By Daniel Steele
CHRIST OUR SANCTIFICATION.
THE work of each of the three Persons of the Trinity in the scheme of salvation is quite definitely stated in the Holy Scriptures. The Father originated the plan, the Son by His atoning death provided the means, the blood of sprinkling, and the Holy Spirit conditionally applies it for the soul's purification. But sometimes the work of the Spirit is ascribed to the Son. This seeming confusion perplexes the student of the Bible, till he learns that when the Son is spoken of as sanctifying it is always in a different sense from the Spirit's work of purification. In the interest of clearness of thought and of saving truth set forth as the cloudless noonday sun, let us note in what sense the sanctification ascribed to Christ in several texts differs from that internal work wrought by the Comforter. When Christ is spoken of as our sanctification, it is meant, not that He enters into the hearts of believers and cleanses them, but that He provides the purifying medium, His own shed blood, and the sanctifying agent, the Holy Spirit. The Son's work is external, the Spirit's is internal; or in philosophic terms, the work of the one is objective, that of the other is subjective; the one sanctifies provisionally and the other effectually. Now let us carry this distinction into Paul's letters to the Corinthians. In I Cor. i. 2 they are addressed as "sanctified in Christ Jesus," and in iii. 1 Paul "cannot speak unto them as spiritual, but as carnal, even as unto babes in Christ." How are these apparent contradictions harmonized? It will not do to say that Paul, to say nothing of the Spirit who inspired him, flatly contradicts himself. In the light of the distinction between provisional sanctification in Christ and actual sanctification by the Holy Spirit, a very beautiful harmony emerges. Through faith the Corinthians had been born from above, and had become "babes in Christ," and were now entitled to all the privileges which He had purchased for believers, among which was conditional sanctification. But since they had failed to appropriate their heritage by the exercise of faith, they were still strongly carnal in their leanings, as evidenced by their "envying, strife and divisions." They were provisionally sanctified in Christ; they were not actually sanctified by the Holy Spirit. The contradiction disappears. In the same way the contradiction between the statement that "Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all men" and His sentence of a part of them in the last day to eternal punishment disappears in the consideration that Christ is the conditional Saviour of all the human race, but the real Saviour of believers only.
In I Cor. i. 30 Christ " is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption." This He is to every one who does by faith appropriate Him and become wise by believing divine revelation personified in Christ, the truth, and justified through faith in Him, and sanctified through the reception of the Spirit in His office as Sanctifier, and redeemed, soul and body reunited and glorified, through persevering faith in Him who shall change the body of our " humiliation," that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body. This distinction between provisional sanctification in Christ and sanctification inwrought by the Holy Spirit secured by faith utterly excludes the doctrine of holiness imputed to persons whose hearts are still filled with depravity. One may die for another, but one cannot be holy for another. Sin and holiness are personal, and not transferable. Alford calls attention to the double conjunction in I Cor. i. 30, between " righteousness, the source of our justification before God, and sanctification by His Spirit, implying that the Christian life is complete, the negative side and positive side are so joined as to form one whole." The piety of the Corinthians lacked the positive side. They were forgiven, but not cleansed. They had appropriated part of their heritage in Christ, justification, but they had not by an appropriating faith claimed sanctification. The Corinthian type of Christians has not become obsolete. In every age, with here and there an exception, it has been the prevailing type. This accounts for its failure to conquer the world. When the possible in Christian character shall have become the actual in the whole Church the world's evangelization will be speedily accomplished. That generation will see the glorious consummation.
In Heb. ii. 11 "he that sanctifieth" is Christ, regarded as the author of the provision of salvation and of the agency of the purifying Spirit, who applies to "those who are being sanctified " the cleansing efficacy of the atonement on the condition of their faith in Christ.
In Heb. x. 10 is another instance of sanctification by Christ provisionally, " through the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." That inward holiness which the altar ritual of the Hebrews with their interminable repetitions was unable to produce, has been rendered possible to every believer through the offering of the body of the adorable God-Man once for all. While the atonement sanctified no one, it renders possible the entire sanctification of every offspring of Adam who will trust in Christ for this purchased blessing.
Verse 14 has often been misunderstood as teaching that Christ brought to perfection the work of our inward sanctification eighteen hundred years before we were born: "For by one oblation hath he perfected forever them that are being sanctified." (Alford.) The sanctification which Christ thus perfected is provisional. As such it is eternally efficacious and incapable of improvement. It stands ready from age to age to be applied by the Holy Spirit to the inward cleansing of every believer. Nothing is lacking but the outstretching of an empty hand to grasp this pearl of great price. Under the atonement " all things are possible to him that believeth."
