By Aaron Hills
Evidence That Holiness Is Attainable
The venerable and famous Professor in Andover Theological Seminary, Dr. Woods said to his pupils one day: "If there were somewhere a hospital in which souls could be made whole, I would go there as a patient." I can not but feel that if he had read John Calvin and the Catechism less, and had read John Wesley more, he would have had a clarified vision to find from his Bible that there was a "fountain opened to the House of David," both "for sin and for uncleanness." Let us notice some of the arguments and evidence that a loving, atoning God has indeed provided humanity with healing for the hurt of sin.
I. There is the argument from Probability. This has been noticed by General Booth, of the Salvation Army. All God's dealings with the race prove that he hates sin with an infinite hatred, and loves his sin-cursed children with an infinite love. With infinite remedial agencies at his disposal, what will his redeeming grace be likely to attempt with regard to us -- a partial or an entire cure of the malady of sin? Mary Magdalene, being willing to receive a complete salvation from Jesus, did her blessed Lord cast out four devils and leave three in to torment her and tempt her to dishonour her Master, or did he "forgive her much," and give her a complete deliverance? What would a skilful earthly physician do whose son had been fatally poisoned? Would he use every possible antidote to drive out all the poison, and that immediately, or would he leave a portion of the virus in his system to be fought gradually and to make him a suffering invalid for life? There is but one answer to such a question. How much more is it probable that our sin-hating and infinitely compassionate and omnipotent Heavenly Father would provide an instantaneous and complete salvation for his "grievously tormented" children? Reasoning simply from the nature of a sin-hating, holy God, who tries to save at all, it is not probable that we must all go on in an endless round of sinning and repenting and confessing, and be infested with the "sin that dwells in us," until death. It is highly probable that such a God as the gospel reveals "would provide some better things for us," and enable us to "serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days" (Luke i. 74,75).
II. The Bible as a whole is a witness for the possibility of holiness. The most careless reader can not fail to see that it is a Book against sin of every kind and degree. As a grand whole, it is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (II. Tim. iii 16, 17, R. V.). It is fraught with instruction, appeals to the conscience, informs the judgment, illuminates the understanding. It plies the heart with the most cogent and winning motives, drawing hearts to holiness by the sweetness of communion with God and the blessedness of his service, while it drives from sin by the revelation of divine displeasures and "the interminable horrors of damnation." This makes it plain why Christ prayed that his people might "be sanctified through the truth," and why Paul should speak of their being sanctified and cleansed with "the washing of water by the Word," and of Christians as attaining salvation "through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." "Truth is the means, and the Spirit is the efficient agent." Men are to "purify their souls by obeying the truth through the Spirit." Prof. Henry Cowles wrote: "Surely here is everything of motive that can well be conceived. How could God make them stronger? Who can weigh them fully and yet resist them? And they are all perfectly adapted to promote the sanctification of the heart. Can it be believed that the result must inevitably fall short of the end proposed? If there is failure, does it lie in defective means, or defective application of those means?" (Holiness of Christians, pp. 64. 65.)
III. We may infer the possibility of complete salvation -- the entire sanctification of Christians -- from the Bible descriptions of the possible experience of believers. They are spoken of, -- (1) As having a clean heart, washed from all sin. Ps. li. 10: "Create in me a clean heart." Matt. v. 8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
(2) As living such a blameless life that God himself shall not see anything to condemn. Phil. ii. 15: "That you may be blameless and harmless children of God without blemish." II. Pet. iii. 14: "Give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight." The same Greek words are used of Christ, as in I. Pet. i. 19: "But with precious blood as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ." This suggests the solemn as well as most comforting thought that we may, by the sanctifying power of Jesus, live such a spotless, blameless life as he lived. This is the end towards which we are exhorted to make an effort.
Again, the same word is used in James i. 27, which represents the keeping of ourselves "unspotted from the world" as one of the essential elements of religion. On this passage Dr. Steele, recent Professor of New Testament Greek in Boston University, writes: "This seems as impossible to the man of weak faith as it would for a white-robed lady to dance among dye-tubs or tar-buckets, without being smirched. But all things are possible to him that believeth. This world needs a gospel which gives victory over sin. The first is deliverance from sinning. The new birth introduces the sin-sick soul into a state of triumph over actual sin, giving him the ability not to sin. Justification saves from sinning, but not from the tendency to sin, improperly called sin, because it lacks the voluntary element essential to guilt.
