« Prev 2. Wherein it consists. Next »

§ 2. Wherein it consists.

Admitting sanctification to be a supernatural work, the question still remains, What does it consist in? What is the nature of the effect produced? The truth which lies at the foundation of all the Scriptural representations of this subject is, that regeneration, the quickening, of which believers are the subject, while it involves the implanting, or communication of a new principle or form of life, does not effect the immediate and entire deliverance of the soul from all sin. A man raised from the dead may be and long continue to be, in a very feeble, diseased, and suffering state. So the soul by nature dead in sin, may be quickened together with Christ, and not be rendered thereby perfect. The principle of life may be very feeble, it may have much in the soul uncongenial with its nature, and the conflict between the old and the new life may be protracted and painful. Such not only may be, but such in fact is the case in all the ordinary experience of the people of God. Here we find one of the characteristic and far-reaching differences between the Romish and Protestant systems of doctrine and religion. According to the Romish system, nothing of the nature of sin remains in the soul after regeneration as effected in baptism. From this the theology of the Church of Rome deduces its doctrine of the merit of good works; of perfection; of works of supererogation; and, indirectly, those of absolution and indulgences. But according to the Scriptures, the universal experience of Christians, and the undeniable evidence of history, regeneration does not remove all sin. The Bible is filled with the record of the inward conflicts of the most eminent of the servants of God, with their falls, their backslidings, their repentings, and their lamentations over their continued shortcomings. And not only this, but the nature of the conflict between good and evil in the heart of the renewed is fully described, the contending principles are distinguished and designated, and the necessity, difficulties, and perils of the struggle, well as the method of properly sustaining it, are set forth 221repeatedly and in detail. In the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans we have an account of this conflict elaborately described by the Apostle as drawn from his own experience. And the same thing occurs in Galatians v. 16, 17. This I say then, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Again, in Ephesians vi. 10-18, in view of the conflict which the believer has to sustain with the evils of his own heart and with the powers of darkness, the Apostle exhorts his brethren to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. . . . . “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

With the teachings of the Scriptures the experience of Christians in all ages and in all parts of the Church agrees. Their writings are filled with the account of their struggles with the remains of sin in their own hearts; with confessions; with prayers for divine aid; and with longings after the final victory over all evil, which is to be experienced only in heaven. The great lights of the Latin Church, the Augustines and Bernards and Fénélons, were humble, penitent, struggling believers, even to the last, and with Paul did not regard themselves as having already attained, or as being already perfect. And what the Bible and Christian experience prove to be true, history puts beyond dispute. Either there is no such thing as regeneration in the world, or regeneration does not remove all sin from those who are its subjects.

Putting off the Old, and putting on the New Man.

Such being the foundation of the Scriptural representations concerning sanctification, its nature is thereby determined. As all men since the fall are in a state of sin, not only sinners because guilty of specific acts of transgression, but also as depraved, their nature perverted and corrupted, regeneration is the infusion of a new principle of life in this corrupt nature. It is leaven introduced to diffuse its influence gradually through the whole mass. Sanctification, therefore, consists in two things: first, the removing more and more the principles of evil still infecting our nature, and destroying their power; and secondly, the growth of the principle of spiritual life until it controls the thoughts, feelings, and acts, and brings the soul into conformity to the image of Christ.

Paul details his own Experience in Romans vii. 7-25.

