. The word is true. It declares itself objectively to the reason, the conscience, and the affections to be true, and God by His Spirit affirms it to be true. There is no new revelation there. Neither is there in the witness of the Spirit to the believer's adoption. He is a child of God. He has all the filial affections of a child. The Spirit produces assurance that what is true is true. The soul is not left to deductions from its own imperfectly nderstood or partially interpreted consciousness. God gives it a peace which passes understanding.
The fanatics at the Reformation and in all times have abused the doctrine of the inward teaching of the Spirit. So they abuse the doctrine that He witnesses to the adoption of believers. But in neither case have they any just reason for their perversions. And the Reformers as you know gave up their doctrines on neither point from fear that the truth would be abused.
I fear these few remarks will not be of much service to you, but I am not able to write more.
Your friend, very truly, Charles Hodge.