"But in these proclivities to sin, though repressed, there is peril and cause of inward strife, the flesh warring against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. When this war ends by the extinction and annihilation of the flesh as the lurking place of the sin principle, there is deliverance from sin also, as well as from sinning. Justification, implying regeneration, saves from sinning; entire sanctification saves from sin." Then one can live the pure and undefiled religion, "unspotted from the world."
(3) The Bible speaks of the possibility of such a reconsecration on the part of a believer that he will be wholly given up to God to be possessed and used by him, and made holy and acceptable. Rom. xii. 1: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God." The saintly Bishop Simpson taught that these "brethren" were Christians already; that God was pleading with them for a more intelligent, all including consecration, the body, the present home of the soul, being a comprehensive word for the whole being. When all was brought to the altar -- Christ -- in faith "the altar sanctified the gift," the sanctifying power came, and the life was henceforth "holy" and "acceptable to God."
(4) The Bible speaks of "Love" as "the fulfilling of the law," and the proper requirement of God. Matt. xxii. 37-40; Rom. xiii. 10. The divine requisitions of holiness in the present life do imply that we "love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, and our neighbour as ourselves" (Luke x. 27). Thus Jesus taught; this love to God involves adoration, reverence, submission, faith and universal obedience; this love to man implies all practical and possible efforts to promote his well being. This is wholly practicable. We are not required to love with an angel's powers, but with our own; not with his mind, or degree of intelligence, but with our own. Professor Henry Cowles says "The question then becomes simply this, Is it possible for a man to do and love all he can? -- about which question there is perceived no room for dispute. It scarcely need be added that this holiness implies that all the selfish and sinful passions are subdued, and reign no longer" (Holiness, pp. 20 -22).
(5) The Bible asserts the possibility of Christians reaching an experience in which they shall be "dead to sin," having the "old man crucified," "the body of sin destroyed," and the soul ''freed from sin."
Rom. vi. 11 "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus." Rom. vi. 6: "Our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed [done away], that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin."
On this verse Dr. Steele observes: "The Greek for 'destroy' is never used by Paul in the sense of rendering inactive, as those assert who insist that the root of sin is not killed till it is plucked up by old Mortality himself. Says Cremer, who had no doctrinal partiality to warp his definition: 'Elsewhere it signifies a putting out of activity, out of power or effect; but with St. Paul it is to annihilate, to put an end to, to bring to naught.' If any expression could be stronger than this, it is found in the reciprocal crucifixion found in Gal. vi. 14: 'By whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.' This,' says Bishop Ellicott, 'is a forcible mode of expressing the utter cessation of all communion between the apostle and the world.' 'Paul and the world, the sum total of all that is opposed to the spiritual reign of Christ, regard each other as dead.' Hence no surprise is awakened by Paul's declaration that he is made free from the law of (the uniform tendency to) sin and (spiritual) death. The proclivity toward sin is not only removed, but an upward gravitation is substituted. As the cork set free at the bottom of the sea rapidly rises to the surface, so the soul that is 'risen with Christ, seeks those things which are above'" (Half-Hours with St. Paul, p. 10).
Wonderful salvation! which so sanctifies the soul that it is "crucified to the world," and "freed" from the tendency to sin, and "dead" to all the solicitations of evil!
(6) The Bible holds up to Christians the possibility of being "filled with God."
Eph. iii. 19: "That ye might be filled unto all the fullness of God." Eph. v. 18: "Be filled with the Spirit." "The possession of the Spirit," says Dr. A. J. Gordon, "commits us irrevocably to separation from sin." The "fullness of God" can not be realized by a corrupt, defiled heart. It was for sanctification that Paul was praying in behalf of those Ephesians; and language could go no further and prayer could rise to no greater height than this climax petition reached when Paul supplicated that they might be "filled unto all the fullness of God."
IV. We may infer the possibility of complete salvation from sin -- entire sanctification -- from the revealed purpose of the life and death of Christ. The Scriptures declare that he came "to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness" (Dan. ix. 24); that "he would grant us that we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life" (Luke i. 74, 75). Here is deliverance from all spiritual enemies and sanctification, not at death, nor after death, but "all the days of our life."
But again: "Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the Word, that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. v. 25-27). How can a whole church be sanctified and holy and without spot or blemish, unless this wonderful blessing can come and does come to its individual members?
