By Aaron Hills
Arguments For The Attainability Of Sanctification Continued -- The Inspired Prayers
We now approach one of the strongest of all possible arguments to one who knows the meaning of prayer. For, --
IX. Christ and inspired writers pray that believers should be thus holy. What is prayer? Is it a form of spiritual gymnastics whose only benefit is the development of soul muscle by reflex influence? Or is it the voice of a child asking of a father what that father has encouraged him to ask for, and promised to grant? This is the only rational, as it is the well-nigh universal, conception of prayer. What Jesus and inspired apostles prayed for, then, is proof of what God is willing to do for us, and what it is possible for man to receive. "No truth, to my mind," says Mahan, "can be more self-evident than this, that the Holy Spirit never did influence and inspire Christ and his apostles and saints to pray for a specific blessing, and inspire men to record in the Bible prayers for a specific blessing, which God, in the same Scriptures, requires us to believe he never did, and never will, bestow upon any believer." True; and therefore what Jesus and Paul prayed for it is possible for believers to experience. Any other theory is fatal to prayer itself, and is the rankest nonsense, even though it be supported by the teaching of famous theologians and endorsed by a Catechism several hundred years old.
Let us turn our attention now to some of the Bible prayers. Jesus prayed, or taught his disciples to pray (Matt. vi. 10): "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth." No one will deny that the saints and angels in heaven are holy and sanctified. Then Jesus prays that believers may be sanctified on earth. Again, "Deliver us from evil" (13). There is no evil but sin and sin's consequences. When we are delivered from that we shall be sanctified. John xvii. 17: "Sanctify them in the truth." John xvii. 15: "I pray that thou shouldest keep them from the evil." John xvii. 23: "I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." Who can deny that these prayers are for the Christian's perfection -- the sanctification of God's people? Who will be rash enough to affirm that the Son of God was praying for something that was not "according to the will of God," and was therefore impossible?
II. Cor. xiii. 9: "This we also pray for, even, your perfecting." Meyer says Paul here prayed for "your complete furnishing, perfection in Christian morality." Whedon says he prayed for "complete symmetry of Christian character." Alford says: "Perfection generally in all good things." Steele says: "This is the burden of Paul's prayer for the church members in Corinth. Paul had too good sense to spend his breath in praying for what was impracticable in this life, and for what would come to them as a matter of course in the hour of death" (Half Hours, p. 115).
Eph. iii. 15-21 is the record of Paul's wonderful prayers for the sanctification of believers. Let us transcribe a few of the petitions, and let the scholars be heard in interpretation. "I bow my knees ... that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." "That Christ may take up his lasting abode in your hearts" (Alford and Ellicott). "This rendering," says Steele, ''gives the force of the aorist tense." Meyer says that opposed to this taking up of the lasting abode of Christ, is a transient reception of the Holy Spirit, as in Gal. iii. 3: "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Steele adds: "This is a searching question, which many modern believers of the Galatian type would do well seriously to ponder. Their eager pursuit of worldly pleasures, their dallying with temptation, their inquiry, What harm in the dance, the drama, and the card party? all too painfully prove that the Holy Comforter, the artesian well of water, is not in them, springing up into everlasting life."
"It is instructive also to note that Christ dwells only in the vital centre of our being, not in the tongue, which would produce only a mouth-religion, nor in the hand, which would make a lifeless routine of works, but in the heart. which rules the tongue, the hands, and the feet, making them the instruments of a glad and willing service. He never takes up his abode in the brain alone; but it is his purpose, after taking possession of the heart, to extend his conquest to the head. To reverse this order would reduce Christianity to a theory instead of a joyful experience. A Christ flitting through the intellect now and then, gives no such repose of soul as the Christ who becomes a permanent resident of the heart" (Half Hours, p. 19).
"May be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth." "The tense of the verb 'apprehend,' Ellicott suggests, implies the singleness of the act, as if through the instantaneous perfecting of love, there comes a sudden revelation of God to the soul in the face of his adorable Son, revealed by the Holy Spirit" (p. 20).
"When he prays that the believers in Ephesus may be fully able to apprehend with all saints, he hints at the idea of the equal privilege of all, ascribing to the humblest Christian the highest and most precious knowledge."
"'That ye may be filled into all the fullness of God.' Something more than initial Christian life is here prayed for by Paul. The new birth begins with the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit. But such a heart is narrow and needs enlargement it has remaining defilements which need cleansing. The crowning act is here denoted by the being 'filled unto all the fullness of God'" (p. 23).
