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On the Doctrine of Holiness.

HAVING in the preceding chapter given some general idea of the Interior or Hidden Life, the important inquiry naturally suggests itself; In what way shall we gain admission into this desirable state? The Gospel evidently contemplates, in the case of every individual, a progress from the incipient condition of mere forgiveness and acceptance, immensely important as it is, to the higher state of interior renovation and sanctification throughout. The Apostle appears to have reference to this onward progress of the soul in the expressions he employs in the commencement of the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. “Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith towards God; of the doctrine of baptism and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.” What direction, then, shall we take? What course shall we pursue, that we may rise above the merely initiatory principles and feelings of the gospel life, and enjoy the delightful privilege of walking in close and uninterrupted communion with God? In answer to this general inquiry we remark, that the first and indispensable prerequisite is HOLINESS OF HEART. It is generally supposed, that God may exhibit pity and pardon to those in whom there still exist some relics and stains of inward corruption; in other words, that those, may be forgiven or pardoned, who are not entirely sanctified. But those, who would walk acceptably with their Maker, who would receive from him his secret communications and enjoy the hidden embraces of his love, must see to it, first of all, that they are pure in heart; that they have a present, as well as a prospective salvation; in other words, that they are holy.

We are aware, that, in the view of some, this condition of realizing the full life of God in the soul is an impracticable one. They regard holiness in this life, as a thing unattainable; or, what seems to me to be practically the same view, as a thing never attained. The persons, to whom we now allude, seem to look upon holiness as a sort of intangible abstraction, as something placed high and remotely in the distance, as designed to be realized by angels and by the just made perfect in heaven, but situated far beyond mere human acquisition. Hence it is, that followed and scourged by an inward condemnation, they remain in the condition of servants, and do not cheerfully and boldly take that of sons. They wander about, oftentimes led captive by Satan, in the low grounds of the gospel life, amid marshes and tangled forests; and do not ascend into the pleasant hills and that emblematical land of Beulah, where are spicy breezes and perpetual sunshine.

In this state of things, it will be readily seen that it is necessary to delay a short time here. It becomes a very important inquiry, whether holiness, in any strict and proper sense of that term, is something attainable in the present life. Among other reasons it is important to be able to answer properly this question, because, unless we believe in the attainableness of holiness, we shall not be likely, such are the laws of the human mind, to attain it. Perhaps we may say, that without this belief it will be impossible to attain it. And without holiness, without a heart thoroughly purified from the stains of voluntary transgression, we may be assured that we shall not enter into the secrets of the Most High; the Hidden Life will be hidden to us: and there will be many things in the Christian’s privileges, more precious than rubies, which will never, in the present state of being, come within the range of our experience.

But before we can decide whether holiness is attainable, we must endeavor to form some definite conception of its nature. And here it may be proper to remark, that we are obliged to travel over ground which has already been repeatedly occupied by former writers. We shall, therefore, be as concise, as will be at all consistent with giving any thing like a correct idea of the subject.

FIRST.—And in the first place, we proceed to remark, that the holiness, which Christ requires in his people, and which, in order to distinguish it from Adamic perfection, is sometimes designated as evangelical or gospel holiness, does not necessarily imply a perfection of the physical system. Adam, before his fall, was a perfect man physically as well as mentally. His senses were sound; his limbs symmetrical; his muscular powers uninjured; and in all merely corporeal or physical respects, we may reasonably suppose, that he possessed all that could be desired. But this is not our present condition. Far from it. In consequence of the fall of Adam, we inherit bodies that are subject to various weaknesses and infirmities. Many are called, in the Providence of God, to endure a great degree of suffering through the whole course of their days. These weaknesses and infirmities, which are often the source of great perplexity and suffering, are natural to us. To a considerable extent at least, we cannot prevent their coming; nor, when they have come, can we, by any mere voluntary acts, send them away. We admit, therefore, if gospel holiness necessarily implies physical perfection, that none can be holy. But this is not the case.

SECOND.—We remark, in the second place, that evangelical or gospel holiness does not necessarily imply a perfection of the intellect, either in its perceptive or in its comparing and judging powers. The perfection of the intellectual action depends in part on the perfection of physical action; on the perfection, for instance, of the organs of sense, the organs of the sight, hearing, and touch. But in our present fallen condition, it is well known that these and other physical instrumentalities, which have a greater or less connection with the mental action, are greatly disordered. And the natural and necessary consequence of this state of things will be a degree of perplexity and obscurity in such mental action. And such is the connection of the powers of the mind, one with another, that an erroneous action in one part of the mind will be likely to lay the foundation for a degree of erroneous action in some other part. Hence in the present life a perfect knowledge of things, either in themselves or in their relations, may be regarded in the light of a physical impossibility. And such perfect knowledge, in which there is not the least possible mistake or error, does not appear to be required of us in the gospel, as a necessary condition of holiness and of acceptance with God.

It may be added here, that in this respect also our condition appears to differ from that of our first parent. Adam, it is true, did not possess omniscience, but within the range of his perceptive powers he was not subject to error. So far as God permitted him to know at all, he knew correctly. So that relatively to the sphere of his ability and action, he was as perfect intellectually, as he was corporeally and physically.