Verse 15 does not teach the witness of the Holy Spirit to the actual, inward work of entire sanctification, as some erroneously teach, but His testimony in the Old Testament to the coming of the days when the provisions for the inner purification will be complete, when the law will no longer be a galling yoke on the neck, but a joyful song in the heart. It is true that this inner change will be through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who, by shining on His own work, is a witness to its genuineness. But this is not a proof text of such a witness. Well says Delitzsch: "The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of prophecy, and from Him comes the whole God-inspired written Word. He also in that Word is the witness that with Christ's return to the Father all is accomplished, and nothing remains to be done to procure for us inward perfecting and a complete restoration to communion with God." Man's relation to God is no longer merely legal, but inward, evangelical and spiritual. He ceases from outward, compensative works, but concentrates his view upon the sanctifying and endowing grace already procured, and seeks to enter in and lay hold of it. This once-for-all provisional grace for justification and entire sanctification, according to Jeremiah, is the basis of the new covenant (Jer. xxiii. 6).1
Many good Christians find it difficult to accept the doctrine of a definite and instantaneous work of the Holy Spirit subsequent to regeneration, because they cannot draw a sharply defined line between the incoming of the Spirit, the Lord of life, to impart life, and His second incoming to impart the more abundant life by the removal of all antagonisms thereto. When told that there is a difference between being free and being "free indeed," between the work of the Spirit in inspiring love and in perfecting love, they are still unable to construe to themselves satisfactorily this distinction. Hence they are inclined to reject the doctrine as an untenable theory.
But in the face of so much Scripture exhorting to holiness and commanding perfection and the fulness of the Spirit, and of so many promises and prayers relating to the same blessing as immediately attainable, is it not the wiser course to bind up this difficulty with two others pertaining to the Holy Spirit, which every evangelical mind believes, but none understands? The first mystery is involved in the question how the Holy Spirit was always in the world as the inspirer of all true piety in human hearts, from Abel to John the Baptist, and yet at a definite moment, on the day of Pentecost, the same Spirit came down from heaven into the world. Here is an enigma which orthodoxy universally fails to explain, and yet universally believes. For orthodoxy receives the doctrine of the Trinity, which implies the eternity and the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit, while the Bible asserts His agency in creation and His activity in human hearts in all the pre-Christian ages. Faith accepts this mystery which is too high for the grasp of reason. In a similar manner faith answers another question, how the Holy Spirit was in the heart of the man Jesus Christ, inspiring, illumining and guiding Him all His life up to the hour of His baptism, when the Holy Ghost descended upon Him and abode in Him. How could He be in Him thirty years, and then enter into Him at a definite moment?
Here is a question which reason cannot answer. Yet every believer in the New Testament assents to these unharmonized facts in the relation of the Holy Spirit to the humanity of Jesus Christ. If the Bible teaches that entire sanctification through the Holy Spirit is a crisis in Christian experience, subsequent to the new birth by the same divine agent, and if reason cannot draw an accurate boundary line between these two works of the Spirit, why should we not bind up this mystery in the same bundle with the two which we have just described, and relegate this difficulty to the domain of faith? The first immediate effect would be the cessation of the debate which exists even in Wesleyan circles; there being no more occasion for a theological controversy on this third question than there is in the case of either of the other two. The second effect would be that multitudes of earnest believers, having now emerged from the foggy metaphysics environing the subject of entire sanctification into the clear atmosphere of faith, would aspire with all the energy of their being to enter into the full spiritual heritage of the children of God, now clearly set before the eye of faith. A third effect would be: "He that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord," in efficiency to resist sin and to sway unbelievers to bow to Christ. There would be a spiritual revolution in the Church, and vigor would supersede supineness, spiritual hunger would take the place of satisfied worldliness, harmony would succeed discord, and unity displace all tendencies to schism.
