Holiness - Introduction (2)

2. I ask, in the second place, whether it is wise to make so little, as some appear to do, comparatively, of the many practical exhortations to holiness in daily life which are to be found in the sermon on the mount, and in the latter part of most of St Paul's Epistles. Is it according to the proportion of God's Word? I doubt it.

That a life of daily self-consecration and daily communion with God should be aimed at by everyone who professes to be a believer; that we should strive to attain the habit of going to the Lord Jesus Christ with everything we find a burden, whether great or small, and casting it upon Him - all this, I repeat, no well-taught child of God will dream of disputing. But surely the New Testament teaches us that we want something more than generalities about holy living, which often prick no conscience and give no offence. The details and particular ingredients of which holiness is composed in daily life ought to be fully set forth and pressed on believers by all who profess to handle the subject. True holiness does not consist merely of believing and feeling, but of doing and bearing, and a practical exhibition of active and passive grace. Our tongues, our tempers, our natural passions and inclinations; our conduct as parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects; our dress, our employment of time, our behaviour in business, our demeanour in sickness and health, in riches and in poverty - all, all these are matters which are fully treated by inspired writers. They are not content with a general statement of what we should believe and feel and how we are to have the roots of holiness planted in our hearts. They dig down lower. They go into particulars. They specify minutely what a holy man ought to do and be in his own family, and by his own fireside, if he abides in Christ. I doubt whether this sort of teaching is sufficiently attended to in the movement of the present day. When people talk of having received 'such a blessing', and of having found 'the higher life', after hearing some earnest advocate of 'holiness by faith and self-consecration', while their families and friends see no improvement and no increased sanctity in their daily tempers and behaviour, immense harm is done to the cause of Christ. True holiness, we surely ought to remember, does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions. It is much more than tears and sighs and bodily excitement and a quickened pulse and a passionate feeling of attachment to our own favourite preachers and our own religious party and a readiness to quarrel with everyone who does not agree with us. It is something of 'the image of Christ', which can be seen and observed by others in our private life and habits and character and doings (Rom_8:29).

3. I ask, in the third place, whether it is wise to use vague language about 'perfection', and to press on Christians a standard of holiness, as attainable in this world, for which there is no warrant to be shown either in Scripture or experience. I doubt it.

That believers are exhorted to 'perfect holiness in the fear of God', to 'go on to perfection', to 'be perfect', no careful reader of his Bible will ever think of denying (2Co_7:1; Heb_6:1; 2Co_13:11). But I have yet to learn that there is a single passage in Scripture which teaches that a literal perfection, a complete and entire freedom from sin, in thought or word or deed, is attainable, or ever has been attained, by any child of Adam in this world. A comparative perfection, a perfection in knowledge, an all-round consistency in every relation of life, a thorough soundness in every point of doctrine - this may be seen occasionally in some of God's believing people. But as to an absolute literal perfection, the most eminent saints of God in every age have always been the very last to lay claim to it! On the contrary, they have always had the deepest sense of their own utter unworthiness and imperfection. The more spiritual light they have enjoyed, the more they have seen their own countless defects and shortcomings. The more grace they have had, the more they have been 'clothed with humility' (1Pe_5:5).

What saint can be named in God's Word, of whose life many details are recorded, who was literally and absolutely perfect? Which of them all, when writing about himself, ever talks of feeling free from imperfection? On the contrary, men like David and St Paul and St John declare in the strongest language that they feel in their own hearts weakness and sin. The holiest men of modern times have always been remarkable for deep humility. Have we ever seen holier men than the martyred John Bradford or Hooker or Usher or Baxter or Rutherford or M'Cheyne? Yet no one can read the writings and letters of these men without seeing that they felt themselves 'debtors to mercy and grace' every day, and the very last thing they ever laid claim to was perfection!

In the face of such facts as these I must protest against the language used in many quarters, in these last days, about 'perfection'. I must think that those who use it either know very little of the nature of sin, or of the attributes of God, or of their own hearts, or of the Bible, or of the meaning of words. When a professing Christian coolly tells me that he has got beyond such hymns as 'Just as I am', and that that they are below his present experience, though they suited him when he first took up religion, I must think his soul is in a very unhealthy state! When a man can talk coolly of the possibility of "living without sin' while in the body, and can actuary say that he has 'never had an evil thought for three months', I can only say that in my opinion he is a very ignorant Christian! I protest against such teaching as this. It not only does no good, but does immense harm. It disgusts and alienates from religion far-seeing men of the world, who know it is incorrect and untrue. It depresses some of the best of God's children, who feel they never can attain to 'perfection' of this kind. It puffs up many weak brethren, who fancy they are something when they are nothing. In short, it is a dangerous delusion.

to be continued