Holiness and Power

By Aaron Hills

Part I

The Disease Of The Church

Chapter 2

Questions And Definitions

Is there any balm in Gilead for the hurt of the Bride of Christ? Is there in the redemptive work of the heavenly Bridegroom any provision for a full salvation from her sin? Has this heavenly Being -- the Holy Son of God -- coming from glory to prepare a Bride for his eternal possession, made it possible for her to be "as he is," in this present evil world? Holiness is his character. Holiness he loves. Has he made provision for her holiness, that she may perfectly delight his heart? He said in that solemn hour in the upper chamber in intercessory prayer: "For their sakes I sanctify myself that they also may be sanctified." Is sanctification the blessed, blood-bought privilege of believers? What is sin? What is holiness? What is sanctification in a redeemed child of God? What is the salvation needed by a lost or fallen race? What is the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and what does it accomplish for believers? These are vital questions that touch the very marrow of the subject before us.

Webster defines sin as (1) "Transgression of the law of God; disobedience of the divine command; any violation of God's will, either in purpose or conduct; moral deficiency in character. (2) Sin is spoken of in theology as original or actual. Actual sin is the act of a moral agent in violating a known rule of duty. Original sin, as generally understood. is native depravity of heart, that want of conformity of heart to the divine will, that corruption of nature or deterioration of the moral character of man which is supposed to be the effect of Adam's apostasy, and which manifests itself in moral agents by positive acts of disobedience to the divine will."

The Century Dictionary appends this note to its definition of sin: "The true definition of sin is a much contested question, theologians being broadly divided into two schools of thought: the one holding that all sin consists in voluntary and conscious acts of the individual; the other, that it includes the moral character of the race. Original sin is the innate depravity and corruption of the nature common to all mankind. But whether this native depravity is properly called sin, or whether it is only a tendency, and becomes sin only when yielded to by a conscious and voluntary act of the individual, is a question upon which theologians differ."

Writers upon sin and depravity and holiness may in a kind of general way, and with sufficient accuracy for this discussion, be divided into three classes:

1. Those who affirm that all sin lies in the wrong action of the will, and that there is no moral depravity of nature from which we need salvation.

2. Those who hold that sin is both voluntary transgression and a sinful constitution, which is the source of transgression, for both of which we are responsible, but from which we can not be saved completely in this life.

3. Those who hold that we have both actual sins of the will and a corrupt nature, from both of which we may be saved in this life.

The author believes that the truth is with the third class, that Scripture and reason and the experience of God's sanctified ones justify their position. It is not his purpose to make this book a polemic, but simply to state the general position of conflicting schools sufficiently to make plain what he believes is the truth and the Word of God.

President Finney, writing in the Oberlin Review for May and August of 1846, on "Moral Depravity," is a representative of the first class. Arguing against the position of President Edwards, and Dr. Woods, of Andover, and the Presbyterian Confession and older Calvinists generally, he affirms: "moral depravity can not be predicated of any involuntary acts or states of mind, for moral law legislates only over free, intelligent choice." "moral depravity is sin. Sin is a violation of law, and must consist in choice." "Moral depravity can not consist in any attribute of nature or constitution, nor in any lapsed and fallen state of nature, for this is physical, and not moral depravity." "It can not consist in anything that is a part of mind or body, nor in any involuntary action or state of either mind or body." "It can not consist in anything back of choice; whatever is back of choice is without the pale of legislation." "Moral depravity, then, strictly speaking, can only be predicated of selfish, ultimate intention." "Moral depravity is the depravity of free will, not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. "It consists in a violation of moral law."

It will be seen from these quotations that President Finney denied any moral corruption of human nature, any inbred sin inherited from our fallen race. He carried forward the application of the term moral depravity from the nature of man to the outward, voluntary conduct of man. "It can not consist," lie said, "in a sinful constitution, or in a constitutional appetency or craving for sin. Moral depravity is sin itself, and not the cause of sin. It is not something back of sin, that sustains to it the relation of a cause, but is the essence and the whole of sin."

