Spirituality is a vague concept these days – both inside and outside the Church. As David F. Wells has put it: “Today, we think that each person must find his or her own way of being spiritual, something that is comfortable to that person; each spirituality is particular to each person.” Too often it’s something esoteric and about self-discovery with no connection to how the Bible defines spiritual life.
Scripture is clear that spiritual life comes from the Holy Spirit alone. In the New Testament, the word “spiritual” means “of the Holy Spirit”. Like Lydia the heart is first opened by the Spirit to receive the truths of God’s Word (Acts 16:13-14). Samuel Rutherford observes:
We do not have the Spirit till we are brought into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Christ is not owner of the man who does not have the Spirit “If any have not the spirit, he is none of Christ’s” (Romans 8:9). Christ and the Spirit cannot be separated. The Spirit that is in the first heir (Christ) is in all the rest. We must be diligent to make our calling sure or else be “none of Christ’s”.
Spiritual life is dependence on the Spirit. Samuel Rutherford wrote a large book dealing with the relation of the Spirit to the believer work in the matter of spiritual growth and experience. This is something that concerns the Christian every day in his devotional life. The book is called Influences of the Life of Grace.
He deals with many important questions, such as what believers should do when they do not feel spiritually exercised. Rutherford asserts that the believer is to do his duty in prayer and worship even if he feels otherwise. It is the believer’s duty to pray away spiritual indisposition. We must pray for the Spirit’s help but we must make the Word our only rule and not our feelings. He emphasises that spiritual life centres around the Word of God: “the word is the chariot, the Spirit the driver of the chariot”. Rutherford also stresses the believer’s union Christ who bestows the Spirit and His influences. “Know the way to the well of life, be much with Christ, and lie, and be near to the well, if you would have influences every moment”. “Make sure union with the Vine-tree, if you would be sure of growing to the end”.
The following abridges and updates an extract from Influences which identifies ten characteristics of a spiritual person from the Bible. He is answering the question: how can we identify a spiritual person and spiritual influences?
1. A Spiritual Person Submits to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit
The guide is the one who determines the journey. The commands of the Spirit have much free grace and persuasive leading (Acts 10:19; Acts 11:2; Acts 18:9-11; John 14:16, 26; John 16:13). Where the will presses forward strongly with much liberty in obedience, there is much of the Spirit. Drawing back in spiritual actions, however, indicates much of the flesh. Christ, who had the anointing of the Spirit without measure, was all will and all heart and all spirit to obey and suffer (John 10:17-18; Psalm 40:8-9).
2. A Spiritual Person Runs Strongly After the Holy Spirit
A spiritual person runs strongly in following the leading and drawing of the Spirit (Song 1:4; Psalm 119:32). “I held him and would not let him go” (Song 3:4). Is this not vehemence? It is followed by sweet feelings and high commendation of Christ. The Spirit’s power in drawing and the bride’s energy in running combine. He that is willing to be led shall be led. Keeping Christ’s commandments makes room for the Father and the Son to come and dwell (John 14:21 and 23). Fire makes more fire.
3. A Spiritual Person Cherishes All of the Spirit’s Activity
A spiritual person takes care that none of the parts of the new creation are damaged. He loves and honours his guide and leader. Scripture notes our wrongs we do to the Holy Spirit: (a) vexing; (b) quenching; (c) tempting; and (d) resisting.
(a) A spiritual person will not vex the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:10) or grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30). To grieve is to sadden rather then to anger (see Matthew 14:9; 17:23 and 26:22). Can a friend lodge in a house, where he is saddened every hour? Is not this to chase him away? The signs of grieving the Spirit are when we acts in a deadened condition. For instance in praying when a Christian knocks faintly and life, liberty and godly boldness are absent.
(b) A spiritual person will not quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Some cast water upon the fire and holy flamings of the Spirit. This makes a cold hearth-stone and mightily obstructs the working of We should rather add new fuel to His fire, blow away the ashes and wrestle against deadness, dullness, faintness, and stir up the grace of God. Do not quench it in your self by unbelief and cheerless walking. When men cast water on the flamings of the Spirit and crush His work in others they are doing Satan’s work.
(c) A spiritual person will not tempt the Holy Spirit (Acts 5). We must acknowledge and adore the Holy Spirit as God and not follow Ananias in trying the Holy Spirit to see if he will find out hypocrisy, (Acts 5). A spiritual person will not say “but I may do this and be pardoned”. Tempted free grace is a transgression with so loud a cry, it is heard all heaven over.
(d) A spiritual person will not resist the Holy Spirit and do despite to the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:28-30; Matthew 12:31-32). Do you find not the actings of the Spirit sweet and heaven-like? If so, it indicates a spiritual disposition.