The classical passages of the New Testament on the nature of this work are the following, — Romans vii. 7-25. This is not the place to enter upon the discussion whether the Apostle in this passage is detailing his own experience or not. This is the interpretation given to it by Augustinians in all ages. It is enough to say here that the “onus probandi” rests on those who take the opposite view of the passage. It must require very strong proof that the Apostle is not speaking of himself and giving his own experience as a Christian, when, —

1. His object in the whole discussion throughout the sixth and seventh chapters, is to prove that the law, as it cannot justify, neither can it sanctify; as it cannot deliver from the guilt, so neither can it free us from the power of sin. This is not the fault of the law, for it is spiritual, holy, just, and good. It commends itself to the reason and the conscience as being just what it ought to be; requiring neither more nor less than what it is right should be demanded, and threatening no penalty which want of conformity to its requirements does not justly merit. What is the effect of the objective presentation of the ideal standard of moral perfection to which we are bound to be conformed on the penalty of death? The Apostle tells us that the effects are, (a.) A great increase of knowledge. He had not known lust, had not the law said, Thou shalt not covet. (b.) A sense of moral pollution, and consequently of shame and self-loathing. (c.) A sense of guilt, or of just exposure to the penalty of the law of which our whole lives are a continued transgression. (d.) A sense of utter helplessness. The standard, although holy, just, and good, is too high. We know we never can of ourselves conform to it; neither can we make satisfaction for past transgression. (e.) The result of the whole is despair. The law kills. It destroys not only all self-complacency, but all hope of ever being able to effect our own salvation. (f.) And thus it lead. the sinner to look out of himself for salvation; i.e., for deliverance from the power, as well as the guilt of sin. The law is a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. Why could not the Apostle say all this of himself? There is nothing here inconsistent with the character or experience of a true believer. It is as true of the Christian that he is not sanctified by moral suasion, by the objective presentation of truth, as it is of the unrenewed sinner, that he is not regenerated by any such outward influences. It is, 223therefore, perfectly pertinent to the Apostle’s object that he should detail his own experience that sanctification could not be effected by the law.

2. But in the second place, he uses the first person singular throughout. He says, “I had not known sin,” “I died,” “The commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death,” “I consent unto the law that it is good,” “I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law in my members,” etc., etc. We are bound to understand the Apostle to speak of himself in the use of such language, unless there be something in the context, or m the nature of what is said, to render the reference to him impossible. It has been shown, however, that the context favours, if it does not absolutely demand the reference of what is said to the Apostle himself. And that there is nothing in the experience here detailed inconsistent with the experience of the true children of God, is evident from the fact that the same humility, the same sense of guilt, the same consciousness of indwelling sin, the same conviction of helplessness, here expressed, are found in all the penitential portions of Scripture. Job, David, Isaiah, and Nehemiah, make the same confessions and lamentations that the Apostle here makes. The same is true of believers since the coming of Christ. There is no one of them, not even the holiest, who is not constrained to speak of himself as Paul here speaks, unless indeed he chooses to give the language of the Apostle a meaning which it was never intended to express.

3. While the passage contains nothing inconsistent with the experience of true believers, it is inconsistent with the experience of unrenewed men. They are not the subjects of the inward conflict here depicted. There is in them indeed often a struggle protracted and painful, between reason and conscience on the one side, and evil passion on the other. But there is not in the unrenewed that utter renunciation of self, that looking for help to God in Christ alone, and that delight in the law of God, of which the Apostle here speaks.

What Romans vii. 7-25 teaches.

Assuming, then, that we have in this chapter an account of the experience of a true and even of an advanced Christian, we learn that in every Christian there is a mixture of good and evil; that the original corruption of nature is not entirely removed by regeneration; that although the believer is made a new creature, 224is translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, he is but partially sanctified; that his selfishness pride, discontent, worldliness, still cleave to, and torment him, that they effectually prevent his “doing what he would,” they prevent his living without sin, they prevent his intercourse with God being as intimate and uninterrupted as he could and does desire. He finds not only that he is often, even daily, overcome so as to sin in thought, word, and deed, but also that his faith, love, zeal, and devotion are never such as to satisfy his own conscience; much less can they satisfy God. He therefore is daily called upon to confess, repent, and pray for forgiveness. The Apostle designates these conflicting principles which he found within himself, the one, indwelling sin; “sin that dwelleth in me;” or the “law in my members;” “the law of sin;” the other, “the mind,” “the law of my mind,” “the inward man.” His internal self, the Ego, was sometimes controlled by the one, and sometimes by the other.

