PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
Directions to aid in the attainment of Holiness.
HAVING in the second Chapter attempted to show, that the higher realizations of the religious life, those in which the wall of separation is broken down and the fallen spirit of man emerges into unity with its maker, can exist only in connection with holiness of heart, the next important question to be considered is, How we may attain to a state of holiness? How may we experience the desirable change from weakness of faith to assurance of faith, from a weak and vacillating love to perfection of love, or, what is to be regarded as essentially the same thing, from a partial to a state of entire sanctification? In reply to this interesting inquiry, we proceed to remark, that there are three things, upon which, in connection with the operations and influences of the Holy Spirit, this great result seems especially to depend.
FIRST.—And the first is a belief in the attainableness of sanctification or holiness at the present time.
There are two acknowledged principles in the philosophy of the human mind, which have an important connection with such belief. The first is, that we never can feel under moral obligation to do a thing which we believe impossible to be done. Now the popular doctrine, that no man ever has been sanctified, or ever will be sanctified, till the moment of death, places, in the view of the common mind, the opposite doctrine, viz. that sanctification is attainable at any period of life, in the light of an impossibility. The idea, that no man has been sanctified or will be sanctified till death, is inexplicable in the view of men generally, except on the ground that there is some insuperable obstacle in the way of it, although they may not readily perceive or explain what that obstacle is. The conviction of the impossibility of present sanctification will exist in the common mind as it has done in times past, just so long as the popular doctrine, that there have not been and never will be cases of it, prevails. And the consequence is, as might naturally be expected, that throughout a great proportion of the churches the sense of obligation to be holy is very feeble. It is not wrought into the mind; it does not weigh upon it heavily, and give it no rest. Nor is it possible on the principles of mental philosophy that it should, while the common notions on this subject remain. Men will never feel the obligation to be what they believe it impossible for them to be.—Now this great work of holiness, we venture to say, will never be accomplished in us without a deep sense of our obligation to be holy.
Another principle, involved in the philosophy of the mind, and having a connection with this subject, is this: No person, such is the relation between the will and belief, can put forth a volition to do a thing, which at the same time he believes impossible to be done. I do not believe, for instance, in the possibility of flying in the air; and I am unable to put forth a volition to do any such thing. I may exercise a desire to fly in the air; but while I have an utter disbelief in its possibility, I shall never put forth a volition to do it. So if I disbelieve in the possibility of being holy, I can never put forth a volition, that is to say, a fixed determination, to be so. I may put forth a volition to do many good things; I may put forth a volition to grow in grace; but to put forth a volition, a fixed, unalterable determination, with divine assistance, to resist and overcome every sin, to be wholly the Lord’s, to be holy, when I believe such a result to be unattainable, is what, on the principles of the philosophy of the mind, I am unable to do. I might as well put forth a volition to create a continent, or to remove the Rocky Mountains into the Pacific Ocean, or to do any thing else, which I know it to be impossible for me to do.
Now if these two philosophical principles have been correctly stated, first, that the sense of obligation to be holy at the present time will depend on a belief in the present attainableness of holiness; and, second, that the volition or voluntary determination to be holy now, necessarily presupposes the same belief; then we see very clearly the importance of being established in this doctrine. Who can expect to be holy now, and holy through his whole life, that does not feel the weight of obligation to be so? Still more, who can reasonably expect to be holy, that does not put forth a volition, a fixed, unalterable determination with divine assistance to be so? And if these, the obligation and the volition or fixed purpose of mind, depend on the antecedent belief, then evidently the first great preparatory step to a holy life, is, to be fully settled in the doctrine;—in other words, to believe fully in the attainableness of holiness at the present time. And this, as the matter presents itself to my own mind, is, practically, a very important conclusion. Upon the mind, that can appreciate the relation and the application of the principles which have just been laid down, the reception of the common doctrine of the impossibility of present sanctification presses with the weight of a millstone. A person in this position feels, that he cannot move; he is like a man that is shut up in prison and in irons, and in accordance with the saying, that “hope deferred maketh the heart sick,” he soon ceases to make effort, when there is nothing but defeat before him. We say, then, to every one, who feels the importance of this subject, and who is sincerely desirous to be holy in heart, go to the Bible. Go with a single eye. Go in the spirit of humble prayer. And see whether the Lord does not require you to be wholly his, in the exercise of assurance of faith and of perfect love;—and whether he has not, in the blood of his Son, made ample provision for this blessed result?