How, then, it may be asked by the reader, did Finney account for the universal depravity or sinfulness of man? It was on this wise: "man is not morally, but physically, depraved. Physical depravity may be predicated of all the powers and involuntary states of body and of mind, of the intelligence, of the sensibility, and of the faculty of will. That is, the actings and states of the intelligence may become disordered, depraved, deranged, or fallen from the state of integrity and healthiness. The sensibility or feeling department of the mind may be sadly and physically depraved. The appetites and passions, the desires and cravings, the antipathies and repellences of the feelings fall into great disorder and anarchy. Artificial appetites are generated, and the whole sensibility becomes a wilderness, a chaos of conflicting and clamorous desires, emotions and passions." "The sensibility acts as a powerful impulse to the will from the moment of birth, and secures the consent and activity of the will before the reason is at all developed. The will is thus committed to the gratification of feeling and appetite when first the idea of moral obligation is developed." "It was the priority of the action of the sensibilities over that of reason, leading to the committal of the will to self-gratification, coupled with the influence of universally depraved example, that leads to universal sin." He argued that the theory of a corrupt nature received by inheritance reflects upon the goodness of God, making Him by creation the author of our sin; but he did not show how his own theory of the providential priority of the action of the sensibilities over that of reason upon the will reflected any less upon the goodness of God. By one theory of depravity, it is God's creation of beings with a corrupt nature that ultimates in universal sin; by the other, it is his providential arrangement of the development of the mind and moral powers that ends in universal sin. By either supposition, God's hand is equally apparent and the result is precisely the same.

Many arguments which I shall only stop to name seem to prove conclusively that back of all actions of the will there is a corrupt nature in all of us at birth inherited to our sorrow by race connection.

1. The universality of sin is a strong presumptive proof. The fact that every duck as soon as it is hatched takes to water, proves that by nature it is an aquatic fowl. The fact that every child, of every family, of whatever age or tribe or clime, whatever be its surroundings, begins to sin with the very dawn of its moral faculties, is awful evidence that the very faculties themselves are corrupt.

2. The Scriptures expressly teach the doctrine of the corruption of our nature. "The heart is deceitful above all things" (Jer. xvii. 9). "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen. viii. 21). By "heart" in Scriptural language is meant the man himself, the soul, that which thinks and feels and chooses. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John iii. 6). That is, a child born of fallen parents will have a corrupt nature. Eph. ii. 3 reads: "We also ... were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." Jews as well as Gentiles, all alike were "by nature," displeasing to God.

The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God." In Eph. iv. 17, 18, Paul speaks of the Gentiles as "alienated from the life of God, because of the hardening of their hearts, because of the ignorance that is in them." In I. Cor. ii. 14, all are represented as by nature "dead in trespasses and sins." Many other passages might be cited that seem to teach or imply the corruption of the very nature of man. Rom. viii. 7, 8: "The carnal mind is enmity against God: ... they that are in the flesh can not please God."

3. The universal necessity of regeneration is an argument for this truth. Regeneration is the change of heart, of nature, by the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes no exception in the cases of babes, or children. The passage evidently means every descendant of Adam, with no exception of class or family or age. God always included people and their "little ones" in the provisions of His grace, contemplating them from birth as needing to be saved, and as interested in the plan of salvation. No doubt the child dying in early life will, in some way unknown to us, become a recipient of that regenerating grace. The covenant of which circumcision was the seal, and the repetition of it in infant baptism to those who practice it, is a sign that children are in a state of pollution, and need cleansing grace.

4. Another argument is drawn from the universality of death which was the penalty of sin. Many hold that this meant physical death as well as spiritual, and, therefore, the physical death of infants is a Scriptural proof that they were born with a corrupted nature that will with absolute certainty end in spiritual death unless they become the subjects of redemptive grace, which is not doubted.

5. The corruption of nature is argued from the universal conviction of the people of God. True Christians, men and women of unquestioned purity and piety, are convinced that there is within them an inherent depravity of heart and nature, warring against all their holy purposes, opposing their conscience and resisting their purest impulses and strivings. They groan under this depravity as a grievous burden. This sense of bondage and inward corruption voices itself in all Christian literature and sings its sorrow in plaintive hymns. One of the purest of souls and most honoured composers of sacred song writes:

"My God, I cry with every breath
For some kind power to save,
To break the yoke of sin and death
And thus redeem the slave."

And again:
"Their hearts, by nature all unclean
And all their actions, guilt."

And still again:
"Lord! let not all my hopes be vain,
Create my heart entirely new."

It is this sense of inward corruption that gives the unrest of soul to earnest Christians and causes them to cry in anguish: "Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?"

Who that has resolved on living conformably to the holy law of God, and struggled with foes within, can not interpret such words from his own heart's experience? Who does not feel that his disordered affections, so difficult to control and fasten and concentrate supremely upon God, and his unholy passions, so difficult to restrain and correct, so easily kindled into forbidden anger, so readily confirmed into hateful revenge, or subjected to low and debasing indulgences, spring from a fallen and corrupt nature?

So long as the life of man is a warfare, -- a warfare, not merely with the world and Satan, but with those erratic sensibilities, those wild passions and propensities of his own soul, those springs of evil in his own being, -- he will carry with him an ever-present evidence of the corruption of human nature, all evidence that will last till sanctifying grace has made him a full "partaker of the divine nature."

