By Aaron Hills
Arguments For The Attainability Of Sanctification Continued -- Other Passages Of Scripture -- The Counsel To The Apostles And The Churches
XI. Still another argument can be made for the attainability of sanctification from various assurances and exhortations in the Bible not yet quoted. They all confirm the doctrine of an instantaneous deliverance from all sin.
Heb. xii. 10: "For they verily for a few days chastened us as seems good to them; but he, for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness." "This," says Steele, "is the recovery of the lost moral image of God. a glorious possibility to every believer." And the verse declares that this is the end and aim of God's chastenings and providences. If we are God's children he allots to us our experiences, not so much primarily to make us happy as to make us holy. If we are proud, he manages to mortify our pride. If we are self-seeking in the matter of reputation, he gives us shame for glory, till we learn to set our heart on the honour that comes from God. If we have an inordinate love for riches, he can consume them by water or flame or financial disaster, till we turn our stricken hearts to the treasures in heaven. If domestic blessings ensnare and lead us to forgetfulness of the heavenly home, he can take away the darling of the heart and the pride of the life. He chastens because he loves that we may "bear the peaceable fruits of righteousness," and become "partakers of his holiness."
Col. ii. 9-11: "For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and in him ye are made full, who is the head of all principality and power; in whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ."
Paul prayed that the Ephesians might be filled unto all the fullness of God. Here he explains now. All "fullness of the Godhead" is in Jesus, and we can come into such a condition or relation that we "shall be full in him." We attain this condition by spiritual circumcision, or entire sanctification. "The putting off of the body of the flesh," says Bishop Ellicott, "is practically synonymous with 'the body of sin,' in Rom. vi. 6." Steele says: "We call the attention of every Greek scholar to the strength of the original noun, 'putting off.' It is a word invented by Paul, and found nowhere else in the Bible, nor in the whole range of Greek literature. To show the thoroughness of the cleansing by the complete stripping off and laying aside of the propensity to evil, the apostle prefixes one preposition (apo) denoting separateness, to another (ek) denoting outness, and thus constructs the strongest conceivable term for the entire removal of depravity" (Half Hours, p. 163). Meyer comments thus: "Whereas t he spiritual circumcision, divinely performed, consisted in a complete parting and doing away with this body (of sin) in so far as God, by means of this ethical circumcision, has taken off and removed the sinful body from man, like a garment drawn off and laid aside." Steele adds: " If this does not mean the complete and eternal separation of depravity, like the perpetual effect of cutting off and casting away the foreskin, then it is impossible to express the idea of entire cleansing in any language" (p. 89).
Col iii. 14, 15: "Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ rule [arbitrate in your hearts." Meyer translates "In addition to all this, however, put on love by which Christian perfection is knit." Love, in other words, is to be put on like an upper garment, because love establishes moral perfection. Dr. Steele adds: "Let that peace of Christ, that holy satisfaction of mind wrought by Christ through the Spirit, the blessed inner rest and delicious repose, arbitrate in your hearts." It is very gratifying to find John Wesley, the heroic defender of Christian perfection in a darker age, so perfectly vindicated by Meyer, pronounced by Dr. Schaff 'the ablest exegete of his age.' He even uses the very phrase, 'Christian perfection,' for which Wesley was almost snowed under by hostile pamphlets written by his clerical brethren. The world moves, thank God" (Half Hours, p. 112).
Heb. vi. 1: "Wherefore let us cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, and press on unto perfection." Here again we meet this same word for "perfection," used but twice in the Greek Testament. Here perfection" refers especially to the fullness of spiritual knowledge manifesting itself in a Christian profession as the antithesis of babyhood." Delitzsch teaches that the verb "press on" is used very appropriately here with epi (unto), of the mark or object aimed at; it combines the notion of an impulse from without, with that of eager and onward pressing haste. "It refers to life as well as to knowledge." Dr. Whedon says: "When Heb. vi. 1 is adduced as an exhortation to advancing to a perfected Christian character, it is no misquotation." It seems to refer to the same idea advanced in Eph. iv. 12, 13: "For the perfecting of the saints ... till we all attain unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
Dr. Steele says of Heb. vi. 1: "Perfection is here represented, not as something realized by the lapse of time, or by unconscious growth, and, least of all, attainable only at death. We are exhorted to press on against wind and tide, till we reach this 'land of corn and wine and oil,' and take up our abode. For the Greek preposition 'unto' here embraces both motion to a place and rest in it, and can not mean an aim at an unattainable ideal" (Half Hours, p. 113).