SECOND.—In answer to the question, how we may attain to holiness, we proceed to say, that a second indispensable thing is an act of personal consecration to God. Some confound such an act of consecration with the full or complete state of sanctification. But this confusion of ideas ought to be avoided. Sanctification is something more than the consecrating act. Consecration is simply putting forth the volition, (a foundation for which is now laid in the belief of the duty and the attainableness of holiness,) the fixed unalterable determination, with divine assistance, to be wholly the Lord’s. In other words, it is a fixed purpose, not to be altered during the whole period of our existence, to break off from every known sin; and to walk, to the full extent of our ability, in the way of the divine requirements. God recognizes the moral agency of man, fallen as he is; and very properly calls upon him and requires him to make this consecration, however unavailable it may ultimately be without his own accessory aid. Now it does not necessarily follow, because we put forth a determination to do a thing, that the thing is done; although it is certain that the thing will never be done without the previous determination. Such a consecration, therefore, extending to all that we are and all that we have, is necessary. And let it not be said, that we have no power to make it. We are not speaking now of persons, who are in the deadness of original unconversion. We are speaking of Christians, of persons in a justified state, whose dead wills have been partially quickened by the Holy Ghost, and who certainly can do something in this way. Such a consecration, therefore, made with the whole soul and for all coming time, is necessary.
And it is so, first, because we can have no available faith in the promises of God without it. It is a great complaint in the Christian church at the present day, that there is a want of faith. If we may take the statements of Christians themselves, they do not believe; certainly not as they should do. And why is it? It is because they have not fully consecrated themselves to God; in other words, they continue to indulge in some known sins. Such are the laws of the mind, that they cannot have full faith in God as a friend and father to them, so long as they are conscious of voluntarily sinning against him. The Saviour himself has distinctly recognized the principle, that faith under such circumstances is an impossibility. “How can ye believe, who receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” If we seek the honor that cometh from God, in other words, if in the fixed purpose of our minds we consecrate ourselves to him, to do, as far as in us lies, his whole will, then, and not otherwise, we can believe that he will be to us, and do for us, all that he has promised in his Holy Word. It is precisely here as it is in common life. It is impossible for us, in our intercourse of man with man, to believe that a man whom we deliberately sin against and injure, has confidence in us and loves us, provided we are certain that he has knowledge of the fact. The principle will be found to hold good in regard to God as well as man. Before Adam and Eve sinned, they had faith in God as their father and friend. But their faith failed as soon as they had sinned; and they immediately hid themselves from his presence. If we would have faith, therefore, we must endeavor by consecration to cease from all known voluntary sin. In entire accordance with these views are the remarkable expressions in the first epistle of John. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.”
An act of entire consecration is necessary, so far as it is in our power to make it, secondly, because we have no encouragement to believe that God will sanctify us in the state of personal and spiritual inactivity and declension. As has already been said, God recognizes the moral agency of man, fallen as he is; and especially when, after having justified him by the application of the Saviour’s blood, he has given him the principle of a new spiritual life. It is because he has given us the power of distinguishing between good and evil; because he has given us judgment and conscience and will; because he has breathed into us the breath of a new spiritual life; thereby putting us into communication with himself, and opening to us the fountains of everlasting strength, that he has the right and exercises the right of requiring us to surrender all to him. And if we find the attempt difficult, as no doubt on account of our past lives we shall be very likely to, he nevertheless requires that we shall do all that we can. And it is at this point, when we have put forth, with all the energy and sincerity of our being, the unalterable determination, relying upon divine assistance, that we will be wholly his, that he meets us. The two principles of entire consecration and of divine assistance to the full extent of the promises, go together. And both are embodied in that remarkable passage of Scripture, which should be written upon the heart of every believer, “Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and my daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18.
