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Distinction between impulses and a sanctified judgment.

IT is sometimes the case, that persons act from certain interior impressions, which may properly be termed IMPULSES. It would certainly be very injurious to the cause of holiness, if the doctrine should prevail, that mere interior impressions or impulses may of themselves become the rule of conduct to a holy person. That persons in sanctification are under a divine guidance, and that they cannot retain the grace of sanctification without such guidance, is entirely true. But it has sometimes been the case, that men have mistaken natural impulses for the secret inspirations of the Spirit; and in the flattering belief of being guided by a higher power, have experienced no other guidance than that of their own rebellious passions. On the danger of such a state, of which the church has seen too many melancholy instances, it is unnecessary to remark. We proceed, therefore, to lay down some principles, which, if we do not err in our statement of them, will be of some assistance in guiding us, in relation to this practical and important subject.

FIRST.— The Holy Spirit is very various in his operations upon men; but it will be conceded, I suppose, as a correct principle, that He generally conforms himself in his operations, whatever they may be, to the structure and laws of the human mind. Accordingly in those operations, the object of which is to guide or direct men, it will be found, that He always acts in connection with the powers which are appropriate to such a result; and particularly in connection with the perceptive and judging powers. We desire it to be kept in mind, that we are speaking here of his directing or guiding operations; in other words, those, which have a special connection with human conduct. These are the operations, which most intimately concern us; and in regard to which it is most important to establish correct principles. We proceed to say, therefore, it is very obvious from man's mental structure, although he is sometimes the subject of a purely instinctive movement, that God designed, that the perceptive and judging powers, which He has given us, should ordinarily furnish the fundamental condition or basis of human action. And if in his spiritual providences it should be found to be his practice to guide men in any way not in accordance with this design, he would be inconsistent with himself. The first principle, therefore, which we lay down is this, that the Holy Spirit guides men, by operating in connection with the perceptive and judging powers.

And we may properly remark here, that this view, which is so important, as to be deserving of the reflection of the most judicious persons, seems to be in accordance with the sentiments of the pious and learned John Howe. "We cannot" says this esteemed writer, "so much as apprehend clearly and with distinction the things which are needful for us to apprehend,
without the light of the spirit of wisdom. It is necessary, (viz. the light which the Spirit of wisdom gives,) in order to the act of distinguishing or discerning, between things, what is to be done, and what is not to be done. There is a continual need through the whole course of our spiritual life, for the using of such a discretive judgment between things and things. And in reference hereto, there needs a continual emanation of the Holy Ghost, for otherwise we put good for evil and evil for good; light for darkness and darkness for light. We need the Spirit's help, to shine with vigorous and powerful light into our minds, so as to bring our judgments to a right determination."

SECOND.— We may lay it down as another principle that the Holy Spirit does not, either by his gentle influences or by those which are more sudden and powerful, so operate upon a person as to guide him into any course, which is truly irrational and absurd. Now we know in many cases, if we should yield to the direction of mere impressions and impulses, especially those which are of a powerful kind, we should be led to do those things, which, to whatever test or measurement they might be subjected, could not escape the denomination of irrationality or absurdity. Of such impulses the Holy Spirit can never be the author, because nothing which is really absurd and irrational, (we speak not of the mere
appearance, but of the reality of absurdity,) can come from that source. I recollect once to have read the account of a person published by himself, in which he gives the reader to understand, that on a certain occasion he was suddenly and violently seized by the power of God as he expresses it; an expression undoubtedly synonymous in the view of the writer with the power of the Holy Ghost; that he was raised up by this divine impulse from the chest on which he was sitting, and was "whirled swiftly round, like a top for the space of two hours, without the least pain or inconvenience." We do not see on what grounds such an extraordinary result as this, so unmeaning, so unprofitable, and absurd can properly be ascribed to the power of God or the power of the Holy Ghost; especially if it be susceptible of explanation, as we think it can be in a considerable degree at least, on any natural principles. We know that the Savior was full of the Holy Ghost; but we do not read of his being subjected to any operation of this kind. We know also, that the Apostles, although they were plentifully endowed with the Divine Spirit, and under his teachings wrought various wonderful works, yet were never at any time made the subjects of such irrationalities. We have here, therefore, a mark of distinction, viz. that various irrational and absurd results may flow from natural impressions and impulses; but can never flow from the true operations of the Holy Spirit.