I. Thess. v. 23: "And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame." Here is instantaneous sanctification, not after death, nor at death, not by a process lifelong, nor by the growth method, if language can teach any such thing. Says Dr. Steele: "The aorist tense of the verb, 'sanctify,' denoting singleness of action, as distinguished from a continuance or repetition, strengthens our position that there is no post-mortem cleansing taught in these passages. This remark is for the special benefit of some good and otherwise orthodox theologians, who reject the modern philosophical inference that a change of relation to God's law from condemnation to justification, may take place after death, but look with favour on the doctrine of the completion after death of the sanctification which began in the new birth. The latter is as destitute of Scriptural foundation as the former. The only purgatory for sin is the blood of Christ. To assert that this purgatory stretches out from death to the Day of Judgment is to pass over the gulf between Protestantism based on the Bible and Romanism built on traditions. Prayer for the unsanctified dead would logically follow" (Half Hours, pp. 85, 86).
Dr. Lowrey says: "The apostle implores two cardinal blessings: First, complete sanctification; second, preservation in that hallowed state till Christ shall come for the holy subject" (p. 286).
Let us all, then, pray with Paul that "God himself" may "sanctify" us instantaneously and wholly, here and now.
I. Thess. iii. 13: "To the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness."
Heb. xiii. 19, 20: "Now the God of peace make you perfect in every good thing to do his will," etc. And in the same chapter, to throw light upon the meaning of the prayer, we read: "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered without the gate" (Heb. xiii. 12).
Col. iv. 12: "Epaphras, a servant of Christ Jesus, salutes you, always striving for you in his prayers that ye may stand perfect and fully assured [complete] in all the will of God."
The apostle quotes this prayer of Epaphras, and so endorses the petition. "What language," asks Finney "could more perfectly describe a state of entire sanctification? If this is not sanctification, what is?" Mahan, quoting this prayer of Epaphras and others, observes: "Such is the unvarying character of those Spirit-inspired prayers, not at all for an increase of holiness, or for greater and greater freedom from sin, but for salvation 'to the uttermost' and for a 'standing perfect and complete in all the will of God.' Do such prayers, which it would be an offence in us not to repeat, and that in all sincerity, pertain to what God requires us to regard as the unattainable? Does the Spirit of God thus contradict Himself? From my heart of hearts I answer, No. When we thus pray, we are bound to expect, not less, but 'exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.' "
If the attainability of holiness here and flow be a visionary notion that can not be realized, then Christ was not sincere when he prayed God to "sanctify" us, and put in the lips of all believers a prayer for holiness -- "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." There is no escape from the alternative. Either these prayers of Christ and his apostles were stupid blunders, praying and teaching us to pray for an impossibility, or they teach the attainability of entire sanctification here and now. How would this prayer sound: O Lord, help me to do thy will perfectly and be holy like thee ten years from now, but not now? Who does not see that such a prayer would be a mockery of God?
X. Another unanswerable argument may be drawn for the attainability of holiness from the Scriptural declarations concerning what Christ is able to do for us.
Jesus said to his disciples: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." And we are expressly taught that "He came to destroy the works of the devil," and to "sanctify the people." To what end will that unlimited power of the exalted Saviour be exerted? What gave, and still gives, him infinite pain and sorrow? Sin. What does he hate with infinite hatred? Sin. What end did he have in view in his incarnation, and what is the object of his mediatorial work? "To redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people."
Let us notice now the specific declarations of what Jesus is able to do for us with all this infinite power.
I. Hebrews ii. 18: "He is able to succour them that are tempted." The Greek word for "succour" is composed of the verb "to run" and the noun "a cry." It means "to run to the aid of those who cry for help." But an insufficient help would be no help. Suppose that General Grant, with two million men under his command, had ordered a colonel to attack with his regiment a brigade of the enemy, saying, "I am fully able to succour you"; and in the engagement that followed he furnished inadequate help and allowed his colonel to be defeated. Under such circumstances, who would not say that General Grant "made a promise to the ear and broke it to the hope"? Would the adorable Saviour, with "all power on earth and in heaven" treat us in that way, when we were in a mighty struggle for holiness and crying to him for help? His holiness forbids us to believe it. But we must believe it, or else accept the truth that entire sanctification is attainable.
2. Jude 24: "Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of his glory without blemish, in exceeding joy." The old version reads, "without falling"; but the new version is even stronger and more comforting, and tells us that Christ is able to keep us even "from stumbling." "And we are not," as Dr. Steele observes, "to be found faultless in some dark corner of the universe, where flaws and flecks would be unnoticed, but faultless amid the splendours of his ineffable glory. This is what divine grace, as mediated by the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, is able to do for the weakest saint who perseveringly trusts in Jesus Christ, the adorable Son of God and Saviour of men." "And it is the office of the Holy Spirit to complete such characters in this life, not in the hour of death, nor in purgatorial fires after death, as Dr. Briggs hints, when he suggests that the believer's sanctification may be completed in the intermediate state" (Half Hours, pp. 29, 99, 103).