It will of course be understood, that, in making this act of consecration, we have a sincere and earnest desire for holiness. We cannot suppose it possible, that it should be made in any other state of mind.
THIRD.—A third thing requisite in order to present sanctification, is a full belief in the faithfulness of God in relation to the fulfillment of his promises. Having believed, first, that holiness is a duty, and that such provision is made for it as to render it attainable; and having, secondly, consecrated ourselves to God in all things to do his will, we are now, in the third place, to have faith in him, that he will do what he has voluntarily assumed as his own part; in other words, that he will fulfill the promises he has graciously made; that he will accept the sacrifice which we have deliberately laid upon his altar; and make us fully and entirely his. This is oftentimes the most difficult thing of the whole; difficult, not in itself considered, but in consequence of our naturally fallen condition. Some, it is true, believe easily;—believe at once; and of course enter in at such an open door, that they are filled with surprise. But many stumble at this point. They feel the dreadful effects of former habits of mind. That old unbelief, which has so long kept them far from God, still clings to them. They hesitate, linger, become discouraged, and are oftentimes defeated. It is at this crisis of one’s religious history, that the saying of Elizabeth to Mary has an especial meaning; “Blessed is she that believed.”
There is one thing, in particular, which seems to render it necessary to believe that God does now accept the consecration, which is made. It is, that this belief constitutes, if we may so express it, the transition point, (or rather perhaps the transition itself,) from consecration to sanctification. In the act of consecration we solemnly promise the Lord, that, relying upon his grace, we will now and forever break off from every known sin. But in exercising faith in God as true to his promises and as giving us strength to be his and as now receiving us, we may be said in some respects to do a still greater work, viz. we renounce absolutely and entirely all self-reliance and all confidence in our own strength. And he, who breaks off from every known sin; and at the same time in full reliance upon the word of God and with childlike simplicity, leaves himself entirely and in all things in the hands of God, unresistingly to receive the suggestions and to fulfill the guidance of the Holy Spirit, necessarily becomes, in the Scripture sense of the terms, a holy or sanctified person. He becomes so, because he is precisely in that position, in which God desires him to be, and in which the grace of God is pledged to give redemption and victory. God necessarily receives him. In other words, he passes from a state of rebellion to one of submission; from a state of unbelief to one of childlike confidence and from himself and out of himself into God.
The difficulty of believing at this particular crisis results not only from our former habits of unbelief; but also in part, although it may seem to be a contradiction, from the extreme simplicity and facility of the thing to be done. The internal process in the minds of many persons, when they arrive at this specific point, seems to be like this. Is it possible, they say, that we can experience so great a blessing in a manner so easy, so simple, that we stumble at its very simplicity? Must we experience the great work of interior salvation in the way of renunciation, by merely giving up all and by sinking into the simplicity and nothingness of little children? Is there nothing, which is personally meritorious, nothing which is the subject of self-gratulation, neither in the beginning, nor in the progress, nor in the completion of the divine life? And thus, through the extreme goodness of God in making the way so easy, they are confused and kept back. In a word, they disbelieve, simply because in this position of their experience, nothing is required but believing. Happy is he, who, in losing all things, gains all things. Happy is he, who alienates himself from himself, in order that God may take possession of that self, which he has renounced. Again we repeat, “Blessed is she that believed.” It is in the exercise of belief, under the circumstances which we have now been considering, that we realize the full import of those striking passages of Scripture, (passages which we shall probably have occasion to remark upon hereafter) Mark 11:24, “Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” And 1st Epistle of John 5:15, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
A faithful and persevering application of the principles laid down in this chapter, attended with reliance on God for his blessing, will result, we have no doubt, in leading persons into the narrow and holy way. We say persevering application, because in nothing is perseverance, a fixed tenacity of purpose, more desirable than in the pursuit of holiness. He, who puts his hand to the plough here, with the secret reservation that he will look back when he pleases, might as well make no beginning. There must be a fixedness of determination, which will not be discouraged by any obstacles; an inflexible will, which, with God’s blessing, will continue steadfast to the end.