The name "Watson" is usually associated with G. D. Watson, a popular holiness author. Few people have had any exposure to Richard Watson, the first Methodist to publish a systematic theology. We think part of the problem is that the wrong Watson has been reprinted and read. This is the fifth extraction from Richard Watson to be published in the magazine.
The testimony of the Spirit is to assure us that we are the children of God. The Holy Spirit gives witness to the great fact that our sins are forgiven and that we are now adopted into his family.
The Spirit is the only witness who can give direct evidence of this. He is not only a competent witness, but the only competent witness. Our own spirits cannot bear testimony to this fact of our reconciliation to God. So far as direct testimony is concerned, our own spirits have nothing to do with it. They are not competent to bear witness on it. He alone can do this to whom it is perfectly known.
For the illustration of this, remember that the act of pardon takes place upon our believing in Christ. Whenever we believe with the faith which God requires from us, then are we forgiven, we are justified, and restored to the favor of God. But this act of mercy is one which takes place in the mind of God. Who can be conscious of that act? Until it pleases God himself to reveal it, it must remain unknown. If he sent a special messenger, human or angelic, to inform me of it, he himself must first have communicated the fact. "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man." The spirit of one man knows not the spirit of another man. That which passes in our own minds is only known to ourselves. How, then does man become acquainted with that act of the Divine mind by which the true believer is freely justified for the sake of our Lord Jesus? The apostle tells us elsewhere: "The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 2:11). "For the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God" (1 Cor 2:10). We can be conscious of the fact of forgiveness and adoption only if that fact is made known to us by the testimony of the Spirit. For the promises of God are all general. Our names are not written in the sacred pages. And whether or not I have so believed as to come up to the requisitions of the Gospel in this respect, is not for me to know. God is the proper and only Judge. When God accepts my faith, he forgives my sins. He does this by an act of his own mind, of which he makes no general and open revelation. The method by which he has appointed to convey the knowledge of this fact to the heart of the individual, for his own personal comfort and benefit, is this testimony of the Holy Spirit. [edited from Richard Watson, Sermons and Sketches of Sermons, 2 vols. (New York: Lane & Scott, 1851), 2:343. Sermon #104, "The Spirit of Adoption"]