Again: "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered without the gate" (Heb. xiii. 12). "Who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works" (Titus ii. 14). "Hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that ye should follow his steps who did no sin" (I. Pet. ii. 21, 22). "For this end was the Son of God manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil" (I. John iii. 8). What are the works of the devil but sin and sinning, the corruption of our hearts, and the ruin of our outward lives. Jesus came to rectify all this and make us pure and holy. "Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness " (I. Pet. ii. 24).
Now take all these passages together, and how could the statements be more plain, or the evidence more cumulative? God has put his whole heart into this work. He designed the great plan of salvation to restore fallen man to holiness. Christ gave himself that he might accomplish this work. The Spirit renews individual believers, and afterwards gives them a sanctifying "baptism of fire," to consume all hidden evil in their hearts, and make them holy.
Professor Henry Cowles says: "The plan manifestly contemplates the accomplishment of the work in the present life, for the means said to be employed are used here, and so far as we know, here only. . . As the gospel feast of pardon shall not be made in vain, though many scorn it, so these provisions for sanctification, and this great design to have a glorious church, unspoiled, shall not come to nought. For this let God be praised. The praise is his. The plan -- he laid it -- the provisions and the execution are his work. Happy thought that God is employing the resources of the Trinity, to redeem from sin a revolted race! Let the work go on, and nought from earth or from beneath impede its progress" (pp. 26, 27).
V. We may make an unanswerable argument for the possibility of this sanctification from the continuous mediatorial work of Christ. His parting words with his disciples were: "Lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. xxviii. 20). "He ever lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. vii. 25). It is "he that sanctifies" his children, "bringing many sons unto glory" (Heb. ii. 10, 11). He laboured in his atoning work and still labours, "that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled IN US, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." When his loved ones permit it, he will come and make his "abode with them" and "live in them" the sanctified life that pleases God. This was St. Paul's explanation of his own holy and blameless life. "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. ii. 20, R. V., Am. Com.). The old man of sin was crucified and dead; the sinful principle was extinct, and now Jesus was living the perfect life in him and for him. It was probably to a similar experience that Martin Luther referred when a stranger knocked at his door and inquired if Martin Luther lived there. His reply was "No, sir; Luther does not live here any more. Jesus Christ lives here." Paul was conscious of a spiritual life, that was not so much of himself as of Christ, who had created it and was sustaining it. "It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell "(Col. i. 19). "And of his fullness we all received, and grace for grace" (John i. 16). Where this grace of the "fullness of God" is sought, and cherished, and used, evermore is given "grace for grace." This same Christ Jesus "was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness ["justification" in the Greek] and sanctification and redemption." Professor Henry Cowles says: "Here we have the inventory of spiritual blessings which come from Christ. And what more does a Christian need? Here is wisdom to guide him; righteousness for his acceptance with God; sanctification to fit him for heaven; and redemption to buy him from the curse of the law, and the slavery of sin. . . How wonderfully is Christ made everything to us, and that, too, by God himself! No wonder Paul should say (Col. ii.9, 10): "In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and in him ye are made full." Again: He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins." And what else? "And to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I. John i. 9). That is sanctification.
Furthermore through this interceding Saviour, we have all the resources of prayer put at our disposal. "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; ask and ye shall receive. If ye shall ask anything of the Father he will give it you in my name" (John xvi. 23, 24). The Christian is spiritually poor and bankrupt in himself; with the use of Christ's name he can draw without limit from the infinite storehouse of grace. The Christian is weak in himself, but he is "strong in the Lord," his sanctifying Saviour (Eph. vi. 10). What matters it who or what are his foes if Christ is his strength and the "Captain of his salvation"? What matters it what or how many and subtle are his temptations, if Jesus is his hiding-place from the storm, and his covert from the tempest"? Well does Prof. Cowles ask: "Does not the Bible exhibit most glorious and adequate provisions for the Christian's aid in the life of holiness? Need he live in sin and want who has Christ's name for his credit -- Christ's strength and help for his weakness -- Christ's wisdom for his folly, and Christ's all-pervading, and inspiring presence for his atmosphere of life and breath, and being?" (Holiness, p. 48).
VI. Another unanswerable argument for the possibility of complete salvation can be drawn from the revealed work of the Spirit as a sanctifier. The Spirit's work is so vast and many-sided that a full description of it alone would fill a volume. We can only say here, briefly, that the Spirit "teaches" believers, and helps them to "remember" divine truth, and reveals Christ to them in all his atoning and sanctifying work. He further "reproves," "convicts," the world of sin, comforts in trouble, develops the "fruits of the Spirit" in the souls of believers, "sheds abroad the love of God" in their hearts, "helps our infirmities," "makes intercession for the saints." Believers who open their hearts to receive are ''filled with the Spirit," until out of them "shall flow rivers of living water" of holy influence. "Holy affections are free and flowing just in proportion as the Spirit's aid is sought and obtained. Sweetly willing are love and obedience when that Spirit moves and melts time soul." Still further: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (I. Cor. vi. 16). " Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Ghost?" (I. Cor. vi. 19).
