|RPM, Volume 20, Number 12, March 18 to March 24, 2018|
In our last paper we attempted to define, and explain from the word of truth the gospel mystery of sanctification, and to show that so rich and heavenly a blessing is not limited to the work of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of the people of God, but that it includes and embraces their sanctification before time by the original and eternal Will of God the Father, and their sanctification in time by the Offering of the body of Jesus Christ, his dear Son, once for all. And we may here remark that there is a peculiar blessedness in this view of the sanctification of the Church of Christ by the Will of the Father, and by the Work of the Son, that not only does it lay a firm and broad foundation for her sanctification by the Spirit, but that this branch of her sanctification is thus already in itself completely and absolutely perfect. Nor indeed, as being an accomplished work of God, can it be otherwise, for He is the rock; his "work is perfect." (Deut. 32:4.) This sanctification, therefore, of the people of God, as distinct from the work of the Holy Spirit upon their heart, is already in itself fully and entirely complete; for the Will of the Father is absolute, and the Work of the Son is a finished work. In this sense, then, the Church of Christ is now and forever perfectly holy, for she is "complete in Christ," (Col. 2:10,) "accepted in the Beloved," (Eph. 1:6,) and stands before God all fair and without spot. (Song 4:7.)
We well know, indeed, how bitterly and angrily this view of sanctification has ever been opposed by legalists, and all those children of the bondwoman who hate that glorious loveliness which the Lord has put upon his bride; (Ezek. 16:14;) nor are we unaware of the reproaches which "the ignorance of foolish men," (1 Peter 2:15,) has cast both upon the doctrine itself, and upon those who hold and teach it, as if it were fraught with the most dangerous consequences, and were the very high road to licentiousness. They have argued against it, as if we intended thereby to supersede sanctification by the Spirit, and to employ it as a kind of substitute for that individual and personal holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord; and which they insinuate that we hate and shun as laying a restraint on our lusts.
But this is one of those stumbling-blocks, over which blind and obstinate men stumble to their own perdition; for so far from this sanctification of the Church by the Father and the Son superseding sanctification by the Spirit, it lays, on the contrary, the only firm and solid foundation for it, for it ensures the spiritual and personal sanctification of every member of the mystical body of Christ, as they are successively brought into a time state, by unalterably securing their interest in the covenant work and offices of the Holy Spirit, and in those gracious operations whereby he makes them fit for the inheritance of the saints in light. It also casts a glorious light upon the economy1 of grace; that is, the order of the divine procedure in the dispensation of grace to his Church; for "God is not the author of confusion," (1 Cor. 14:33,) but as in nature, so in grace, of the most perfect order in all his arrangements. In the economy of grace, then, the same divine order rules and reigns as in the personal subsistence of the Three Persons in the Godhead. The order of that subsistence is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the everlasting Covenant, in all its provisions and all its blessings, the same order prevails; and therefore rules and reigns in the great Covenant blessing, Sanctification. The blessing is an orderly blessing, and, as such, in all its steps moves onward according to the order of the Persons in the Godhead. The Father is first; therefore the sanctification of the Church by his eternal Will is first. The Son is second, therefore her sanctification by his one Offering is second. The Holy Spirit is third; therefore the sanctification of the Church by his efficacious grace is third. And yet, though the Persons of the Trinity are distinct, their eternal Essence is but One; so in this work of sanctification a glorious Unity of will and work pervades the whole. As, too, the Persons, though distinct, are equal, and the order of their subsistence does not affect the equality of their eternal Being, so the work of sanctification, as participated in by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is equal, and if equal, equally complete. This is already true, as we have shown, as regards the work of the Father, and of the Son, and will be equally true as regards the work of the Holy Spirit, for his sanctifying work on the souls and bodies of the saints will, in the resurrection morn, be as perfect as the absolute Will of the Father, and the finished Work of the Son.
This glorious mystery of the sanctification of the Church, though written as with a ray of light in the word of truth, has been so obscured by the advocates of a legal and fleshly holiness, that we have felt desirous to lay before our spiritual readers what has been opened to our mind on this subject as a part of the divine counsel. These points of heavenly truth, we admit, are deep, and may, therefore, be considered by some of our readers mysterious and obscure, and by others neither instructive nor edifying; but we believe, on the contrary, that it will ever be found that deep truths, like deep rivers, are full of fruitfulness in proportion to their depth. How deep the mystery of the Trinity! But in its very depth lies its blessedness. How deep the mystery of the eternal Sonship of our Lord! But in its depths what treasures of ineffable glory are laid up! How deep the mystery of the incarnation! But what streams of superabounding grace are ever springing and rising out of its bosom, swelling in an ample and healing tide over all the aboundings of sin. Marvel not, then, that deep is the mystery of sanctification; for it will be found, if we are favored with a spiritual apprehension of it, that in its very depth lies much of its blessedness.