3. Rom. iv. 21: "Being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform." Let us refresh our minds with two or three promises to see what he is able to perform. "I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them." "God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape that ye may be able to bear it" (I. Cor. x. 13). "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness." Even before the Messiah came, one was inspired to say of him: "He shall be as a refiner's fire and as fuller's soap. And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (Mal. iii. 3). "The very God of peace himself sanctify you wholly ... "Faithful is he that calls you who will also do it" (I. Thess. V. 23, 24). Wonderful promises! And they are made by one who is able to keep them. Jesus today sits upon his throne of exaltation as a refiner -- not only to reign over and purify the Church as a whole, but each individual member. All the mighty provisions of grace are the crucible. The Holy Spirit is the sanctifying fire. Jesus is the watchful and practiced refiner, who is able to "purge" and "purify" and "sanctify" till each heart shall be a reflection of his own.
4. Rom. xiv. 4: "Yea he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand." There is no fall, in the Bible sense, but a fall into sin, and here is the declaration that Jesus is able to make us stand. After the ordinary "up and-down" Christian experience of ever repeated sinning and repenting, it seems impossible to men; but it is not impossible to an omnipotent Saviour. "For He is abundantly able to save."
5. II. Tim. i. 12: "I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day."
We all know what it is to try to keep ourselves. We have covenanted, and pledged, and resolved to live for God and keep his commandments. We have watched against the besetting sin; but in spite of our vigils, there have been sudden temptations and weak hours, and our "old man" of sin has risen up to cast us down. We have fallen and repented, and wept and prayed, and rededicated ourselves and tried again, only to meet again the dark hours and repeat the sad failures, and go down into the dust in repentance and tears. And the Christian life of most believers is made up chiefly of an endless repetition of these unhappy experiences and fruitless attempts at self-keeping. Paul had learned a better way. He was taught by the sanctifying Spirit to "commit" himself to the Almighty Saviour for safe-keeping; and he was not disappointed. F. B. Meyers, of London, says: "Give yourself up wholly to Jesus and he will keep you. Will you dare to say that he can hold the oceans in the hollow of his hand, and sustain t he arch of heaven, and fill the sun with light for millenniums, but that he can not keep you from being overcome by sin or filled with the impetuous rush of unholy passion? Can he not deliver his saints from the sword, his darlings from the power of the dog? Is all power given him in heaven and on earth, and must he stand paralysed before the devils that possess you, unable to cast them out? To ask such questions is to answer them. 'I am persuaded that he is able to keep.' "
6. Acts xx. 32: "Able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified." Paul was taking his final leave of that beloved church at Ephesus, for which he had laboured in one of his longest pastorates. His first question at his first meeting with them was: "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" This great doctrine of the Baptism with the Holy Ghost unto sanctification was put into the foreground in his ministry. And now, in his farewell, thinking of the "grievous wolves" that should follow him, "speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them," -- teaching something else than this mighty doctrine of a full salvation which had been the warp and woof of his preaching -- he tells them of a mighty Saviour in this solemn parting who was "able to give them an inheritance among the sanctified."
7. Heb. vii. 25: "Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them." "This verse alone might prove the attainability of entire sanctification ..... The Greek word for 'uttermost' is a compound word meaning 'all to the end.' As the R. V. margin shows, it means 'completely, to the very end.' Olshausen says the Greek for 'to the uttermost' signifies 'completely, perfectly.' Lange says: ' The reference is not to his saving always, or forever, but to his saving completely those that come unto him.' Alford teaches that it means 'completeness,' not duration. Delitzsch says it means 'perfectly, completely, to the very end,' but without necessarily any reference to time. Christ is able to save in every way, in all respects, unto the uttermost; so that every want and need, in all its breadth and depth is utterly done away.' McDonald says: ' In fact, there is no word which more fully expresses the completeness of salvation. The divine ability is pledged for a finished salvation -- a completed work' " (Saved to the Uttermost, p. 9).
President Mahan remarks: "There are not a few believers at the present time who admit and teach that we may, by faith. be saved from all actual, but not from indwelling sin. On this subject I remark:
"1. That the terms 'sanctified wholly,' 'saved to the uttermost.' and 'cleansed from all sin,' must include sin in every form in which it really exists. It is a contradiction in terms to affirm that any person is 'wholly sanctified,' 'saved to the uttermost,' and 'cleansed from all sin,' when there is one form of sin, indwelling sin, from which he is not saved at all.