Dr. Clark says: "The verb teaches the idea of our being borne on immediately into the experience."
Dr. Lowrey says: "The goal invariably set before the racer in Scripture is a sinless state. And those who talk about progressive sanctification without such definite goal talk nonsense. It is like shooting into vacancy, and then prowling around through the weeds for the game" (Possibilities of Grace, p. 16.)
Bishop Taylor says: "Allow me to call attention to this important fact -- this term 'perfection,' and terms used synonymously, such as 'holiness,' 'sanctify you wholly,' and 'perfect love,' are not of human origin at all. They are all employed by the Holy Ghost, in application to the experience of believers in this life. It is fair to presume that he perfectly understood the use of language, and that in the employment of such terms he meant something. He certainly would not use such words unless he designated them to represent some definite, understandable, attainable thing. To suppose that he would use these terms as mere verbiage, and yet make them the subject of specific command and promise, is monstrous blasphemy. If we must admit that the Holy Spirit did understand the use of these terms, and did design by them to teach a definite, attainable development of Christian life called 'perfection,' to which he promises to lead us, if we will cheerfully walk after him, why should any man dare to ignore God's teaching, and say, 'O, it is impossible! impossible! No man ever was perfect or can be in this life!' The least we can do in safety is to admit that in the use of the term in application to the experience of men and women in this life, the Holy Spirit meant something, and something, too, of vast importance to ourselves, and hence we should patiently and prayerfully investigate the subject, and ascertain what he did mean, and how we may attain it." "You may readily perceive that Christian perfection is not that misty, incomprehensible, unattainable something that Satan and poor dwarfish doubters would have us believe, but a simple, appropriate, necessary, practical attainment. Not for a certain 'caste,' or small class only, but the privilege of all believers. Not a matter left to their own option, but an imperative duty which they can not ignore, when brought home to their conscience by the Holy Spirit, nor neglect without a forfeiture of their justified relation" (Infancy and Manhood, pp. 19, 1 23).
Now look at these double sentences in the New Testament, moving along in the clear sky of Christian thought like a bird on two wings: the one wing, justification; the other, sanctification: Justification
Acts ii 38: "Repent ye and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins;
Acts xxvi. 18: "That they may receive remission of sins.
Titus iii. 5: "He saved us by the washing of regeneration,
I. John i. 9: "He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins,
The first member of no one of these sentences means the same as the second member. It is idle to pretend that "remission of sins" is the same thing as the "Baptism with the Holy Ghost"; or that "remission of sins" is a synonym for "an inheritance among them that are sanctified "; or that "washing is "renewing"; or that "forgive us our sins" is equivalent to "cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The sins are many; the unrighteousness is single -- that unrightness of our moral being. The former are acts; the latter is a state. The former must be forgiven; the latter must be cleansed away.
On the first of this group of passages (Acts ii. 38) Dr. A. J. Gordon says: "This passage shows that logically and chronologically, the gift of the Spirit (in sanctification) is subsequent to repentance." This point is so clear that one of the most conservative as well as ablest writers on this subject, in commenting on this text in Acts says: "Therefore it is evident that the reception of the Holy Ghost, as here spoken of, has nothing whatever to do with bringing men to believe and repent. It is a subsequent operation; it is an additional and separate blessing; it is a privilege founded on faith already actively working in the heart. I do not mean to deny that the gift of the Holy Ghost may be practically on the same occasion; but never in the same moment. The reason is quite simple, too. The gift of the Holy Ghost is grounded on the fact that we are sons by faith in Christ, believers (already) resting on redemption in him. Plainly, therefore, it appears that the Spirit of God has already regenerate d us" (William Kelly, Lectures on New Testament Doctrine of Holy Spirit, p. 161). Rev. Andrew Murray also writes: "To the disciples, the baptism of the Spirit was very distinctly not his first bestowal for regeneration, but the definite communication of his presence in power of their glorified Lord." In other words, in Acts ii. 38, two distinct and separate Christian experiences are clearly spoken of -- first, regeneration with all that accompanies it of forgiveness, justification, and adoption; and second, that other "second experience" discussed in this volume, "the Baptism with the Holy Ghost unto sanctification."