4. A Spiritual Person Displays Much Self-denial
He who will be least his own is most God’s, and partakes most of the divine nature. There is little of self in children; the children of God are like such as are learning to walk. So does the Spirit act without resistance in the sons of God. It’s true, there is much of renewed self, in spiritual actions and this increases the excellency of the actions (see 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; Galatians 2:20; Romans 7:17, 22; 1 Corinthians 9:20-21)
5. A spiritual person is spiritually bewildered
A spiritual person doubts every way he walks in except the way that he is sure to be from God (Psalm 143:10). This shows that:
(a) The spiritual person doubts every way and knows that he is a bewildered and ignorant traveller in himself. He is not able by his own light to know the way, the home and lodging or the guide.
(b) The spiritual person esteems God’s Spirit to be a good leader and guide.
(c) The spiritual person commits their goings to the Spirit and asks Him to be a guide to them.
He fears lest the way be hidden to him (Psalm 119:19). The commandments are the way, and a hid and covered way is misery to a stranger or pilgrim. Seeing our ignorance and errors frequently and being in love with the Spirit’s leading is good.
6. A Spiritual Person Finds Spiritual Actions to be Natural
Action is easy when it comes from an inward principle. The stream flows from the fountain naturally without violence. Likewise heat comes from the fire naturally. It’s neither toil nor labour to the sun to give light. All these come from internal principles. There is violence in the motion of a clock, and therefore the wheels will be worn out by time. But the actions of the Spirit are sweet and natural. Grace makes the commandments to be not grievous. It is no effort but easy to a gracious pastor to love Christ. It breaks neither leg nor arm to desire Christ and be sick for Him and feed His flock out of love to the Chief Shepherd.
Meekness is easily led and drawn. When the Spirit comes in, the man is made pliable for counsel. O wrestle not against warnings, but yield to them! All gracious influences are sweet, delightful and easy. It is not a struggle but sweet and pleasant for a field of roses, of vine-trees to receive showers and summer influences from the sun and heaven. It was sweet for the baptised man Christ to receive and lodge the Holy Spirit who came down in the form of a dove on Him in all His influences.
7. A Spiritual Person Acts Much in the Spirit
Acting much in the Spirit brings greater abundance of the Spirit.
(a) The more that someone acts for the good of others (especially the people of God) the more the person is under the Spirit. Christ was under mighty flowings of the Spirit in redeeming His people. He was willing to have the influences of spiritual comfort withdrawn and be under that sad cloud of being forsaken by God in order that God might embrace us. It is the characteristic work of the Spirit to glorify God. “He shall glorify me (Christ says about the Spirit) for he shall receive of mine” (John 16:14). The more we glorify God and Jesus Christ God’s Son, the more we testify that we partake more of the flowings of the Spirit. The Church shows more of the Spirit in being willing to bear the Lord’s indignation because she has sinned (Micah 7:9) and bear public sufferings to illustrate the glory of His justice.
(b) If we have much of the spirit, we will patiently submit to the Lord’s sovereign withdrawing influences of comfort. What if He withdraw joyful influences of believing, of glorying, and rejoicing in the Lord, and feed the poor sinner with absence and exercise him with sad desertions?
(c) We are in a spiritual condition when Christ casts in feelings and discernible motions of the Spirit and we are moved and our soul fails for Him (Song 5:2, 4-6). “Quench not the spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) includes the positive requirement to cherish kindly and yield sweetly to the flowings and sweet influences of the Spirit.
8. A Spiritual Person is Watchful
The Spirit of God keeps the soul watchful. “Praying with all prayer and supplication in the spirit” is combined with watching “with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:18 see also Jude v21). “The spirit is willing” (Matthew 26:4 – forward, watchful i.e. the renewed part) “but the flesh is weak” (i.e. sleepy, and lazy). How much a person has of the Spirit is the amount they have of holy watchfulness. Watching guards against sleeping, and watchfulness makes the soul resolved to watch. Since the Spirit is a spirit of life, and a quickening and living spirit, (Romans 8:1). The more watchfulness in any, the more of the Spirit. “Let us not sleep as do others: but let us watch, and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-7; see also Romans 13:13).
9. A Spiritual Person Keeps Company with Other Spiritual People
They are born of the Spirit by the same Father (John 5; John 3:1; John 3:14; Psalm 119:63). Brothers love one another; the common nature and spirit of their Father dwells in them. Birds of the same feather and colours flock together. Beware of becoming weary of the Spirit’s company or that of spiritual men. Beware of loathing a spiritual ministry. The saints keep their spiritual being with the excellent ones in whom is all their delight (Psalm 16:2). God ordinarily showers influences and promises influences to the flocking together of the godly and pouring His Spirit on them, (Jeremiah 50:4-6; Zechariah 8:21-23; Malachi 3:16)
10. A Spiritual Person Speaks About Spiritual Things
When the well is full it must run over. When there is a treasure and abundance in the heart, the Spirit comes to the tongue in Zechariah and Simeon (Luke 2:25, 27). Grace seethes and boils up to the tongue when the conceptions of the King Christ are the good matter indited by the heart (Psalm 45:1). Men show their spirit by their language. The spiritual person speaks about Christ, redemption and imputed righteousness. The pilgrim’s heart, tongue and thoughts are all on his way and his home. In the same way the spiritual person dwells much on eternity, heaven and Christ.
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