"2. We might just as properly, and with just as full warrant from Scripture, that is, with no warrant at all, affirm that the Bible teaches salvation from indwelling but not from actual sin, as to affirm the doctrine under consideration.
"3. The testimony of Scripture on this subject is perfectly plain and explicit. All admit that the terms, 'sin that dwells in us,' 'the body of sin,' ' the old man,' 'the law of sin and death,' 'the body of this death,' and 'lusts which war in the members,' mean the same thing, and constitute what is called 'indwelling sin.' What then do the Scriptures mean by such expressions as these? ' That the body of sin might be destroyed;' 'condemned to [destruction] sin in the flesh;' 'our old man is crucified with Him." No dogma can be more obviously unscriptural than is that of the non-destruction of the body of sin in believers" (Autobiography, p. 344).
"These passages authorize and require us to trust for, and expect salvation in this one complete and perfect form. To deny this is to charge the Spirit of God with mocking our misery, and all the divine aspirations which he has stirred up in our hearts, and to do this in the most revolting form conceivable; that is, revealing Christ as ABLE, in the most vital of all our interests, to do for us what he requires us to believe he never will do. God forbid that I should lay a foundation for such a charge against the Spirit of Inspiration" (Autobiography, p. 338).
8. II. Cor. ix. 8: "God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work." It seems as if Paul were taxing the resources of language, piling up Alps upon Appenines, Pelion on Ossa, as he heaped up superlatives in this verse to express his conception of the abounding grace of God. Here is "sufficiency," "all sufficiency," "always all sufficiency," "in everything," "all grace abound," "abound unto every good work." Could stronger words be used to magnify the sufficiency of sanctifying grace? Well does Dr. Steele observe that "the mass of believers are mere babes in spiritual development. They see days of great weakness and are often on the verge of surrender to the foe. Some, alas, throw away their arms, and run away from the fight, and never renew the battle. Others fight all their lives with foes in their own hearts and never overcome and cast them out. They have been told by their preachers that this war in the members is the normal Christian life. Hence, believing their preachers, instead of the Word of God, they limit his power by their unbelief, and never gladly run, but always sadly drag along the heavenly way. This large class of Christians need enlightenment and encouragement, and not denunciation. They need to dwell in thought on the 'exceeding great and precious promises,' that they may have all experience of the 'exceeding greatness of God's power to usward who believe.' They need to lock arms with St. Paul and walk through his glorious epistles, and get his large view of the extent of Christ's saving power, since he has sent down the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. -- Especially should they ponder that declaration of God's ability to save, found in II. Cor. ix. 8: 'God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work' " (Half Hours, pp. 157, 158).
9. Eph. iii. 20: "Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us." Here is another verse in which language itself is strained to contain one of God's infinite truths. If we were only told that Jesus was able to do "all that we ask," it would seem to be ample. How quickly we could drop on our knees and cry from the depths of loving hearts: "O blessed Saviour, take away these evil propensities, this indwelling sin. Crucify this 'old man,' this 'carnal mind,' and let me 'die to sin' and be 'alive to righteousness' and like thee in holiness for evermore!" It would be a great thing to ask of God. But it is just what he longs to do for us: and he is "able to do all that we ask." Yea, more: 'above all that we ask"; still more, "abundantly above all that we ask"; and still more, "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask." And as if that were not superlative enough to inspire a mighty faith to lay hold on God for a full salvation, he puts it, "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.' There is an infinite Spirit working in us, and if we will only yield to him, and ask for and expect great things, he is able to do more than we ever, in our highest aspirations and moments of deepest, holiest communion with God, even think. O God, give us enlargement of heart -- a spiritual apprehension to take in this mighty truth! Adam Clark translates it 'Able to do superabundantly above the greatest abundance," and asks, "Of what consequence would it be to tell the Church of God that he had power to do so and so, if there were not implied all assurance that he will do what his power can, and what the soul of man needs to have done?"
Upon the teaching in these wonderful passages Mahan remarks: "For what purpose can these provisions for our 'salvation to the uttermost' have been revealed, but to induce in us faith and hope for salvation in that specific form? No one would dare, in view of the passages before us, to deny the fullness and adequacy of the revealed provisions of grace for our entire and present sanctification. To teach that they are not available in their fullest extent, is to deny that they are real provisions at all; for provisions not available are mock, and not real, provisions. To teach that these provisions are not available to their fullest extent, is also to render them utterly indefinite, unmeaning and inaccessible, so that we are left in utter ignorance of what they authorize us to trust and hope for" (Autobiog., p. 339).