There is no argument against human consciousness. Dr. Samuel Johnson said: "I know I am free, and that is the end of it." Dr. Daniel Steele, of Boston University, says: "consciousness killed Calvinism." And it did it in spite of Calvinism's cast-iron logic. This universal consciousness of inward defilement and pollution, of malignant feelings and abnormal appetites and diseased imaginations in spite of the choices and volitions, can not be argued against. There is something besides the acts of will of which conscience and the law of God take notice. The nature of man is corrupt.

6. It has been wisely argued by others that the whole gospel economy proceeds on the ground of man's natural depravity, or corruption of nature. Says Luther Lee, in his "Elements of Theology":

"There are two leading truths on the very face of the gospel, on the ground of which the whole gospel system proceeds. These truths are the following: First. All are lost, and stand in need of salvation. Secondly. Christ is the Saviour of all, able and willing to save all who will come unto him that they might have life. These which are fundamental, and draw after them every other part of the gospel system, clearly suppose a fallen and corrupt state of human nature; for they can be truths only in view of the truth of our inherent depravity. If man is not corrupt in nature, and if all sin consists in voluntary actions, it is perfectly possible to avoid all sin so as to need no atonement for sin, no restorer, no mediator, no interposition of Jesus Christ, to reconcile us to God. It would be profane to say that men are unreconciled to God so as to need a mediator and lost so as to need salvation while in the same state in which God created them. Hence, if men are not by nature corrupt, it is possible t o live free from all sin, so as not to need the atoning blood to wash away our sins, or the Holy Ghost to renew our hearts. This would be subversive of the whole gospel system."

As the holy Fletcher wrote: "if man is not polluted, why must he be washed in the blood of the immaculate Lamb? If his soul is not disordered, what occasion for such a divine Physician? In a word, if he is not born in sin, why is a new birth so absolutely necessary that Christ declares that without it no man can see the kingdom of God?" (p. 123).

Dr. Charles Hodge is a fair representative of the second class. He was a champion of the baldest Calvinism, teaching the imputation of Adam's sin to his descendants; the corruption of their entire nature; that it is truly and properly of the nature of sin, involving both guilt and pollution; that it retains its character as sin even in the regenerated; that it renders the soul spiritually dead, entirely unable of himself to do anything good in the sight of God. (Vol. II., Sys. Theol., p. 230) He further taught that sanctification is never perfected in this life; that sin is not in any case entirely subdued; so that the most advanced believer has need to pray for the forgiveness of sins" (Vol. III., pp. 245 and 258).

This is truly severe and dark enough, that we must all bear the guilt of Adam's sin, and a consequent guilty corruption, which still inheres in the Christian's heart, and from which not all the atoning work of Christ, nor all the infinite grace of God, nor all the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, can cleanse us in this life. This is truly appalling, and, if believed, it might well fill the whole Christian Church with the anguish of despair.

Rev. Asbury Lowrey, D. D., author of "Positive Theology" and "Possibilities of Grace," fairly states the Wesleyan view, and represents the third class. He writes:

"Redemption, in all its stages, is a stern grapple with sin. Sin is an alien element, alike antagonistic to God and the interests of men. Sin exists under Scriptural aspects. First, as a taint of evil in man. Second, as evil done by man. There is a specific difference between a sinful state and a sinful practice. In practice, sin is the transgression of the law. A sinful state implies a corrupt nature, a bent to evil, a heart alienated from God and opposed to holiness." "But according to Scriptures, there is a point of culmination in grace that belongs to this life -- a state in which, according to Paul, we 'stand perfect and complete in all the will of God' (Col. iv. 12)." "This finished work of salvation from sin we call entire sanctification, or perfect holiness. It is known by various titles and phrases in the Bible, such as 'perfection,' 'sanctification,' 'perfect love,' 'pure in heart,' dead to sin,' 'crucified with Christ,' 'Christ lives in me,' 'mind of Christ,' 'partakers of the divine nature,' 'free from sin,' 'filled with the Spirit,' 'loving God with all the soul, mind and strength,' 'cleansed from all sin and from all unrighteousness,' 'cleansed from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,' 'perfecting holiness in the fear of God,' 'that the body of sin might be destroyed,' 'that he might destroy the works of the devil,' 'purify the sons of Levi and purge them as gold and silver,' 'from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you.' " "All these phrases have substantially the same signification." "They represent the cleansing of the believer's soul, and the reproduction in him of the image of Christ" (Possibilities of Grace, pp. 142 and 210).