THIRD.—In the third place, there is ground for saying, that the holiness which, in accordance with the principles of the gospel, is required to be exercised in the present life, differs in some respects from the holiness or sanctification of a future life. It is important to add, however, that it does not differ in its nature; but only in some of its accessories or incidents. In its nature holiness ever will be, and ever must be the same; but it may differ in some of the attendant circumstances or incidents, under which it exists. One of the particulars of an accessory or incidental character, in which the holiness of the future life may be regarded as differing from that of the present, is, that it is not liable, by any possibility whatever, to any interruption or suspension. No physical infirmity, no weariness or perplexity, of body or of mind, nothing will ever, even for a moment, either vitiate or weaken the purity of its exercises. The spiritual body, which constitutes the residence of the soul in its heavenly state, accelerates and perfects its operations, instead of retarding and perplexing them; so that its purity is always unstained, its joy always full, the song of its worship always new. Another ground of difference between the sanctification or holiness of the present and that of the future life is to be found in the circumstance, that in the present life we are subject to perpetual and heavy temptations. No one, however advanced in religious experience, is wholly exempt from them. On the contrary, persons, who are the most holy, often endure temptations of the severest kind. But it is not so in the heavenly world. In that happier place the contest ceases forever. There is not only no sin, and no possibility of sinning; but no temptation to sin. While, therefore, we hold to the possibility of a freedom from actual voluntary transgression in this life, it ought to be understood that we do not hold to a freedom from temptation. So that we may speak of the continuance of the spiritual warfare in the present life, as a matter of necessity, but not of the continuance of sin as a matter of necessity.

We may also admit, in addition to what has been remarked, that all mere physical infirmities, which originate in our fallen condition, but which necessarily prevent our doing for God what we should otherwise do; and also all unavoidable errors and imperfections of judgment, which in their ultimate causes result from sin, (we have reference here to Adam’s sin)
require an atonement. It seems to be clear, that God constituted the human race on the principle of an unity, or perhaps more precisely, of a close connection, of obligations and interests; linking together man with man, as with bands of iron, in the various civil, social, and domestic relations. And in consequence of the existence of the great connective laws of nature, (laws which our own judgments and consciences alike approve,) it seems to be the case, that we may sometimes justly suffer, in our own persons, results which are of a punitive kind, although in their source flowing from the evil conduct of others rather than our own. And hence it is that the head of a family ordinarily does not sin, without affecting the happiness of its members. Nor does any member of the family ordinarily sin without involving others in the consequences of the transgression. Nor does the head of a community, or of a State, or of any other associated body, commit errors and crimes without a diffusion of the attendant misery through the subordinate parts of the association. In other words, an union or association of relations and interests, whether it be established by ourselves or by that higher Being with whose wisdom we ought ever to be satisfied, necessarily induces a common liability to error, suffering, and punishment.

And in accordance with this view, we may very properly, sincerely, and deeply mourn over those various infirmities and imperfections, which flow out of our connection with an erring and fallen parent, although they are very different in their nature from deliberate and voluntary transgressions; and may with deep humility make application to the blood of Christ, as alone possessing that atoning efficacy, which can wash their stains away. In other words, God is to be regarded as righteous in exacting from us whatever we could or might have rendered him if Adam had not fallen, and if the race had remained holy. Nevertheless he has mercifully seen fit to remit or forgive all these involuntary sins, more commonly and perhaps more justly called imperfections or trespasses, if we will but cordially accept of the atonement in the blood of Christ. But without the shedding of blood and confession, there is no more remission in this case than in any other. It is probably in reference to such imperfections or trespasses, rather than to sins of a deliberate and voluntary nature, that some good people speak of the moral certainty or necessity we are under of sinning all the time. If such is all their meaning, it is not very necessary to dispute with them.

What, then, after these various remarks and explanations, is the nature of Christian perfection, or of that holiness, which, as fallen and as physically and intellectually imperfect creatures, we are imperatively required and expected to exercise; and to exercise not merely in the “article of death,” but at the present moment and during every succeeding moment of our lives? It is on a question of this nature, if on any one which can possibly be proposed to the human understanding, that we must go to the Bible; and must humbly receive, irrespective of human suggestions and human opinions, the answer which the word of God gives. Happily for us, and happily for the world, this question is answered by the Savior himself; and in such a way as to leave the subject clear and satisfactory to humble and candid minds. When the Savior was asked, Which is the great commandment in the Law, he answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37–39. And it is in accordance with the truth, involved in this remarkable passage, that the apostle asserts, Romans 13:10, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”

He, therefore, who loves God with his whole heart and his neighbor as himself, although his state may in some incidental respects be different from that of Adam, and especially from that of the angels in heaven, and although he may be the subject of involuntary imperfections and infirmities, which, in consequence of his relation to Adam, require confession and atonement, is, nevertheless, in the gospel sense of the terms, a holy or sanctified person. He has that love, which is the “fulfilling of the law.” He bears the image of Christ. It is true, he may not have that physical or intellectual perfection which the Savior had; but he bears his moral image. And of such an one can it be said in the delightful words of the Saviour, John 14:23: “If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”

Holiness, as the term has now been explained, in other words, pure and perfect love, is required of all persons. We do not esteem it necessary to delay and repeat all the passages, in which the requisition is made. It is written very plainly upon all parts of the Bible, from the beginning to the end of it. “But as he, which hath called you, is holy,” says the apostle Peter, “so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be ye holy, for I am holy.” All, therefore, which we have to say further at the present time is this: Those, who aim at the possession of the Hidden Life, who wish to walk with God and to hold communion with him in the interior man, as a friend converses with a friend, will find these glorious results impossible to them, except on the condition of HOLINESS OF HEART. So long as they indulge voluntarily in any known sin, they erect a wall of separation between themselves and their heavenly Father; and he cannot and will not take them into his bosom, and reveal to them the hidden secrets of his love. They must stand far off; we do not say that they are utterly rejected; but they occupy the position of their own selection; obscure and perplexed in their own experience, and darkness and perplexity to all around them.