Having, then, laid this firm foundation for the sanctification of the Church by the blessed Spirit, we are now brought back to our original subject, the covenant offices of the Holy Spirit; for as it is his special office to sanctify, by his divine operations, the people of the Father's choice and of the Son's redeeming blood, the term will include the greater part of his efficacious work upon the soul. But to arrange our Meditations on this subject with some measure of that clearness which is so desirable on points of such deep importance, we will consider,
The necessity of this sanctification;
The nature of this sanctification by his effectual grace.
1. in the essential holiness of God,
2. In the fallen state of man.
1. God is essentially holy; so much so, that holiness is his very nature, the very perfection and glory of his Being. He, therefore, swears by his holiness as if it were himself, for "because he could swear by no greater he swore by himself." (Heb. 6:13.) "Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David." (Psalm 89:35.) So essentially is he holy, and so bright a luster does it reflect on all his other infinite perfections, that he is said to be "glorious in holiness;" (Exod. 15:11;) and as possessing it eternally in himself, and so the fountain of it to angels and men, "there is none holy as the Lord," (1 Sam. 2:2,) and "he alone is holy;" (Rev. 15:4;) for in him only is it underived, all communicated holiness from him as a Supreme Fountain being but the shadow of what in him is a self-existent substance.
Because God is thus essentially holy, he requires that his people should be holy too. (Lev. 20:26.) And what he requires he makes--"I am the Lord who sanctifies you." (Lev. 20:8.) Indeed, there is not a single attribute or perfection of the Lord God of Israel so continually brought forth, or so urgently insisted on in the word of truth as his holiness. We need scarcely prove this; but let the following testimonies suffice in addition to those already adduced--"But you are holy, O you who inhabits the praises of Israel;" "Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy. (Psalm 99:5.) And again--"Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy." (Isa. 57:15.) So in that touching prayer of our gracious Lord--"Holy Father, keep through your own name those whom you have given me." (John 17:11.)
We do not wish to make minute distinctions, or may fail in clearly communicating our own thoughts, but we seem to see a difference between the purity of God, the righteousness of God, and the holiness of God; and as this distinction has a bearing on our subject, we shall drop a few words upon it. God is pure, eternally and infinitely pure, "for he is of purer eyes than to behold evil;" (Hab. 1:13;) so pure that the stars, so bright and glorious in our eyes, "are not pure in his sight;" (Job 25:5;) and his very "angels he charges with folly." (Job 4:18.) John, therefore, says--"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure." (1 John 3:2, 3.) But this his eternal and essential purity consists rather in the infinite perfection and spotlessness of his nature than in the spirituality of his being.
But the holiness of God is intimately connected with his being a Spirit, for "God is a Spirit." (John 4:24.) When, then, we approach the Majesty of heaven, and seek to realize, with solemn awe and trembling reverence, his glorious perfections, a view of his holiness is ever intimately connected with a believing persuasion that he is a Spirit, and, as such, requires spiritual worship.
In a similar way, his righteousness may be mentally distinguished from both his purity and his holiness as having peculiar respect to his justice, the integrity and righteousness of all his ways, words, and works, and that "the Judge of all the earth will do right." (Gen. 18:25.) Our Lord, therefore, addressed him "O righteous Father," (John 17:25,) as well as "holy Father,"—righteous in the uprightness of his character, holy in the spirituality of his Being. Thus, as infinitely pure, he is perfectly spotless; as infinitely righteous, he is perfectly just; as infinitely holy, he is the very Spirit of holiness.