It is certainly logical to treat all the mysteries involved in the offices of the Paraclete alike; and it certainly is unreasonable to receive two of these mysteries by faith and to reject the third, not because of its lack of scriptural proofs as the ground of faith, but because of its lack of transparency to the eye of reason. Candid persons should be consistent, treating like difficulties in a like manner when they all stand upon the basis of the same supernatural revelation. But truth when it collides with men's pleasures, passions and wills never has a fair chance. President Mark Hopkins suggests that, if the proof that the three angles of a triangle equal two right angles abridged men's sinful indulgence, there would be many who would stoutly insist that they could not see the point of proof. This shows that unbelief originates in a moral rather than an intellectual cause. May it not be that much of the difficulty with the doctrine of entire sanctification arises from the heart and not from the head; not in a lack of evidence, but in a disposition to neglect the proofs of a work of the Holy Ghost which builds a hedge across the path of sinful desire, and kindles an unquenchable fire in the house of the heart's idols? Hence entire self-surrender to one's best light is absolutely necessary to perfect candor in his attitude towards God's truth. The least particle of self-will can obscure a great spiritual truth, as a hair, or platinum wire finer than any hair, stretched across the eye-glass of the telescope, will blot out Sirius, 6,000 times larger than the sun, and 8,400.000,000 times larger than our globe. It is a great thing to be " of the truth," to be so in love with it as to be willing that our eyes should be purged of every film in order to gaze upon her radiant form, and to have our feet blistered in toiling up the rugged path in which the heavenly maid walks that she may lure us to the skies. St. Paul in Eph. iv. 15 has one expression which shows the very quintessence of Christian candor requisite for realizing in experience the highest spiritual verities, "truthing in love," or " pursuing truth in love." Love is the eye which sees God's truth when the eye of mere intellect utterly fails. There is always a certainty that they who are disposed to sacrifice all to the truth as it is in Jesus, and out of love to Him, will speedily scale the loftiest heights of spiritual knowledge, and daily dwell upon these sunlit summits evermore.
Such are not stumbled at doctrines never revealed to reason but to faith only. Happy are they who early learn to render to reason that which belongs to reason, and to faith that which belongs to faith. Among the latter are all those truths relating to eradication of sin "through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth."
To a person objecting to entire sanctification in the present life because he could not " see into it," excellent advice was recently given in these homely Saxon words, " Get into it and see out." The advice contains a truth that is capable of wide application. Every doctrine which is to be apprehended by faith and not by speculative reason, must be verified by experience before its truth can be realized. Christianity came into the world as an experimental science, saying to every one, "Come and see, test me and prove the truth of my divine origin, taste and see that the Lord Jesus is good." This was the challenge with which the Son of God met all doubters. "If any man willeth to do his will he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John vii. 17, Revised Version). A right attitude of the inquirer's will is the indispensable condition of his success in his study of the Christian evidences. The culpability of unbelief lies in the absence of this obedient attitude of the will, the disposition to follow whithersoever truth may lead. Hence I preach that there is no such thing possible in God's moral universe as permanent, honest doubt. At some point in the doubter's history, truth has pointed to a path which he was not willing to tread. One refusal to follow his best light has spoiled forever afterwards the plea of honest scepticism. The relation of Christian truth to every human soul is that of a key to a lock. The gospel was constructed by omniscient wisdom to unlock every heart. Wherever it fails, when faithfully applied, to turn back the bolt of unbelief, the fault is not in the key, nor in the original structure of the lock, but in that tampering with the wards which is in the power of every free agent. God never made such a moral monstrosity as an intelligent soul incapable of believing His truth. The aphorism of John Fletcher, "All salvation is from God, all damnation is from man," is really a moral axiom. Unbelief is damning because it has a moral cause, the perverse will. When the will passes into a state of obedience, the soul emerges into the region of light. This law is as invariable as any in the physical world. Whenever there is a "total, irreversible, affectionate self-surrender to Jesus Christ as both Saviour and Lord," the Spirit of truth streams through and through the soul like a pencil of sunbeams, vitalizing, illumining, warming and cleansing. This statement is true in respect to all the stages of spiritual progress. Many have verified it in the joyful experience of the new birth, and many with gladness attest its truth in that spiritual uplift which has followed that all-surrendering faith which has laid hold of Christ as our entire sanctification from inbred sin. That uplift awaits all true believers in the Holy Spirit, the outpoured gift of our glorified Saviour. He is God's elevator, moving from earth to heaven, lifting all who perfectly trust in Him from the low levels of fogs and damps to the sunlit summits of full assurance where the sun shines day and. night. This is the "higher life," to which all Christians are commanded to ascend. "Seek the things that are above." When the believer steps into this elevator with perfect confidence in its safety and in the almighty Motor, it is astonishing to what altitudes he will be lifted instantaneously while he does nothing but to trust. St. Paul prayed that the Ephesians "might know what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe," "the very same power" which God "wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead." God can do what He will with inert matter, because there is inherent in it no power to resist His fiat. But when the Omnipotent would mould the sinful human spirit into more than angelic beauty, into the beauty of His own moral likeness, He may be thwarted by the obstinate resistance of the free agent. He made man without his consent, but He cannot save him without his consent. When that consent is fully given, and the hand of faith is put forth to appropriate Christ to save unto the uttermost, then is experienced what St. Paul, by a strain of language itself, piling up words expressive of unlimited transforming energy, styles "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe," because He is able to do " superabundantly above the greatest abundance." (Adam Clarke.)