THIRD.— Actions, which proceed from pure impulse or a mere internal impression without attendant perception or reaction, cannot possibly be holy actions. What we mean to say is, that there is a natural impossibility of their being such. A mere impulse, unattended by perception and reflection, is of the nature of an instinct. And any action, done from mere blind impulse, no matter how strong or extraordinary that impulse may be, is both physically and morally of the nature of an instinctive action. Now, as it is universally conceded that purely instinctive actions have no moral character, it is entirely evident, that impulsive actions, which are of the same nature with instinctive actions, have no title to the denomination or character of holiness. Some persons seem to think, the more they act from impulse, especially powerful impulse, the more holy they are. But this, if we are correct in what has been said, is a great and dangerous mistake.

FOURTH.— That the Holy Spirit does sometimes act directly upon the sensibilities by exciting in them a purely impulsive feeling, we may probably admit. Undoubtedly there are some facts, in the experience of pious men, which favor this view. But is it the object of the Holy Spirit in originating impulsive impressions, to excite men to immediate action without any reflection, or to excite them to action rationally, that is to say, in connection with suitable inquiry and consideration? This is the important question. And the decision of it involves great practical results. It is certainly reasonable to suppose, that it is not the object of the Holy Spirit, when He makes a direct impulsive impression on the human mind, to lead men to act without perception and reflection; but rather to stop them in their thoughtless and unreflecting career, and to awaken within them the slumbering powers of thought and inquiry. It is reasonable to suppose this, because as a wise being, as a being acting in accordance with the laws of the human mind, as a being infinitely desirous of true holiness in men, we do not well perceive, how He can take any other course than this. The true tendency, therefore, of those impressions or impulses, which come from the Spirit of God, is to awaken men to a sense of their thoughtlessness, and to quicken within them a state of humble and holy consideration. When such impressions and impulses are from the right source, we cannot doubt that the results will be of this character. That is to say; they will not of themselves lead men to direct action; but will lead them to that inquiry and reflection, which is preparatory to action. But when impressions or impulses come from Satan, as they sometimes do, their tendency is to lead men to action at once, without such intermediate consideration.

FIFTH.— Those impulses and impressions, which are from the Spirit of God, are of a peaceful and gentle character. They never agitate and disturb the mind; but on the contrary, lay a wholesome restraint upon it; and hold it in a state of deep solemnity and of attentive stillness. This is the precise state of things, which is needed as preparatory to the mind's perceptive and reflective action. The first question of the soul, when it is thus arrested by the true impulses of the Holy Spirit, is, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" It pauses; it reflects; it inquires; it reads the Bible; it watches the Providences of God; it prays; it asks for the assistance of the Holy Spirit upon its perceptions and reasonings; and it dares not take one step to the right hand or to the left, until all its perceptive and reasoning powers have been exercised; and exercised too under the sanctifying guidance of the Holy Spirit. So that, although we may admit that there are sensitive impressions, and impulses, which are from the Holy Spirit; yet they are not of themselves, when they are really from that right and good source, guiding and controlling principles, but are merely preparatory to the action of such controlling principles, which are to be found in the intellective, rather than the sensitive part. And such impressions are to be known by the decisive mark or characteristic, which has now been given; viz. they are peaceable, holding the mind in a state of solemn and quiet attention.— Perhaps a simple illustration will make our meaning more readily understood. A person is at a particular time peculiarly impressed, that it is his duty to visit another person and converse with him on the subject of religion. If this impression is of divine origin, it will not violently agitate him; it will not lead him to action whether rationally or irrationally; it will not necessarily and absolutely compel him to visit the person at once and without any intermediate exercise of the mind. It will lead him, in the first instance, to reflect, to consider the suggested or impressed duty in various points of view, to mark the openings of God's Providence, and to pray that, in his reflections and inquiries in respect to duty, he may be guided by the Holy Spirit. In a word, the impression which he has, prompts him, in the first instance, merely to make prayerful inquiry; but in his further action he puts himself under the direction of a sanctified judgment; or if the expression be preferred, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost operating through the medium of a sanctified judgment. In accordance with these views, we find the following passage in the writings of Antonia Bourignon. "If the Holy Spirit inspires any thing, he will always give time to consult upon it with God."

SIXTH.— Impressions and impulses, which are not from the Holy Spirit, but from some other source, such as a disordered imagination, the world or the devil, are not of that peaceful and quiet character which has been mentioned; but are hasty and violent. In violation of the great Scriptural maxim, "HE THAT BELIEVETH SHALL NOT MAKE HASTE" the person, who is under this pernicious influence, thinks he cannot be too quick. He makes but little account of obstacles; he cannot take time for interior examination; he has no open eye to God's outward providences; he is too impetuous, too much possessed by himself or by Satanic influence, to engage in calm and humble prayer for guidance; in a word, he rushes blindly onward just as his great adversary, who is especially interested in his movements, would have him.