But to show that those are not mere barren speculations, or unfounded distinctions, let us now see the peculiar bearing which this view of the holiness of God has on our subject, the sanctification of the Spirit, and trace out how and why, in the economy of grace, this sanctification so peculiarly belongs to the Holy Spirit as his covenant office. We have just shown that the holiness of God is intimately connected with his eternal, underived existence as a Spirit. How appropriate, then, to the Holy Spirit, as a Person in the Godhead, is that Covenant Office that he should communicate of his holiness to the people of God; for holiness being in itself essentially a spiritual thing, it may be communicated by his divine operations and spiritual influences. We are, therefore, said to be made "partakers of the divine nature;" (2 Pet. 1:4;) that is, of that part of the divine nature which is communicable; for omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc., are not communicable to a finite creature such as man. But holiness, as a part of the divine nature, is communicable; and thus, when the Holy Spirit breathes, infuses, and communicates spiritual life to the soul, in that life imparted is the very holiness of God. We read accordingly--"that we might be partakers of his holiness." (Heb. 12:10.) In being made partakers, therefore, of the divine nature, we are made partakers of the holiness of that nature, and this is nothing less than "his holiness," the very holiness of God.
In regeneration we are born of the Spirit, (John 3:5,) and as "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," there is a communication of the spirit by the Spirit. We may illustrate this by the case of Elijah and Elisha. Before Elijah was taken up to heaven by a whirlwind, "he said unto Elisha, What shall I do for you before I be taken away from you? And Elisha said, Let a double portion of your spirit be upon me." This request was granted, and so visibly that when the sons of the prophets saw him they said, "The spirit of Elijah does rest on Elisha." (2 Kings 2:9, 15.) Here there was a communication by the Holy Spirit of the spirit of Elijah to Elisha. We wish it to be observed that we use this merely as an illustration; but in a similar way there is a communication of the holiness of God to the soul by the Holy Spirit when he communicates to it divine life. The new man of grace, therefore, is said to be "created after God; "that is, after the image of God, "in righteousness and true holiness,"—true holiness, as distinct from all legal or fleshly holiness. (Eph. 4:24.) It is "a new creation," (2 Cor. 5:17,) as the word may be literally rendered, and not an alteration or amelioration of the old man. By the communication, therefore, of this new spirit, we are made spiritual men as distinct from all natural men; (1 Cor. 2:14, 15;) and as there is but "one body and one Spirit," (Eph. 4:4,) and "by this one Spirit we are all baptized into one body," (1 Cor. 12:13,) there is a blessed oneness of spirit among the family of God; and what is more blessed still, by the gift and communication of this spirit we enjoy union and communion with the Lord himself; for "he who is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." (1 Cor. 6:17.)
2. From these considerations we may now, perhaps, more clearly see how the doctrine which we are thus seeking to establish distinguishes the work of regeneration and sanctification from all the works of the creature, and all the vain attempts of man to furbish up nature and pass it off for grace. Our Lord, indeed, at once and forever, decided the whole matter in those pointed and pregnant words--"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit;" (John 3:6;) for by that decisive declaration he set apart the flesh and the spirit as wide asunder as he will one day separate the sheep from the goats, and declared them by his authoritative voice to be radically and essentially distinct. All, then, that is born of the flesh, be it what it may, however educated, polished, refined; however drawn out, made up, or twisted into shape; however adorned within, decorated without, improved by adventitious circumstances, or disguised by ornamental additions, is, and ever will remain flesh still. It is like everything else which earth produces. No manipulation of art can change the original nature of the raw material. It is still wool, or flax, or cotton, and no process of manufacture, no hackling, or drawing, or twisting, or spinning, or weaving, or bleaching, or surfacing can turn cotton into flax, or wool into silk.
So let men-made preachers and the whole assembled corps of creature religionists do what they may, and toil night and day to transmute flesh into spirit, let them work at it from the cradle to the grave to fit it for heaven, after all their labors to wash the Ethiopian white and rub the spots out of the leopard, nature will and ever must be nature still, and flesh flesh still, and cannot, therefore, by any possibility, enter the kingdom of God.
We see, therefore, how deeply the necessity of sanctification by the work of the Holy Spirit is laid in the state of man through the fall; that not only his nature is defiled and polluted to the very core by sin original and actual, but that there is in him an absolute incapability to understand, embrace, or enjoy spiritual things, according to that well-known testimony--"But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14.) The necessity, then, of regeneration, which is the commencement of sanctification, lies not only in the sinfulness of man, but in the state of spiritual death whereby he is as unable to live, breathe, and act Godwards as the corpse in the graveyard is unable to leave the silent tomb and move among the busy haunts of men. But enough has been said of the necessity of sanctification. We can know but little of the word of God and little of our own hearts if we need proof of a fact which meets us at every turn.