Eph. v. 25, 26: "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it, that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it.', Here is sanctification promised or provided for those who have already had the first work of grace wrought upon them. "And that it is a momentary act is seen from the aorist tense in which the verb appears."
What is more needed today than that all our churches (the individual members of them) shall be sanctified. Let any one go about from church to church, as the writer does in revival work, and his heart will ache over the low state of religion and the desolations of Zion. On this painful subject Dr. A. J. Gordon, who developed such a wonderfully spiritual church in a large city (Boston), observes: "An unsanctified church dishonours the Lord, especially by its incongruity. A noble head, lofty-browed and intellectual, upon a deformed and stunted body is a pitiable sight. What to the angels and principalities, who gaze evermore upon the face of Jesus, must be the sight of an unholy and misshapen church on earth, standing in that place of honour called 'his body'? Photographing in a sentence the ecclesia (church) of the earliest centuries, Prof. Harnack says: 'Originally the church was the heavenly bride of Christ and the abiding place of the Holy Spirit. ... A self-indulgent church disfigures Christ; an avaricious church bears false witness against Christ; a worldly church betrays Christ, and gives him over once more to be reviled and mocked by his enemies' " (Ministry of Spirit, pp. 59, 64).
XII. An unanswerable argument for this "second experience" of sanctification may be drawn from Christ's words to the disciples and St. Paul's instruction to the churches.
We have already incidentally noticed that Jesus treated the disciples as regenerate and addressed them as such. Their "names were written in heaven"; they had "followed him in the regeneration" and they were "not of the world"; and "they have kept my word." They were commissioned to preach the gospel and to cast out devils as representatives of Jesus. It is rashness itself to say that they were not regenerated men. But Jesus prayed that they might be "sanctified," and charged them to wait for the "Baptism with the Holy Ghost," which would be to them a sanctifying second experience. This is no conjecture of ours. Peter has left us no room for doubt on this subject. In his speech before the council at Jerusalem, Acts xv. 8, 9, he declared the effect of that baptism: "God which knows the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us, cleansing their hearts by faith." Dr. Steele says: "This text is an incontrovertible demonstration that the fullness of the Spirit is a synonym for entire sanctification." That is exactly what we are insisting upon in this whole volume, and what the Bible teaches -- that sanctification is the "cleansing of the heart by faith " -- the result of a "Baptism with the Holy Ghost." And the after lives of those disciples prove that they were sanctified.
We might, in passing, mention the case of Cornelius, who was "a devout man," "one that feared God with all his house," and "prayed to God always," and was "a just man." When Peter learned all the facts about this Roman he declared: "In every nation he that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him." (Acts x. 35). He was one that God had saved -- a regenerate man, yet he was not sanctified; but while Peter yet spake "the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word." And then was realized what Charles Wesley sang of:
Now we will touch upon Paul's instruction to the young church at Rome. He thanked God that their "faith was proclaimed throughout the whole world" (i. 7). Yet he prayed that he might be able to come to them and impart a "spiritual gift to the end that they might be established," much as Peter and John went to Samaria after the revival under Philip, to confer a spiritual gift to the converts who had "believed and were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus," "who when they came down prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Ghost " -- a sanctifying "second experience." He is praying for those Roman Christians much as he prayed for the Thessalonians -- that "God may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness." And he wanted to visit Rome and help them into this confirming, "establishing" experience of sanctification. But he could not come then. So he wrote about the grounds of their salvation, teaching them of the atoning work of Christ and justification by faith. "Being therefore justified by faith let us have peace with God" (v. 1). But he goes farther than justification, and shows them also that sanctification is not gained by a process of works, but by faith. He will not be satisfied with anything less than the death of the "old man" of inbred sin, "that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin" (Rom. vi. 6). "So reckon ye yourselves dead to sin" (11). "But present yourselves unto God as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God" (13) and then, "being made free from sin, ye have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life" (22). If St. Paul did not urge upon those Roman converts a "second experience" of sanctification in these passages, then language could not do it. It would be as absurd to say it, as to say that the author is not arguing for sanctification in this book.
We find the same kind of instruction in the epistles to the Corinthians. He courteously salutes them in the introduction (I. Cor. i. 2) as "them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus," that is, "called to be saints." But they are not yet saintly, for there are dissensions and sins among them; so that he "could not speak unto them as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ" (I. Cor. iii. 1). But he holds up before them the conception of their being "the temple of the Holy Ghost" (I. Cor. vi. 19). He tells them of the all-sufficient grace (I. Cor. x. 13), and urges them to imitate him as he also imitated Christ (I. Cor. xi. 1). He tells them of the "anointing," and "sealing," and "earnest" of the Spirit that always insures sanctification (II. Cor. i. 21, 22) and that their "sufficiency" to live the holy life was from God (II. Cor. iii. 5). He gives them encouraging promises to holiness, and then beseeches them to "cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II. Cor. vii. 1). Again, giving them a double assurance that God is able to make all needed grace to abound (II. Cor. ix. 8 and xii. 9), he closes thus: "And this we also pray for, even your perfecting" (11. Cor. xiii. 9). I say again, if St. Paul did not urge upon people in Corinth already converted a "second experience" of sanctification, then language could not do it.
Let us now look at the epistle to the Ephesians. St. Paul writes it "to the faithful in Christ Jesus " (Eph. i. 1). Here are certainly regenerated people. But so full was the apostle's heart of this great theme of sanctification, and so eager was he to have the churches experience it, that in the fourth verse of the epistle he assures the Ephesians that God "chose" them before the foundation of the world that they "should be holy and without blemish." And before the first chapter closes, he breaks out in his unceasing prayer that God may give them "the spirit of wisdom," that "having the eyes of their heart enlightened "they might ''know what is the hope of his calling and what is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe," -- that mighty power that is able to sanctify the soul (Eph. i. 16-19). He tells them (ii. 22) that they were builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit. Then he breaks out into another ardent prayer (Eph. iii. 14-21) "that God would strengthen them with power through his Spirit," that they might "be strong to apprehend" and "know the love of Christ that passes knowledge and be filled unto all the fullness of God." And he assures them that such a blessing is possible because Jesus is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" for any one of us. To further urge them on to this blessing, he writes them (iv. 12) that God has provided means "for the perfecting of the saints," till we all ''attain" "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ " (iv. 13). He therefore begs them (iv. 22) to put off the ''old man" of sin, and (iv. 24) "put on the new man ..... created in righteousness and holiness," and ''be filled with the Spirit" (v. i8), for "Jesus loved the church and gave himself for it that he might sanctify it " (v. 25, 26), that it might be "holy and without blemish."
This beloved apostle sits down to write to Christians at Colosse, and he calls them "faithful brethren in Christ." Surely they must have been converted, regenerated, justified people. But he can not get through the first chapter without touching on the great theme and telling them that Christ is trying "to present them holy and without blemish and unreproveable before him" (i. 22). And in the next chapter he reminds them that "all the fullness of the Godhead is in Christ," and "in him they are made full," and they may have their whole being circumcised by "a circumcision not made with hands in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ," and be clean (ii. 9-11). He urges them, therefore, to ''put on the bond of perfectness" (iii. 14), and tells them that Epaphras prays constantly for them that they "may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God" (iv. 12).
Now we consider his words to the Thessalonians. It is a dear church, so precious that he tells them that he thanks God unceasingly for their "work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (i. 1, 2), "so that ye became an ensample to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia and in every place, your faith to Godward is gone forth." Here there was a body of believers above the average, far-famed for justifying faith and hope and works. Yet, strange as it may seem to certain theologians of a peculiar philosophy, St. Paul tells them in the third chapter and tenth verse, that he is praying night and day exceedingly that he may see them and "may perfect that which is lacking in their faith."
Why, Paul, what is the matter with such Christians? When a man is justified, is he not "as holy as he can be"? "There is 'no basis' in philosophy or theology" for any "second experience" beyond, is there? St. Paul quietly adds, to the surprise of some: "May our God and Father bring me to you ..... to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father" (iii. 13). "And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire without blame" (v. 23). "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification" (iv. 3). "For God called us not for uncleanness but in sanctification " (iv. 9).
Verily, St. Paul's philosophy and theology must have been different from some people's that we wot of. He evidently believed a "second experience" was not only possible but exceedingly desirable, a blessing so needful to the churches that it is to be prayed for unceasingly. He felt that there was a difference between regeneration and sanctification, and that no believer ought to rest short of being "established unblameable in holiness," and "sanctified" which was the "will of God."
According to some authorities, this Thessalonian church was only six months old -- young converts from heathenism, of all ages and conditions. Yet this great apostle is urging them on, by exhortations and prayers, to entire sanctification, the privilege of all believers. President Mahan says: "Were all converts 'instructed in the way of the Lord' as they were then, instead of appearing as they do now, 'a feeble folk,' sickly, and unable to 'fly or go,' they would everywhere be seen 'girded with everlasting strength,' 'holding forth the word of life,' and ready and 'able to endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ.' At no period of his Christian life can the believer be so readily prepared to receive 'the baptism of the Holy Ghost,' and thus to be ' filled with all the fullness of God,' as during the period of this ' first love.' His consecration to Christ is then supreme; his hunger and thirst after righteousness subordinate in his mind to all other desires, and his faith is so simple and childlike that he will readily receive 'the things which are freely given us of God,' as soon as he clearly apprehends them. But when these primal joys have faded out, and the mind has become habituated to a state in which it 'walks in darkness and has no light,' and has come to think, perhaps, that God has 'reserved' no 'better things for us,' in this life, how difficult it is for the believer, in the midst of all his worldly entanglements, to get back into that child-like faith in which he will ' receive with meekness the engrafted word!' " (Autobiog., pp. 59, 60).
If we turn to the Epistle to the Hebrews, which President Woolsey, of Yale, after a lifetime spent in studying the Greek Testament, thought Paul certainly wrote, we notice the same fact. It is a letter written to Hebrews to whom he would unfold the privileges of believers. Again and again he writes of the Saviour "that sanctifies" (ii. 11), "who is able to save to the uttermost" (vii. 25) and "able to succour them that are tempted" (ii. 18). For this reason they were urged to "cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, and press on unto perfection" (vi. 1), for "by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified" (x. 14). God chastens us that we may become "partakers of his holiness" (xii. 10) and yield the "fruit of righteousness " (xii. 12); therefore "follow after sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord" (xii. 14). And may that Jesus who suffered "that he might sanctify the people" (xiii. 12) "make you perfect in every good thing to do his will" (xiii. 21).
A theologian, who denies that such language teaches the "second experience" of sanctification might be safely challenged to write anything that would teach it.
But what shall we say of all these passages taken together in epistle after epistle? What shall we say of the fact that the word "perfection" and its relatives is predicated of human character under the operations of grace more than fifty times; and the words "holy" and "holiness" and "sanctify" and "sanctification" and "without spot" and "without blemish " and "unblameable," as affirmed of believers or urged upon them, move through the Scriptures like a flock of birds? President Mahan said: "If such terms as ' sanctify wholly,' ' save to the uttermost,' 'cleanses from all sin,' 'cleanse from all unrighteousness,' and 'preserve blameless,' do not mean salvation from all sin, and entire sanctification, then who can tell us what they do mean? No man, living or dead, can tell us. All words of Scripture pertaining to the provisions and promises of grace are rendered utterly indefinite and void of any assignable meaning" (Autobiog., p. 347).