The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
There are here —
I. TWO PERSONS.
1. The Spirit.
(1) He is God, and if so, equal to the Father and the Son. This is proved inasmuch as —
(a) The essential name of God is given Him (Isaiah 6:9; cf. Acts 28:25).
(b) The Divine attributes — eternity (Genesis 1:2); omnipresence (Psalm 139:7); omniscience (1 Corinthians 2:10).
(c) The works of God — creation (Job 33:4); miracles (Isaiah 63:14); the calling and sending of the prophets (Isaiah 48:16) and of Christ Himself (Luke 4:18); prophecy (Acts 1:16); illumination (John 16:14); justification (1 Corinthians 6:11); conviction of sin (John 16:8); comfort (Acts 9:31); resurrection (Romans 8:11); the earnest and seal of our evidence (Ephesians 1:13); spiritual refreshment (John 4:14); zeal (Matthew 3:11); prayer (Zechariah 12:10; Romans 8:26); gladness (Hebrews 1:9); spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4). He is God, because the essential name of God is His; therefore let us call upon His name, because the attributes of God are His; therefore let us attribute to Him all might, majesty, dominion, etc., because the works of God are His; therefore let us co-operate with Him: then shall we be of the same spirit with Him.
(2) He is a distinct person in the Godhead. He is not the highest and powerfullest working of God in man not the breathing of God into the soul of man; these are only His gifts and not Himself. It is not the power of the King that signs His pardon, but His person.
(3) He proceeds from the Father and the Son (ver. 9; Galatians 4:6). As to the manner of this, when we are able to tell how the Spirit proceeds which beats in our pulse, we shall be able to explain that.
2. Our spirit. The word is applied either to the soul itself, or to its superior faculties in the regenerate. In Hebrews 4:12 the soul is that which animates the body, and enables the senses to see and hear; the spirit is that which enables the soul to see God and hear His gospel (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:25). The soul is the seat of affections, the spirit is rectified reason or the conscience (Romans 9:1).
II. THEIR OFFICE — to testify.
1. The testification of the Holy Ghost Himself. A witness ever testifies of some matter of fact. The Spirit here witnesses that we are the children of God. Now, if a witness prove that I am a tenant to such land or lord of it, I do not become so by this witness, but his testimony proves I was so before. I have, therefore, a former right to be the child of God — i.e., the election of God in Christ Jesus. The Holy Ghost produces the decree of this election. And upon such evidence shall I give sentence against myself? I should not doubt the testimony of an angel, and when God testifies to me it is a rebellious sin to doubt. But though there be a former evidence for my being a child of God, a decree in heaven, yet it is not enough that there is such a record; it must be produced; and by that, though it do not become my election then, it makes my election appear.
2. But even that Spirit will not be heard alone. He will fulfil His own law "in the mouth of two witnesses." Sometimes our spirit bears testimony without the Spirit. The natural conscience has much to say about sin, and God and our relation to Him (Acts 17:28). And the Holy Spirit testifies when ours does not. How often He presents to us the power of God in the mouth of the preacher, and we bear witness to one another of the preacher's wit and eloquence, and no more! How often He bears witness that such an action is odious to God, and our spirit bears witness that it is acceptable to men! How often He bears witness for God's judgments, and our spirit deposes for mercy by presumption, or He testifies for mercy and ours for judgment in desperation! But when the Spirit and our spirit agree; when He speaks comfortably to my soul and my soul hath apprehended comfort; when He deposes for the decree of my election, and I depose for the seals and marks of that decree, these two witnesses —
3. Induce a third witness — the world itself to testify what is the testimony of the text.
III. THE TESTIMONY — "that we are the children of God."
1. The Holy Ghost could not express more danger to a man than when He calls him "the child of this world" (Luke 16:18); nor a worse disposition than when He calls him "the child of diffidence and distrust in God" (Ephesians 5:6); nor a worse pursuer of that ill disposition than when He calls him "the child of the devil" (Acts 13:10); nor a worse possessing of the devil than when He calls him "the child of perdition" (John 17.); nor a worse execution of all this than when He calls him "a child of hell" (Matthew 23. 15).
2. So it is also a high exaltation when the Spirit draws our pedigree from any good thing, as when He calls us "the children of light" (John 12:36); "the children of the bridechamber" (Matthew 9:15); but the highest of all is "the children of God." This is an universal primogeniture, and makes every true believer heir of the joys, the glory, the eternity of heaven.
(J. Donne, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: