“Let us cleanse ourselves from all
filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting
holiness in the fear of. God.”
Sanctification belongs to the mysteries of faith; hence it can not be confessed but as a dogma.
By this statement we intend to cut off at once every representation which makes “sanctification” to consist of the human effort to make oneself holy or holier.
To become more holy is undoubtedly the duty which rests upon every man. God has condemned all unholiness, as an accursed thing. Inferior holiness can not exist before Him. Every man more or less holy is bound to forsake all unholiness, to resign all lesser holiness, and let perfect holiness dwell and be manifest in him instantly. The commandment, “Be ye holy as I am holy,”
In the innumerable territories of heaven where God gathers His redeemed, all unholiness is excluded and absolute holiness is the never-failing characteristic. And as it is in heaven, so it ought to be on earth. God, the sovereign Ruler of all the kingdoms of this world, has strictly forbidden the least unholiness in heart or home, or any other place on earth under the penalty of death. In fact, there is on earth no unholiness of whatever name or form, that does not exist in defiance of His express will.
It must be conceded, therefore, that it is His revealed will and commandment that all this unholiness must cease immediately, and be replaced directly by what is holy and good. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
It must be equally conceded that it is every man’s duty to remove
The obligation to resanctify this world’s life rests in its deepest sense upon Satan. He instilled into our veins the poison which generates the diseases of our souls. The spark that caused the fire of sinful passions to break out inhuman nature was kindled by him. That Satan is hopelessly lost and condemned, does not annul God’s eternal right. Even Satan himself, according to this right, ought immediately to repent and stand before God holy as in the beginning. And this world of men, which he corrupted, was not his, but belonged to God. He should never have touched it. Hence the obligation continues to rest upon him not only to stop his unholy working in it, but also to reconsecrate perfectly what he has so bitterly and maliciously profaned.
That Satan neither will nor can do this justifies his fearful judgment; but it does not annul God’s right and never will. If in Paradise man had unwillingly fallen a victim to Satan, the obligation to resanctify the life of this world would have rested upon Satan, but not upon him. But man fell willingly; sin owes its existence not only to the fatherhood of Satan, but also to the motherhood of man’s soul; hence man himself is involved in the guilt and included under the judgment of death, and therefore obliged to restore what he has ruined.
God created man holy, with the power to continue holy; holy also by virtue of the increasing development of the implanted germ. But man ruined God’s work in his heart. He soiled the undefiled raiment of holiness. And doing this he violated the right. If he had belonged to himself, if God had allowed him to do with himself as he pleased, the right would not have been violated. But He did not give man to himself; He retained him for Himself as His own property. The hand that ruined and desecrated man destroyed God’s property, encroached upon the divine right of sovereignty—yea, upon His very right of ownership, and thus became liable (1) to the penalty for this encroachment, and (2) to the obligation of restoring the ruined property to its original state.
Hence the undeniable and positive obligation of mans self-sanctification. This obligation rests, not upon God, nor upon
Sanctify thyself does not mean that man should fulfil the law. The keeping of the law and sanctification are two entirely different things. Let the sinner first be sanctified, and then he shall also fulfil the law. First sanctification, then fulfilment of the law.
It is like a harp with broken strings. The harp was made to produce music by the harmonious vibration of the strings. But the production of music is not the mending of the harp. The broken strings must be replaced, the new strings must be tuned, and then is it possible to strike the melodious chords. The human heart is like that harp: God created it pure that we might keep the law; which an impure heart can not do. Hence being profaned and unholy, it must be sanctified; then it will be able to fulfil the law.
For the sake of clearness, two acknowledged facts should be noticed:
First, if man had never been profaned by sin, it would never have entered his mind to sanctify himself; and yet the law would have been fulfilled without disturbance. This shows that sanctification and fulfilment of the law are two entirely different things.
Second, sanctification continues until a man dies and enters heaven. Then he is holy. Hence there is no sanctification in heaven. Yet the only occupation of the saints in heaven is the doing of that which is good. Hence sanctification is a matter by itself; it does not consist in the doing of good works, but must be an accomplished fact before a single good work can be done.
Since man profaned himself, he is called of God to resanctify himself. Hence the claim of sanctification contains not even the shadow of a mystery. It has nothing to do with the mysteries, therefore is no dogma. It is the simplest and most natural verdict of God’s right in the conscience. That we speak of unholiness implies that we are convinced that we ought to be holy.
Is there contradiction, then, when we say, first, that sanctification itself is a mystery, and can be confessed only in the dogma; second that the demand of sanctification has nothing to do with the dogma?
Not in the least. Sinners of whom God demands that they sanctify themselves are, individually and collectively, totally unable to satisfy that demand. To a certain extent they can withdraw from sin and worldliness, and often have done so. Many unconverted men have done many praiseworthy works. In many cases lives have been reformed, the whole tone of existence has been improved from mere impulse, without a trace of real conversion. And, conceiving sanctification to consist in the doing of less evil and of more good, and that from an improved motive, it was thought that unholy man, tho unable to satisfy this divine claim perfectly, might satisfy it to some extent. But all this has nothing in common with sanctification, and can be accomplished wholly without it. With all his self-betterment he can not effect the least part of it; tho told a thousand times to sanctify himself, he is both unwilling and unable.
Hence the question: How, then, is sanctification to be accomplished? And since the question never received an answer from any of the sages, but only from God in His Word, therefore not the demand, but the means, of sanctification is for us incomprehensible and mysterious. Hence the character of sanctification must be emphasized as a mystery.
And what is the reason for denying that sanctification is a mystery, i.e., the content of a dogma? The supposition that it is of human origin, that man is not totally unable, and that sanctification is betterment of character and life. Hence it is tantamount to (1) a lowering of holiness to the human standpoint; (2) an opposing sanctification as a work of God. And this is a very serious matter. We should again become clearly conscious of the fact that the holiness without which no man shall see God is not attained by the departing from some evil and the habitual doing of some good.
The demand of sanctification belongs to the Covenant of Works; sanctification itself to the Covenant of Grace. This makes the difference very obvious. Not as tho the Covenant of Works commanded man to sanctify himself; given to holy men, it excluded sanctification. But God gave the Covenant of Grace to unholy
In this painful conflict we are often tempted to ask whether God is not unjust in His law to demand of us the impossible, and to lay the blame on Him; for did He not make us so? And from this difficulty the Arminian in our own heart seeks to escape, either by denying that there ever was a Covenant of Works; or by substituting the fulfilment of the law for sanctification.
Wherefore it is our aim, especially regarding this doctrine, to escape from this harmful confusion of ideas, and to arrive at a correct understanding and purity of expression. The preaching must not add to the chaos, but lead us to clear insight and understanding.
Instead of sweetly cradling ourselves upon the Word, we must earnestly endeavor to understand it. In city and country church the Word must be preached persistently, and with ever-increasing purity, until, convicted of personal unholiness, men begin to see that by absolute sanctification, not mere self-betterment; they must restore unto God His right; until, feeling their inability, with broken hearts they turn to God to receive the Mystery of Sanctification from the treasures of the Covenant of Grace.
Calvin College. Last modified on 08/11/06. Contact the CCEL.