We learn, further, that the control of the evil principle is resisted, that subjection to it is regarded as a hateful bondage, that the good principle is in the main victorious, and that through Christ it will ultimately be completely triumphant. Sanctification therefore, according to this representation, consists in the gradual triumph of the new nature implanted in regeneration over the evil that still remains after the heart is renewed. In other words, as elsewhere expressed, it is a dying unto sin and living unto righteousness. (1 Pet. ii. 24.)

Galatians v. 16-26.

Another passage of like import is Galatians v. 16-26, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not full the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,” etc., etc. The Scriptures teach that the Spirit of God dwells in his people, not only collectively as the Church, but individually in every believer, so that of every Christian it may be said, he is a temple of the Holy Ghost. God is said to dwell wherever He permanently manifests his presence, whether as of old in the temple, or in the hearts of his people, in the Church, or in heaven. And as the Spirit dwells in believers, He there manifests his life-giving, controlling power, and is in them the principle, or source, or controlling influence which determines their inward and outward life. 225By the flesh, in the doctrinal portions of Scripture, is never, unless the word be limited by the context, meant merely our sensuous nature, but our fallen nature, i.e., our nature as it is in itself, apart from the Spirit of God. As our Lord says (John iii. 6), “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” These then are the principles which “are contrary the one to the other.” No man can act independently of both. He must obey one or the other. He may sometimes obey the one, and sometimes the other; but one or the other must prevail. The Apostle says of believers that they have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. They have renounced the authority of the evil principle; they do not willingly, or of set purpose, or habitually yield to it. They struggle against it, and not only endeavour, but actually do crucify it, although it may die a long and painful death.

Ephesians iv. 22-24.

In Ephesians iv. 22-24, we are told: “Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and” put ye “on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” By the old man is to be understood the former self with all the evils belonging to its natural state. This was to be laid aside as a worn and soiled garment, and a new, pure self, the new man, was to take its place. This change, although expressed in a figure borrowed from a change of raiment, was a profound inward change produced by a creating process, by which the soul is new fashioned after the image of God in righteousness and holiness. It is a renewing as to the Spirit, i.e., the interior life of the mind; or as Meyer and Ellicott, the best of modern commentators, both interpret the phrase, “By the Spirit” (the Holy Spirit) dwelling in the mind. This is a transformation in which believers are exhorted to cooperate; for which they are to labour, and which is therefore a protracted work. Sanctification, therefore, according to this representation, consists in the removal of the evils which belong to us in our natural condition, and in being made more and more conformed to the image of God through the gracious influence of the Spirit of God dwelling in us.

It is not, however, merely in such passages as those above cited that the nature of sanctification is set forth. The Bible is full of exhortations and commands addressed to the people of God, to 226those recognized and assumed to be regenerate, requiring them, on the one hand, to resist their evil passions and propensities, to lay aside all malice, and wrath, and pride, and jealousy; and on the other, to cultivate all the graces of the Spirit, faith, love, hope, long-suffering, meekness, lowliness of mind, and brotherly kindness. At the same time they are reminded that it is God who worketh in them both to will and to do, and that therefore they are constantly to seek his aid and to depend upon his assistance.

It follows from this view of the subject that sanctification is not only, as before proved, a supernatural work, but also that it does not consist exclusively in a series of a new kind of acts. It is the making the tree good, in order that the fruit may be good. It involves an essential change of character. As regeneration is not an act of the subject of the work, but in the language of the Bible a new birth, a new creation, a quickening or communicating a new life, and in the language of the old Latin Church, the infusion of new habits of grace; so sanctification in its essential nature is not holy acts, but such a change in the state of the soul, that sinful acts become more infrequent, and holy acts more and more habitual and controlling. This view alone is consistent with the Scriptural representations, and with the account given in the Bible of the way in which this radical change of character is carried on and consummated.

« Prev 2. Wherein it consists. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |