By Aaron Hills
The writer knows of a venerable man who has been for many years a pillar in the church and an example in good works. Some holiness literature has been put in his hands, and his remark is: "This work of the Holy Spirit, as depicted by these writers, in sanctifying the heart is beautiful, and I should like to have it realized in myself; but I do not understand the philosophy of it." And so this noble college Professor does not seek this great blessing, this "pearl of great price," because there are mysteries which he can not understand. But that same dear man can no more explain the mystery of the new birth; and many educated sinners in his college classes are probably rejecting regeneration for precisely the same reason that he is rejecting the higher blessing of sanctification.
It reminds me of an incident in the life of Daniel Webster. Just as he was entering an orthodox church in Boston one Sabbath morning, a Unitarian passing by pointed his thumb contemptuously at the church and asked: "Are you going in there to worship three Gods?" Webster turned upon the flippant man his great, Jove-like face and wondrous eyes, and said: "Friend, there are a great many things in heaven and earth that you and I do not understand." And then the great man went into the sanctuary and bowed his intellect like a humble child in adoration of the triune God. But Unitarians can not understand the philosophy of it, and so reject this doctrine of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ. On precisely the same ground, free-thinkers reject the doctrine of the Atonement and Agnostics relinquish all practical faith in God. They can not comprehend him with their feeble minds!
Now, devout Christians ought to have learned better than to deprive themselves of God's most precious gift of grace, on such grounds. The "Baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire," sanctifying the heart, is a blessed experience, whether any one can compass the philosophy of it or not. There may be philosophical and metaphysical difficulties about it; but the great blessing is received by FAITH. It is enough for the humble Christian to know that God has promised the blessed gift to those who seek. Men do not sail to this Beulah summit on the two expansive wings of philosophy and metaphysics. They reach it on the bended knee of humble faith. This probably explains why lowly souls often find this blessing which the learned miss. "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes."
"This verse," says Dr. Carradine, "explains why I have obtained that which nobler, better, wiser men have not received. I came to God as a little child in seeking the blessing of sanctification. I reasoned not, even as a child does not reason. I created no mental difficulties I never went near Sir William Hamilton nor any like him. I knew the work was above him and all other human intellects. It was a part of the mystery the angels studied and could not fathom. I went not to books written by ancient or modern authors on the subject. I went to God! The Bible said he could do it, and would do it, and, better than either, that if I believed, he did it then! I simply believed God -- I took him at his word! The doors of the sweet experiences of regeneration and sanctification do not fly back at the touch of the hand of the metaphysician for several reasons. One is that the great mass of people on earth are not learned or trained in the laws of mental life; and if the reception of blessings were dependent upon the apprehension of syllogisms and recognition of certain great principles of mental science, the race would be lost. Another reason that occurs to me why the door of grace opens not to the touch of the reasoner is that salvation is above reason. It was not conceived by man, nor is it understood by lordly intellects today. I have often been struck with two expressions in the Bible. One is that the wisdom of God is foolishness to men, and the other that the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. It is noteworthy that the Gospel came down to us through the air to Bethlehem, and not through the Brains of the scribes and learned members of the Sanhedrim" (Sanctification, pp. 150-153).
I have known ministers not so willing to open their minds to the heavenly light. And when this blessing of the Holy Ghost with cleansing, sanctifying power was brought to their attention they immediately went to their bookshelves and took down some volume of hostile philosophy, such as I have described in Chapter 3, and braced their minds against the truth. If they had only gone to the Holy Word instead, and knelt over the sacred page, and prayed for light, they might not have turned a deaf ear to the call of God. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." "Sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord." "For God hath called you . . . unto sanctification." "The God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly" "Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it."
A second objection is that the doctrine of possible sanctification perilously lowers the divine standard of living. To this we may answer, sanctification, as the above texts show, is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, and is not an achievement of our own, only that "God is inquired of by us to do it for us." The "Baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire" so purges and purifies that the soul is "saved to the uttermost," from sin of every form and kind and degree, as God sees it, and it induces such evangelical perfection as pleases God. We become so "sanctified and cleansed" that we are "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing," and are "holy and without blemish, before him in love" (Eph. i. 4; v. 26, 27). What writer or critic can demand any more of us than such a life as pleases God?
Alford translates Paul as saying, "I know nothing against myself." And again: "Our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom, but in the grace of God, we behaved ourselves in the world" (II. Cor. i. 12). "Whom I serve, in a pure conscience" (II. Tim. i. 3). "Ye are witnesses and God also how holily and righteously and unblameably we behaved ourselves" (I. Thess. ii 10). A man who, when inspired, can speak thus of himself, has undeniably such sanctification and holiness as God requires. What right has Dr. Charles Hodge to require more, and say that this lowers the divine standard of living?
A third objection is that the doctrine of attainable sanctification as an obligatory experience holds up an impossible standard of living. The reader will observe that this objection is exactly the opposite of the last, and broadly suggests the fallacy of both. No; holiness is no unattainable standard, or God would not have commanded it and so strenuously urged us to attain unto it. Bear in mind two things: First, God only requires us to "love with all our heart and soul and mind and strength"; not with an angel's ability, but with our own; not even with what might have been our powers and conditions if the race and we had never sinned, but with what powers we have left now, in our present condition and circumstances. This is God's revealed standard of living -- unquestionably reasonable and possible; whoever proclaims a standard either higher or lower is preaching "another gospel," that is not the authoritative message from God. God only requires that we love with what power we have, and serve and glorify him with such power, not with some other "unknown or unknowable strength." Second, observe that, while this holiness may seem impossible to imperfect man, it is perfectly possible with God. Again and again we must reiterate, it is God that gives the ability, that does the sanctifying, that does the keeping, whose "grace is sufficient," who "works in us to will and to do." He is "able to keep you from stumbling," and "able to make you stand," and to "keep that which you commit to him," and to "sanctify you wholly." There is a "sanctifying" grace and a "keeping" grace, and a "standing" grace. Whatever man may not be able to do in his own strength, he can do when God commands it, and girds with his own omnipotent strength. St. Paul knew the secret of holy living when he wrote: "Our sufficiency is of God," and "I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me." "If God should command me to fly," said John Wesley, ''I would trust him for wings." Such an utterance is divinely wise. When Moses and his people stood on the shore of the Red Sea, and God said "go forward," it was their business to obey and it was God's business to make a path through the deep. When he commanded them to cross the swollen Jordan, it was their business to attempt it and his to hold back the stream till the waters were piled mountain high. When God commands us to be "holy" and "sanctified," he furnishes the cleansing blood and the sanctifying Spirit to make it possible, and it is impudent and foolish wickedness to deny the possibility.
And yet there are those who are set up by the Church as authoritative teachers, who deny the possibility of receiving this great blessing, and treat the doctrine of sanctification as an attainable experience as "a dangerous heresy"! Finney says: "Suppose that the teachers of religion set themselves to prevent the expectation of becoming religious. Suppose they represent to sinners that there is no rational ground of hope in their case -- that men can not rationally expect to be saved or to be converted, however much they may desire it (and God commands it). What must be the effect of such teaching? Everybody knows that just so far forth as such teachers had any influence, hell could not desire a more efficient instrumentality to dishonour God and ruin souls. This would be just what the devil would himself inculcate. It would prevent hope, and, of course, prevent faith, and render salvation impossible, and damnation certain, unless the lie could be contradicted and the spell of error broken.
"Now apply this principle to the promises that pledge a victory over sin in this life. Let, for example, ministers explain away I. Thess. v. 23, 24: 'And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame..... Faithful is he that calls you, who will also do it.' Or let them teach, as some of them do, that it is a dangerous error to expect that these promises shall be fulfilled to Christians, and what must the result be? This would be just as the devil would have it. 'Ha, hath God said, he will sanctify you wholly, spirit, soul, and body, and preserve you blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? Ye shall not surely be so sanctified and kept, and the Lord doth know this, and it is dangerous to trust him.' This surely is the devil's teaching; and when he can get the ministers of Christ to take this course, what more can be done?
"Suppose the ministers admit, as many do, that the blessing of sanctification is fully promised in the Bible, but at the same time teach that it is promised upon a condition with which it is irrational for us to hope to comply. What must result from such teaching as this? It represents God and his gospel in a most ridiculous light. What remains but to regard the gospel as a failure? It is in vain to say that entire sanctification in this life is not promised; for it really and plainly is, and nothing is more expressly promised in the Word of God. Now what an employment for the leaders and instructors of the people to be engaged in teaching them not to expect the fulfilment of these promises to them -- that such an expectation or hope is a dangerous error -- that it is irrational for them to hope to so fulfil the conditions of these promises as to secure the blessing promised. I say again the devil himself could not do worse than this. Hell itself could not wish for a more efficient opposition to Go d and religion. This is indeed a most sublime employment for the ministers of God! But how many ministers have fallen into this infinite mistake of laying a stumbling block before the church! How many are crying, There is no reason to hope for the fulfilment of God's promises. You must expect to live in sin so long as you are in this world. It is dangerous to entertain any other expectation! The fact is, an unbelieving minister is the greatest of all stumbling blocks to the church" (Finney's Theol., Vol. III., pp. 364-371).
Martin Luther said: "If the clergy could have destroyed the Church of Christ, doubtless it would have been destroyed long ago."
A fourth objection urged against the doctrine of entire sanctification is that "those who are 'sanctified' would be lifted up with pride and self-righteousness," that "a sense of sin is indispensable to humility!" Was ever an objection against attaining a life of holiness more absurd? Bear in mind that "a sense of sin" is produced by the existence of conscious, actual sin, and that a sanctified soul while in that state is "freed from sin," -- the sin of pride and all other sin. The objection then reduces itself to this absurdity: You must have sin in order to be free from the sin of pride, and a man whom the Holy Spirit has sanctified still has the sin of pride from which he has been freed. To put it in other words, sin is the remedy for sin, and therefore you must be sinful in order to be holy, and you must not seek to be holy, for that will induce sin! Indeed! Is it not amazing what absurd things even wise men can say when they are opposing the Word and will of God?
The Apostle Peter does not appear to have agreed with such a sentiment, for he says: "The time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles." That is, we have no more need of sin to produce the absence of pride, and induce humility or any other Christian virtue. No Christian virtues are gained by the presence of sin in the heart, and, on the other hand, holiness induces neither the sin of pride, nor any other sin. Our hearts are not purified by sin, but by the Holy Ghost, in response to faith.
To be sure, a man may be mistaken in his spiritual state and think he is sanctified when he is not -- and be lifted up with pride. But so may a man be mistaken about being justified, and for that reason shall we cease teaching justification by faith? Was Paul proud because he walked holily and unblameably before men? No; he humbly declared that all his "sufficiency was from God," and that "he could do all things" simply "through Christ" who strengthened him. "I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me."
This objection is not only absurd in itself, but it is not true as a matter of fact. The most modest and humble people I meet in all my rounds as an evangelist are these dear souls who are professing and living the life of sanctification. They give God all the glory for all they are, for it was all a gift from him. They received it by faith. One such soul sings:
There is no self-pride in such a sentiment as that. It is the man who rejects the Holy Spirit as a Sanctifier, and tries to sanctify himself by his own resolutions and strivings and growth, that is in greatest danger of spiritual pride and Pharisaism. John Fletcher, in his "Last Check to Antinomianism," thus answers this objection: "Sin never humbled any soul. Who has more sin than Satan? And who is prouder? Did sin make our first parents humble? Who was humbler than Christ? But was he indebted to sin for his humility? Do we not see daily that the more sinful men are, the prouder they are also? If sin be necessary to make us humble, and to keep us near Christ, does it not follow that glorified saints, whom all acknowledge to be sinless, are all proud despisers of Christ? See we not sin enough, when we look back ten or twenty years, to humble us to the dust forever, if sin can do it? Need we plead for any more of it in our hearts and lives? If the sins of our youth do not humble us, are the sins of our old age likely to do it? Lastly, what is indwelling sin but indwelling pride? And how can pride be productive of humility? Can a serpent beget a dove?" (Beauties of Fletcher, p. 284).
There is another batch of objections, namely, that our doctrine, if realized, would make sin impossible, and temptation impossible (I could heartily wish it were true), and growth impossible, and would make people infallible at least according to their own profession. There is nothing in any of these objections, as they all arise from misconceptions of the doctrine. They have been briefly, but sufficiently, answered at the close of Chapter 4.
A fifth objection that may be considered, is, that not many people believe in the doctrine of sanctification and our best people do not profess it. So much the worse for "our best people"! If it were not so sad, one who is himself possessed of this great blessing might serenely smile at that weakness of humanity that must always run with the majority, and lean on "our best people," instead of standing in with, and leaning on, God Almighty. This objection is very old, and as weak as old. Dr. Carradine observes: "It sweeps back more than eighteen hundred years into the city of Jerusalem. We find ourselves in the temple. There is a Babel of voices around us. The people are discussing Christ, and they are saying the identical thing that appears in this objection: 'Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in Him?' In other words, do the best people, the prominent people, take to Christ and follow him? That they did not was sufficient with them to condemn the Son of God, unheard and untried" (Sanctification, p. 187). There are indeed excellent people in the church who reject sanctification; but there are also high-toned and quite excellent people in some respects in the world who reject regeneration. Such facts prove neither doctrine false. "Our best people" in the parlours on the avenue, in their worldliness and pride, often reject Jesus; while their servants in their kitchens, and their neighbours in the alleys, are walking with him in the white raiment of the saints! The question is not what "our best people" (even though they be theologians) believe is true, but what God says is true.
And as to majorities, -- may God keep us from walking with them yet, when it comes to our reception of spiritual things. Dr. Steele observes: "The question how much God can do for a soul in probation is not left to be determined by the majority vote of the great men of any church. This question, in the words of Joseph Cook, has not been left to be decided 'by a count of heads and a clack of tongues.' In a question of speculative theology or of Scriptural interpretation, it will do to lean on the authority of a majority of experts; but on the practical question of the extent of gospel salvation from sin, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the unlearned minority who have put the doctrine to experimental proof may be very much wiser than the learned majority of the magnates of the modern church, who have never subjected the question to the test of personal experience. Here the testimony of some Uncle Tom or Amanda Smith of the slave plantation may outweigh the opinion of a whole faculty of German theological Professors. Experience outweighs theory; faith makes philosophy kick the beam" (Half Hours, p. 239). It is well not to forget that "a count of heads and a clack of tongues" sent Daniel to the lions, and banished "Aristides the just," and condemned Socrates to drink the hemlock, and nailed Jesus to the cross, and sent Paul to the executioner's block, and threw the early Christians to the beasts in the amphitheatre. The same delightful and authoritative "count of heads and clack of tongues" of "our best people," burned John Huss and Jerome of Prague and Savonarola at the stake. They were against the doctrine of the divinity of Christ in the beginning of the first century, and also in great Boston in the early part of the nineteenth century. They were against the doctrine of salvation by faith in Paul's day . . and in Martin Luther's day. They were against the doctrine of the Baptism with the Holy Ghost and full salvation in John Wesley's day and in our day, yet all these doctrines are true nevertheless. Remember the consenting opinion and unanimous vote of a wicked world full of "our best people" can not overthrow one "thus saith the Lord," or vanquish the "witness of the Spirit" to the sanctification of the humblest saint.
St. Paul spoke about "the offence of the cross." Dr. Carradine points out the fact that the offence of the cross "shifts as time moves on; it goes from doctrine to doctrine." Once it consisted in acknowledging one's self to be a Christian, which was then a term of reproach. It is not there now. Do you demand proof? Ninety nine hundredths of all the distillers and brewers and gin mill tenders in the land are church members, and the majority of their customers also. I am writing these lines within less than four miles of a church at the dedication of which ninety-one kegs of beer were drank, Proof positive that it costs little now, either in morals or decency, to be a member of some so-called Christian church.
It is quite the fashionable fad now to be a church member. I find as I go about that in all our towns of considerable size "our best people" get together in some one or two churches and turn them into Ecclesiastical Progressive Euchre Clubs! No offence of the cross there -- nor any cross, either. Once it was in the doctrine of justification by faith -- but not now. Once it was in the doctrine of assurance of faith -- but not now. " Let a man arise and proclaim by tongue or pen that he is a Christian, that he is pardoned, that he enjoys the witness of the Spirit, and not a ripple of disturbance is created. But let him declare that Christ has sanctified his soul and then comes the storm." He will soon find the "offence of the cross" in the doctrine of holiness as obtained instantaneously by faith in the sanctifying Spirit and the blood of the Son of God.
"Satan can not endure it, nor does he propose that the church shall come into the possession of the lost blessing of Pentecost. It is a sweet, loving, blessed doctrine -- one, it seems, that should delight and gladden every Christian heart -- viz., a doctrine that teaches the death of sin in the heart, and a perfect love to God and man indwelling and reigning there supreme. And yet its introduction and proclamation in church and community is the signal of commotion. The reason is that the offence of the cross abides therein" (Sanctification, pp. 180-182).
The writer was riding with a thoughtful Christian a few weeks ago, who, in course of conversation, made the remark: "It is a sad thing that so many Christians are living in ignorance of their privilege as the sons and daughters of God, to enjoy the blessing of holiness. It is sadder still to see so many who do know about it and do not want it. It is saddest of all to see Christians who do not want the blessing turn around and fight those who do want it." That probably will explain why so many of "our best people" do not seek this blessing. There is too much "cross" in it for their easy-going, indolent, worldly souls.
6. The last objection which we will consider here is: "It leads to fanaticism, and makes people impractical in the church." To this objection we make several answers. First, notice the wise observation made by President Finney, quoted by us toward the close of the third chapter. If the pastors will furnish themselves with literature on this subject, both books and periodicals, of which there are now plenty, and put into the hands of, and wisely lead and instruct, those who are seeking and perhaps attaining this blessing, and cease the wicked persecution of these dear souls who are seeking with hungry hearts the sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost, there will be no coming out from the church and no clannishness, and no fanaticism. "Blessed be God," wrote John Wesley, "though we set aside a hundred enthusiasts (fanatics), we are still encompassed with a cloud of witnesses who testify in life and in death that perfection which I have taught these forty years! This can not be a delusion, unless the Bible be a delusion, too; I mean loving God with all our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves." Later still he wrote (1785): "As soon as any find peace with God, exhort them to go on to perfection. The more explicitly and strongly you press believers to aspire after full sanctification, as attainable now by simple faith, the more, the whole work of God will prosper." Again, please remember that people have been erratic and misguided about a thousand other things of unspeakable value in themselves. Every great truth has been misrepresented by fanatics. The truth was truth just the same. So when people enter upon the experience of sanctification, and not clearly understanding it, and being uninstructed or unbalanced and persecuted, wander into lines of error and become impractical, the whole occurrence proves but one thing, and that is that the erring brother or sister is simply ignorant, weak-minded or misguided.
We close our answers to this objection with a question: Why is it that those who oppose this second blessing of the baptism with the Holy Ghost, or holiness, or entire sanctification, or Christian perfection, no matter by what name called, always pick out the cranks and fanatics? Why can not they be honourable enough to think of and name some whose lives and work are the glory of the Church of God during the last two centuries. Let me name just a few of the mighty host who have received this baptism with the Spirit, and exhibited its effects to the world, and advocated holiness, however they differed in philosophy and theology -- John Wesley, Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Mrs. Edwards, Adam Clark, Fletcher, Carvosso, Hester Ann Rogers, David Brainerd, James Brainerd Taylor, William Tennent; and these Bishops of the Methodist Church -- Whatcoat, Asbury, McKendree, Hamline, Peck, Simpson; and these Bishops still living -- Foster, Newman, Ninde, Thoburn, Foss, Mallalieu, Taylor of Africa, Bowman, Goodsell, Pierce; and in other denominations, President Mahan, President Finney, Professor Upham, Moody, C. J. Fowler, Torrey, Chapman, the great Baptist evangelist A. B. Earle, and Evangelists Haney and Caughey, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Phoebe Palmer, Frances Ridley Havergal, Mrs. Van Cott, Frances Willard -- who received the blessing and lost it by ceasing to confess it -- Hannah Whitall Smith, Rev. A. B. Simpson, Prof. Dugan Clark and David B. Updegraff, the saintly Friends, Dr. Daniel Steele, of Boston University, Rev. J. A. Wood, Drs. Levy, Inskip, McDonald, Lowrey, Gordon, Dunham, Keen, Andrew Murray, J. O. Peck, J. A. Smith, F. B. Meyer, Alfred Cookman, General Booth and his holy wife Catherine, who mothered the most efficient family in the kingdom and service of Christ the century has seen. These are a few goodly souls, representatives of the great army of saints who are called "holiness cranks," by people scarcely worthy to touch their shoe-latchets. May the blessed God, by his sanctifying grace, make us all to be worthy of their company.