Holiness - Introduction (1)


The twenty papers contained in this volume are a humble contribution to a cause which is exciting much interest in the present day - I mean the cause of scriptural holiness. It is a cause which everyone who loves Christ, and desires to advance His kingdom in the world, should endeavour to help forward. Everyone can do something and I wish to add my mite.

The reader will find little that is directly controversial in these papers. I have carefully abstained from naming modern teachers and modern books. I have been content to give the result of my own study of the Bible, my own private meditations, my own prayers for light and my own reading of old divines. If in anything I am still in error, I hope I shall be shown it before I leave the world. We all see in part, and have a treasure in earthen vessels. I trust I am willing to learn.

I have had a deep conviction for many years that practical holiness and entire self-consecration to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country. Politics, or controversy, or party spirit, or worldliness, have eaten out the heart of lively piety in too many of us. The subject of personal godliness has fallen sadly into the background. The standard of living has become painfully low in many quarters. The immense importance of 'adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour' (Tit_2:10), and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers, has been far too much overlooked. Worldly people sometimes complain with reason that 'religious' persons, so-called, are not so amiable and unselfish and good-natured as others who make no profession of religion. Yet sanctification, in its place and proportion, is quite as important as justification. Sound Protestant and evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised by keen-sighted and shrewd men of the world, as an unreal and hollow thing, and brings religion into contempt. It is my firm impression that we want a thorough revival about scriptural holiness, and I am deeply thankful that attention is being directed to the point.

It is, however, of great importance that the whole subject should be placed on right foundations, and that the movement about it should not be damaged by crude, disproportioned and one-sided statements. If such statements abound, we must not be surprised. Satan knows well the power of true holiness and the immense injury which increased attention to it will do to his kingdom. It is his interest, therefore, to promote strife and controversy about this part of God's truth. Just as in time past he has succeeded in mystifying and confusing men's minds about justification, so he is labouring in the present day to make men 'darken counsel by words without knowledge' about sanctification. May the Lord rebuke him! I cannot, however, give up the hope that good will be brought out of evil, that discussion will elicit truth, and that variety of opinion will lead us all to search the Scriptures more, to pray more and to become more diligent in trying to find out what is 'the mind of the Spirit'.

I now feel it a duty, in sending forth this volume, to offer a few introductory hints to those whose attention is specially directed to the subject of sanctification in the present day. I know that I do so at the risk of seeming presumptuous and possibly of giving offence. But something must be ventured in the interests of God's truth. I shall therefore put my hints into the form of questions, and I shall request my readers to take them as 'cautions for the times on the subject of holiness'.

1. I ask, in the first place, whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do nowadays in handling the doctrine of sanctification. Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked and unqualified a way as many do, that the holiness of converted people is by faith only and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God's Word? I doubt it.

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness; that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ; that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness; that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy; that the life that we live in the flesh we must live by the faith of the Son of God; that faith purifies the heart; that faith is the victory which overcomes the world; that by faith the elders obtained a good report - all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith. The very same apostle who says in one place, 'The life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,' says in another place, 'I fight,' 'I run,' 'I keep under my body,' and in other places, 'Let us cleanse ourselves,' 'Let us labour,' 'Let us lay aside every weight' (Gal_2:20; 1Co_9:26, 1Co_9:27; 2Co_7:1; Heb_4:11; Heb_12:1). Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the same sense and in the same manner that faith justifies us! Justifying faith is a grace that 'worketh not', but simply trusts, rests and leans on Christ (Rom_4:5). Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it 'worketh by love' and, like a mainspring, moves the whole inward man (Gal_5:6). After all, the precise phrase 'sanctified by faith' is only found once in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus said to Saul, 'I send thee, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.' Yet even there I agree with Alford, that 'by faith' belongs to the whole sentence and must not be tied to the word 'sanctified'. The true sense is: 'that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified' (compare Act_26:18 with Act_20:32).

As to the phrase 'holiness by faith', I find it nowhere in the New Testament. Without controversy, in the matter of our justification before God, faith in Christ is the one thing needful. All that simply believe are justified. Righteousness is imputed "to him that worketh not but believeth' (Rom_4:5). It is thoroughly scriptural and right to say, 'Faith alone justifies.' But it is not equally scriptural and right to say, 'Faith alone sanctifies.' The saying requires very large qualification. Let one fact suffice. We are frequently told that a man is 'justified by faith without the deeds of the law' by St Paul. But not once are we told that we are 'sanctified by faith without the deeds of the law'. On the contrary, we are expressly told by St James that the faith whereby we are visibly and demonstratively justified before man, is a faith which, 'if it hath not works is dead, being alone ‹I1› (Jam_2:17). I may be told, in reply, that no one, of course, means to disparage 'works' as an essential part of a holy life. It would be well, however, to make this more plain than many seem to make it in these days.

to be continued