One effect of this wonderful inward transfiguration is an astonishing quickening of the spiritual perceptions, so that the distant becomes near, the opaque transparent, and the indefinite and incomprehensible becomes clearly defined and easily discerned by the anointed vision. Many are trying to see before they buy of Christ the divine eyesalve. Multitudes are applying to spiritual things the wrong faculty of knowledge, reason instead of faith, with results as far from the truth as those which follow the attempt to distinguish between pulverized sugar and fine salt, not by the taste but by the touch.
Even the mystery of the trinal distinctions in the divine nature, although still inscrutable to reason, becomes to the Spirit-baptized person a truth lifted forever beyond the region of doubt. Thus attested Dr. Wilbur Fisk ever after that personal Pentecost at Wellfleet camp-meeting, where he sought and found entire sanctification under a demonstration of the Spirit too great for the strength of the earthly tenement. This is the testimony of thousands who have exercised an all-consecrating trust in Christ for the full heritage of the sons of God this side of glory.
"Get into and see out" is just what the astronomers did in order to get a true view of the solar system. For ages they strove to harmonize the retrograde motions of some of the planets with the geocentric theory, but in vain. At length one of them dared in thought to take his stand in the sun and to look out upon the orbs wheeling through the heavens, when, lo, before his enraptured gaze was a perfectly harmonious system without one backward motion. Get out of the earth into the sun, and the solar system becomes heliocentric. Get out of self into God, and theology becomes christocentric and beautifully consistent. One of the old divines had for his motto, " It is the heart that makes the theologian." Rutherford used to say to students for the ministry, "If you would be a deep divine, I recommend to you sanctification," and to all Christians, "sanctification; sanctification will settle you most in the truth."
The faith requisite to entire sanctification is essentially the same as that which is the condition on which forgiveness of sin is received.
It remains for us to discuss entire consecration, its nature and motives, as preliminary to the faith by which we are sanctified wholly. Motive is the word ordinarily used in speaking of the conditions of choice. We call it an inducement when it is adapted to excite the sensibilities, and we call it a reason when it is addressed to the intellect in the form of argument. The motive to entire consecration includes both, because it is an appeal to all of man's nature back of his will. We might bring out an array of various inferior motives to a perfect devotement of self unto God and His service, if we did not see that all motives to this act which are not comprised in one grand motive are too weak to deserve mention. They are such as these: fear of penalty, self-respect, a full and rounded development of our being by the stimulus communicated to the intellect when the love of God is perfected in the heart, greater usefulness, increased happiness, the honor which comes from God and good men and that greater reward which results from greater godliness. Without delaying to discuss these motives, mostly commendable but all of them combined inadequate, we proceed to present the motive presented by the inspired apostle, " I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God." The persons addressed are already Christians, for they are tenderly called " brethren." They are not plied with the threatenings of the law, because "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." They are no longer "under the law" as the impulse to service. Hence the lash of penalty cannot be wisely applied. It is not in harmony with the diction of the New Testament to address threatenings to the sons of God. This is a servile motive. Children by adoption who hear within the cry "Abba, Father," are on a higher plane. Yet this does not prove that they have reached spiritual perfection. It is the habit of St. Paul to exhort those who have already become sons and daughters to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in filial reverence, not in guilty terror (II Cor. vii. 1).
"The love of Christ constraineth us." Love responsive to the self-sacrificing love of the Son of God is the only genuine motive to our complete self-surrender to Him, soul, body and spirit. The manward aspect of His atonement had this very design, the believer's total consecration under the mighty impulse of gratitude to his great Benefactor. "He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again" (II Cor. v. 15, Revised Version). Love, especially love to the unworthy and the sinful, awakens gratitude, except where the noble capacity for gratitude has been utterly blasted by the mildew of depravity. Gratitude finds expression not only in word, but in service and devotion to the benefactor even unto death. The dreary annals of human selfishness in the form of wars and oppressions are here and there lighted up by instances of heroic self-sacrifice of souls struggling to express a gratitude too great for tongue or pen to utter. Hence we solemnly aver that the noblest act of which a man is capable is the total and irreversible consecration to Christ of every atom of his being. When he has done this he will long for an enlarged capacity of loving service and sacrifice.
The writer testifies, after drinking from this spring for half a century, and during the last twenty-seven years drinking to the fulness of his capacity, that he is today more athirst than ever for a larger vessel to contain the water of life. Not a few souls can bear witness to this blessed paradox.