The vileness of our nature, the utter depravity and thorough deathliness of our carnal heart are so daily and hourly forced upon us, almost whether we will see and feel them or not, that they are as much a matter of our spiritual sense and apprehension as we should see the blood and garbage of a slaughter-house, or smell the death taint of a corpse in the coffin. Suppose a man is born without eyes, or like the man in the Gospel of John, (9:1,) is born blind. He has a natural incapacity of sight. No arguments, no biddings, entreaties, threats, warnings, promises, can make him see. But let a miracle be wrought; let the Lord touch the eyes with his divine hand; he sees at once. A new capacity is given; and though he cannot explain how or why he sees, he can still say, with the blind man, in face of all objectors and all objections, "One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." (John 9:25.)
And here we may admire for a few moments the grace, the wisdom, and the power of God. How rich his grace to raise up poor, fallen man into the spiritual participation of his own holiness, without which he could not have enjoyed the eternal bliss of his presence! How adorable his wisdom to devise a way whereby, in a manner perfectly consistent with all his glorious perfections, this holiness of his nature could be imparted! How infinite his power to remove every obstruction to the execution of his sovereign will, and of the communication of the divine nature, to fit and qualify a worm of earth to enjoy communion with the God of heaven! And does not our doctrine of sanctification afford the fullest answer to those sons of earth who would gladly libel us with the imputation that we reject or despise what they call personal holiness? So far from this being the case, we assert, on the contrary, that sanctification by the eternal will of the Father and the finished work of the Son, not merely lays the only sure foundation for sanctification by the Spirit, but that our view of this latter branch of sanctification outshines theirs as much as the bright sun the feeblest star. Their sanctification, at the best, is but human nature modified, improved, and ameliorated; but our doctrine declares that the sanctification for which we contend is the very holiness of God himself breathed into the soul, and that the new man of grace is as holy as God is holy, for it is that holy thing, that incorruptible seed which cannot sin, because it is born of God. (1 John 3:9.) Which of these views is the more scriptural, which more full of divine wisdom, power, and grace, which brings more glory to God and blessedness to men, let the spiritual judge. "Try the spirits whether they are of God," and discern, you Christian men, between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
And here, at the very threshold, we are met by our Lord's own words--"The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, and where it goes; so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8.) The breathing of the Holy Spirit on the soul, whereby he quickens it into spiritual life, is compared by our Lord to the blowing of the wind. In this movement of the wind, as brought forward by our blessed Lord, there is something known, and there is something unknown. Unknown are its origin and end, "whence it comes and where it goes." Known are its present effects--"You hear the sound thereof." Its sound is heard; its force is felt; but all beyond is a mystery. So in the gracious operations of the blessed Spirit in the heart, who can tell, when first brought under his divine power and influence, whence comes his quickening breath, why was he thus divinely wrought upon? or who can see or discover into what an exceeding and eternal weight of glory these beginnings of grace will eventually issue?
But the sound is heard, for the word of the living God, whereby he quickens and begets the soul into divine life, sounds an alarm in the inmost depths of conscience, and is heard echoing through every secret chamber of the soul. This is "the voice of the Lord," which is "powerful," yes, that voice which is "full of majesty." This is "the voice of the Lord which shakes the wilderness;" (Psalm 29:4, 8;) and it cries aloud, "Awake, you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light." (Eph. 5:14.) Thus light and life ever attend the first operations of the blessed Spirit in the heart—light shining into and illuminating the dark chambers of imagery, and life quickening the soul which before was dead in trespasses and sins. That light attends the operations of the blessed Spirit on the soul is most manifest both from Scripture and experience--"The entrance of your words gives light." (Psalm 119:130.) Paul, therefore, was sent to the Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light; (Acts 26:18;) and the same Apostle, addressing the Ephesian believers, says, "You were once darkness, but now are you light in the Lord." (Eph. 5:8.) How else could we see the kingdom of God, which we are said by implication to do, when we are born again? (John 3:3;) or how else could there be any manifestation to our soul of eternal and divine realities, as the Apostle speaks? "But all things that are reproved (or "discovered," margin) are made manifest by the light; for whatever does make manifest is light." (Eph. 5:13.) Do we not also read--"For with you is the fountain of life?" Here is the source of all divine life; but it adds, "In your light shall we see light." (Psalm.36:9.) Thus light and life ever accompany, and, indeed, are the necessary and invariable consequences of regenerating grace in the vessels of mercy. By light we see; by life we feel. The illuminating beams of the Spirit light up God's word, which now becomes "a lamp unto the feet and a light unto the path;" (Psalm 119:105;) and what that light reveals the heart believes, for the power of God, attending the application of the word, raises up faith in the soul to credit God's testimony.
