Holiness - Introduction (3)

4. In the fourth place, is it wise to assert so positively and violently, as many do, that the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans does not describe the experience of the advanced saint, but the experience of the unregenerate man, or of the weak and unestablished believer? I doubt it.

I admit fully that the point has been a disputed one for eighteen centuries, in fact ever since the days of St Paul. I admit fully that eminent Christians like John and Charles Wesley, and Fletcher, a hundred years ago, to say nothing of some able writers of our own time, maintain firmly that St Paul was not describing his own present experience when he wrote this seventh chapter. I admit fully that many cannot see what I and many others do see: namely, that Paul says nothing in this chapter which does not precisely tally with the recorded experience of the most eminent saints in every age, and that he does say several things which no unregenerate man or weak believer would ever think of saying and cannot say. So, at any rate, it appears to me. But I will not enter into any detailed discussion of the chapter. ‹I2›

What I do lay stress upon is the broad fact that the best commentators in every era of the church have almost invariably applied the seventh chapter of Romans to advanced believers. The commentators who do not take this view have been, with a few bright exceptions, the Romanists, the Socinians and the Armenians. Against them is arrayed the judgement of almost all the Reformers, almost all the Puritans and the best modern evangelical divines. I shall be told, of course, that no man is infallible, that the Reformers, Puritans and modern divines I refer to may have been entirely mistaken, and the Romanists, Socinians and Arminians may have been quite right! Our Lord has taught us, no doubt, to 'call no man master'. But while I ask no man to call the Reformers and Puritans 'masters', I do ask people to read what they say on this subject, and answer their arguments, if they can. This has not been done yet! To say, as some do, that they do not want human 'dogmas' and 'doctrines', is no reply at all. The whole point at issue is: 'What is the meaning of a passage of Scripture? How is the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans to be interpreted? What is the true sense of its words?' At any rate let us remember that there is a great fact which cannot be got over: on one side stand the opinions and interpretation of Reformers and Puritans, and on the other the opinions and interpretation of Romanists, Socinians and Arminians. Let that be distinctly understood.

In the face of such a fact as this, I must enter my protest against the sneering, taunting, contemptuous language which has been frequently used of late by some of the advocates of what I must call the Arminian view of the seventh of Romans, in speaking of the opinions of their opponents. To say the least, such language is unseemly, and only defeats its own end. A cause which is defended by such language is deservedly suspicious. Truth needs no such weapons. If we cannot agree with men, we need not speak of their views with discourtesy and contempt. An opinion which is backed and supported by such men as the best Reformers and Puritans may not carry conviction to all minds in the nineteenth century, but at any rate it would be well to speak of it with respect.

5. In the fifth place, is it wise to use the language which is often used in the present day about the doctrine of 'Christ in us'? I doubt it.

Is not this doctrine often exalted to a position which it does not occupy in Scripture? I am afraid that it is.

That the true believer is one with Christ and Christ in him, no careful reader of the New Testament will think of denying for a moment. There is, no doubt, a mystical union between Christ and the believer. With Him we died, with Him we were buried, with Him we rose again, with Him we sit in heavenly places. We have five plain texts where we are distinctly taught that Christ is 'in us' (Rom_8:9,Rom_8:10; Gal_2:20; Gal_4:19; Eph_3:17; Col_3:11). But we must be careful that we understand what we mean by the expression. That 'Christ dwells in our hearts by faith' and carries on His inward work by His Spirit is dear and plain. But if we mean to say that beside and over and above this there is some mysterious indwelling of Christ in a believer, we must be careful what we are about. Unless we take care, we shall find ourselves ignoring the work of the Holy Ghost. We shall be forgetting that in the divine economy of man's salvation election is the special work of God the Father, atonement, mediation and intercession the special work of God the Son, and sanctification the special work of God the Holy Ghost. We shall be forgetting that our Lord said, when He went away, that He would send us another Comforter, who should 'abide with us' for ever and, as it were, take His place (Joh_14:16). In short, under the idea that we are honouring Christ, we shall find that we are dishonouring His special and peculiar gift - the Holy Ghost. Christ, no doubt, as God, is everywhere - in our hearts, in heaven, in the place where two or three are met together in His name. But we really must remember that Christ, as our risen Head and High Priest, is specially at God's right hand interceding for us until He comes the second time; and that Christ carries on His work in the hearts of His people by the special work of His Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left the world (Joh_15:26). A comparison of the ninth and tenth verses of the eighth chapter of Romans seems to me to show this plainly. It convinces me that 'Christ in us' means Christ in us 'by His Spirit'. Above all, the words of St John are most distinct and express: 'Hereby we know that He abideth in us by the Spirit which He hath given us' (1Jo_3:24).

In saying all this, I hope no one will misunderstand me. I do not say that the expression 'Christ in us' is unscriptural. But I do say that I see great danger of giving an extravagant and unscriptural importance to the idea contained in the expression; and I do fear that many use it nowadays without exactly knowing what they mean and, unwittingly perhaps, dishonour the mighty work of the Holy Ghost. If any readers think that I am needlessly scrupulous about the point, I recommend to their notice a curious book by Samuel Rutherford (author of the well-known letters), called The Spiritual Antichrist. They will there see that two centuries ago the wildest heresies arose out of an extravagant teaching of this very doctrine of the 'indwelling of Christ' in believers. They will find that Saltmarsh and Dell and Towne and other false teachers, against whom good Samuel Rutherford contended, began with strange notions of 'Christ in us', and then proceeded to build on the doctrine antinomianism and fanaticism of the worst description and vilest tendency. They maintained that the separate, personal life of the believer was so completely gone, that it was Christ living in him who repented and believed and acted! The root of this huge error was a forced and unscriptural interpretation of such texts as 'I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me' (Gal_2:20). And the natural result of it was that many of the unhappy followers of this school came to the comfortable conclusion that believers were not responsible, whatever they might do! Believers, forsooth, were dead and buried; and only Christ lived in them, and undertook everything for them! The ultimate consequence was that some thought they might sit still in a carnal security, their personal accountableness being entirely gone, and might commit any kind of sin without fear! Let us never forget that truth, distorted and exaggerated, can become the mother of the most dangerous heresies. When we speak of 'Christ being in us', let us take care to explain what we mean. I fear some neglect this in the present day.

to be continued