The great plea of these persons is, that the time is Now; that what is to be done is to be done Now; that the present moment is the true moment of action. This is essentially true; but there is a valuable remark of Fenelon, which places the doctrine of present or immediate action in its correct position. It is, that THE PRESENT MOMENT HAS A MORAL EXTENSION. In other words, we are undoubtedly bound to fulfill the duty of the present moment; but it is the present moment, not in a state of barren insulation, but considered in all its relations to God, man, and the universe. But it is perfectly obvious, that the duties of the present moment cannot be fulfilled in their moral extension without calling in the aid of a calmly reflective and sanctified judgment.

SEVENTH.— When an action is performed, to which we are prompted by a gracious and not a mere natural or Satanic impulse, but which action is not attended with all those good results, which we expected and hoped, we are entirely acquiescent. We receive the result without trouble of mind. For instance, we are led in the providence of God and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to converse with a person on the subject of religion; and contrary to our hope and expectation, he coolly and superciliously rejects our message. The result, though painful, does not disquiet us. We leave it calmly in the hands of God. Whereas a person, who performs an action from an impulse, which is not from the Spirit of God, and who finds the result different from what he expected, will be likely to experience a degree of unsubmissive dissatisfaction, and to show signs of fretfulness. And I think it a matter of common observation, that Christians, who are governed in a considerable degree by natural or any other impulses not divine, mistaking them for a truly spiritual guidance, are, to use the common expression in the case, "always in trouble;" — sometimes with the church; sometimes with their minister; sometimes with one thing, and sometimes with another; and alas, not unfrequently, although they seem to be wholly unaware of it, with the wisely ordered Providences of God himself. They are not childlike, and meek, and lowly in heart; as those always are, who are truly guided by the Holy Spirit. They are not like the Savior, who, when he was oppressed and afflicted, opened not his mouth, but was led as a lamb to the slaughter.

EIGHTH.— We are continually taught by good men and in the Bible, that we ought to be like our Heavenly Father, to be holy as he is holy, to be perfect as he is perfect. And I suppose it is the general design and aim of Christians, who are striving after high attainments in holiness, to bear this blessed image. But probably we do not any of us conceive of God as acting impulsively and without reflection; as regulating his conduct by the stupid instinct of impressions, without the clear light of perceptive rationality. We should be deeply afflicted and affrighted, in being obliged to ascribe to our Heavenly Father such a character as this. Similar views will apply to the Savior. He himself says, John 5: 30, "I can of mine own self do nothing. As I hear, I judge; [that is to say, the communications of the Holy Spirit call my judgment into exercise,] and my judgment is just, because, [implying in the remark that he was uninfluenced by any suggestions and impressions from self,] I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father, which hath sent me." Are we not safe, then, if God desires and requires us to be like himself, and to be like him also, whom in the likeness of man He has set before us as our example, in saying, that a judgment, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is the true guide of our actions, rather than blind impulses and impressions?

It will be recollected, that we do not absolutely deny the occasional existence of impulses and impressions, resulting from the operations of the Spirit of God. But we cannot well avoid the conclusion, that they are entitled to no influence, and are not designed to have any, except in connection with the subsequent action of an awakened and sanctified judgment. And it is this view only, which can rescue them from the imputation of blindness and irrationality, even when they come from a good and right source. When, therefore, we speak of them as blind and irrational, we wish to be understood as speaking of them, as they are in themselves, and without being enlightened by the subsequent action of a sanctified intellect. The subsequent action of the mind, which may always be expected to follow when they come from the Holy Spirit, cannot fail to impart to them a new and interesting character.

In conclusion we would remark, that the doctrine of present sanctification has much to fear from not accurately distinguishing natural and Satanic impulses from the true movings of the Holy Spirit upon the heart. Many, who ran well for a time, but who afterwards yielded themselves to impulsive influences which were not from the Spirit of God, have wandered into perplexed and divergent paths, to the injury of the cause of holiness and of their own souls. And we would just remark here, that the most interesting and satisfactory illustrations of holy living, which have come under our notice, are the cases of persons, who endeavor constantly to put themselves under the direction of a sanctified intellect; who are willing to do any thing and every thing for the glory of God; but who feel that they need and must have wisdom. These persons can testify, that they are guided by the Holy Spirit; but they can testify also, that the Holy Spirit does not require them to do any thing, which an enlightened and sanctified intellect does not appreciate and approve. And hence their course is marked by consistency and sound discretion. They are not different men at different times, on whom no dependence can be placed. They are always at their post; supporters of the ministry; pillars in the church; patient under opposition and rebuke; faithful in warning sinners; counsellors in times of difficulty; mighty in the Scriptures; burning and shining lights in the world. It is such persons, that truly sustain and honor the blessed doctrine of Holiness; presenting before the world the mighty argument of consistent holy living, which unbelievers cannot confute, and which the wicked and the envious are unable to gainsay.