And again, the Spirit "fills" us. " Be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. v. 18). Gordon observes: ''The passive verb employed here is suggestive. The surrendered will, the yielded body, the emptied heart, are the great requisites to his incoming. And when he has come and filled the believer, the result is a kind of passive activity, as of one wrought upon and controlled rather than of one directing his own efforts. Under the influence of strong drink there is an outpouring of all that time evil spirit inspires -- frivolity, profanity, and riotous conduct. Be 'God intoxicated men,' the apostle would seem to say; let the Spirit of God so control you that you shall pour yourself out in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." And now notice, reader, the effect of being thus "filled with the Spirit." Three are mentioned which culminate in a fourth, namely, power, sealing, anointing, and sanctification.
Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you" (Acts i. 8). "Strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man" (Eph. iii. 16). Here is the source of power to do God's will -- not our own resolute, heroic strivings, but the all conquering might of the indwelling God to whom we have yielded ourselves to be controlled. Godet says: "Man is a vessel destined to receive God, a vessel which must be enlarged in proportion as it is filled, and filled in proportion as it is enlarged." Dr. Gordon adds: Whether consciously or not, it is the fact of the Holy Spirit's coming in new power to the soul, that all new life is due: and the more that this is consciously understood, the more is the Holy Ghost in his due place in our hearts. It is only when he is consciously accepted in all his power that we call be said to be 'baptised' or 'filled' with the Holy Ghost."
And now the "sealing": "Now he that establishes us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God; who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." What does this divine transaction mean? Dr. Gordon directs our attention for an explanation to II. Tim. ii. 19: "Howbeit the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his; and, Let every one that names the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness." In other words, God puts his seal on us, as an express agent puts the stamp of the "seal" upon the precious package. The two inscriptions on God' s seal which he stamps on us are ownership and holiness. The ancient High Priest had "Holiness to the Lord" sealed upon his forehead. Upon those who would have the fullness of blessing now, the Spirit puts the seal of God's ownership and irrevocable separation from sin upon their whole being.
Then there is the "anointing." Jesus said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel" (Luke iv. 18). "Ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things." Here is the spiritual discernment and divine insight into gospel truth which the Spirit alone can give. "No man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit." The Holy Spirit alone can reveal to men the lordship of Jesus, and "the word of wisdom" and "the word of knowledge" (I Cor. xii. 3, 8). He holds the key to the knowledge of divine mysteries, and fills the heart with the understanding of truth that sanctifies the soul. "The seal with assurance and consecration; the filling with power, and the anointing with knowledge." All these gifts are wrapped up in the one gift of the Holy Spirit. And to what end?
Now we reach the climax of all. "God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit" (II. Thess. ii. 13). "Elect . . . . in sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience" (I. Pet. i. 2). The Greek word for sanctification is hagiasmos. Dr. Steele writes: "It is used ten times in the New Testament. In the old version it is translated by 'holiness' five times, and five by 'sanctification.' The Revised Version always renders it by 'sanctification.' This is the more accurate version, since the ending mos in Greek means an ACT, as does the ending tion in English. Hence the revisers have furnished five new proof texts to the definition of sanctification as an act in the Catechism of the M. E. Church: 'Ans. 57. Sanctification is that act of divine grace whereby we are made holy.' The act is that of removing impurity existing in the nature of one already born of the Spirit. Deliverance from sin as a tendency born with us is the act of God through the Holy Spirit" (Half Hours, p. 106). Let theologians, who speak and write of sanctification as a long, indefinite, hazy, nebulous process of human growth that begins anywhere and ends nowhere in this life, take notice that the Greek New Testament shows that sanctification is an instantaneous act of the omnipotent Spirit of God.
And let the teachable hungry soul that is seeking after purity know that the Holy Spirit is hovering about him to teach, and admonish, and intercede for him with God; and if he will permit it, and "inquire " for the great blessing, the Spirit will come in and "fill " him, and "seal" him, and "anoint" and, by one blessed, all cleansing act of grace, sanctify his soul.