As, then, the word is made "life and spirit" to the soul, (John 6:63,) the solemn things which the blessed Spirit by it reveals to faith become firm realities, which seize and take possession of its inmost being. No more now trifling with religion; no more dallying with sin; no more song and jest; no more formality and lip-service; no more making a covenant with death, and being at agreement with hell; no more putting far away the evil day; for the day is now come, that great day, so that none is like unto it, even the time of Jacob's trouble, (Jer. 30:7.) Under, then, this entrance of divine light and life, the hitherto unseen, unfelt being of God is revealed to the soul; (Heb. 11:6;) and now the surroundings of his awesome and universal presence with the inmost searchings of his heart-penetrating eye; (Psalm 139:1-3;) his inflexible justice in a fiery law which goes from his right hand to condemn all who are under it; (Deut. 33:2;) his immutability, so that he is in one mind and none can turn him; (Job 23:13;) his dreadful anger against sin and the sinner, which burns to the lowest hell; (Deut. 32:22;) the impossibility of escaping out of his hand; (Psalm 139:7-12; Jer. 23:23, 24;) the utter inability of man to deliver himself from the yoke of his transgressions which are wreathed about his neck, (Lam. 1:14,) or to make satisfaction and atonement for them, (Job 9:30-33; Psalm. 49:7-9;)—these and similar exercises and troubles spring up in the heart, and form the subject of continual thought and meditation. This is the work of convincing of sin, as the Lord spoke--"And when he is come, he will reprove (margin "convince") the world of sin." (John 16:8.) Thus he wrought on the day of Pentecost, when so many were "pierced" (or rather "pierced") "in their heart," until they cried aloud in their distress, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37.) So he smote the tax-collector in the temple; the woman who was a sinner, and would gladly have wept her soul away at Jesus' feet; the thief on the cross; the jailer at Philippi; the incestuous Corinthian; and one no less than that signal vessel of mercy, Saul of Tarsus, thrust him through with his two-edged sword, as he pierced him even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, when in the pride of self-righteousness and the madness of persecution he approached Damascus gate. We by no means wish or even dare to set up a certain standard, or say that all the quickened family of God are equally exercised as we have here described, but we cannot understand how there can be the communications of divine light and life, and nothing seen and felt. How can we flee from the wrath to come if there be no sight or sense of that wrath; or how beg for mercy, if no guilt lie hard and heavy on the conscience?
But we now pass on to another covenant office of the blessed Spirit. The same gracious Teacher communicates to the soul, thus convinced of sin, the spirit of grace and supplications--"Behold he prays," was the word of the Lord to Ananias to convince him that this dreaded persecutor had been quickened by the Spirit. And what a mercy it is for the quickened soul that the blessed Spirit thus helps his sinking, trembling spirit, puts life and energy into his cries and sighs, holds him up and keeps him steadfast at the throne, and thus enables him to persevere with his earnest suings for mercy, mingles faith with his petitions, and himself most graciously and kindly intercedes within him and for him with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Rom. 8:26.) This is "praying with the spirit," (1 Cor. 14:15,) and "in the Holy Spirit." (Jude 20.) This is pouring out the heart before God, (Psalm 42:8,) pouring out the soul before the Lord; (1 Sam. 1:15;) and by this free discharge of the contents of an almost bursting heart, sensible relief is given to the burdened spirit.
By this special mark, the convictions of a quickened soul are distinguished from the pangs of guilt and remorse which are sometimes aroused in the natural conscience. Cain said, "My punishment is greater than I can bear," but there was neither repentance nor prayer in his heart; "for he went out from the presence of the Lord"—the very presence which the living soul is seeking to reach and be found in, and into which the Spirit brings him. (Eph. 2:18; Gen. 4:13, 16.) Saul was "sore distressed," when God answered him, "neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets," but he goes to the witch of Endor, and in the end falls a suicide upon his own sword. (1 Sam. 29:6, 8; 31:4.) Judas repented of his accursed treachery, but went and hanged himself. (Matt. 27:3, 5.) No prayer, no supplication was in either of their hearts. So it is prophesied that men shall gnaw their tongues for pain, and yet shall blaspheme the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and not repent of their deeds. (Rev. 16:10, 11.) But the elect cry day and night unto God; (Luke 18:7;) and their prayers, perfumed with the incense of their all-prevailing Intercessor at the right hand of the Father, enter into the ears of the Lord Almighty. (Rev. 8:3, 4; Rom. 8:34; James 5:4.)
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