Holiness - Introduction (4)

6. In the sixth place, is it wise to draw such a deep, wide and distinct line of separation between conversion and consecration, or the 'higher life', so called, as many do draw in the present day? Is this according to the proportion of God's Word? I doubt it.

There is, unquestionably, nothing new in this teaching. It is well known that Romish writers often maintain that the church is divided into three classes - sinners, penitents and saints. The modern teachers of this day who tell us that professing Christians are of three sorts - the unconverted, the converted and the partakers of the 'higher life' of complete consecration - appear to me to occupy very much the same ground! But whether the idea be old or new, Romish or English, I am utterly unable to see that it has any warrant of Scripture. The Word of God always speaks of two great divisions of mankind, and two only. It speaks of the living and the dead in sin, the believer and the unbeliever, the converted and the unconverted, the travellers in the narrow way and the travellers in the broad, the wise and the foolish, the children of God and the children of the devil. Within each of these two great classes there are, doubtless, various measures of sin and of grace; but it is only the difference between the higher and lower end of an inclined plane. Between these two great classes there is an enormous gulf: they are as distinct as life and death, light and darkness, heaven and hell. But of a division into three classes the Word of God says nothing at all! I question the wisdom of making newfangled divisions which the Bible has not made, and I thoroughly dislike the notion of a second conversion.

That there is a vast difference between one degree of grace and another, that spiritual life admits of growth, and that believers should be continually urged on every account to grow in grace - all this I fully concede. But the theory of a sudden, mysterious transition of a believer into a state of blessedness and entire consecration, at one mighty bound, I cannot receive. It appears to me to be a man-made invention, and I do not see a single plain text to prove it in Scripture. Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness - all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture and dearly exemplified in the lives of many of God's saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible. I doubt, indeed, whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted without being consecrated to God! More consecrated he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases; but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was converted and born again, I do not know what conversion means. Are not men in danger of undervaluing and underrating the immense blessedness of conversion? Are they not, when they urge on believers the 'higher life' as a second conversion, underrating the length and breadth and depth and height of that great first chapter which Scripture calls the new birth, the new creation, the spiritual resurrection? I may be mistaken. But I have sometimes thought, while reading the strong language used by many about 'consecration', in the last few years, that those who use it must have had previously a singularly low and inadequate view of 'conversion', if indeed they knew anything about conversion at all. In short, I have almost suspected that when they were 'consecrated', they were in reality converted for the first time!

I frankly confess I prefer the old paths. I think it wiser and safer to press on all converted people the possibility of continual growth in grace, and the absolute necessity of going forward, increasing more and more, and every year dedicating and consecrating themselves more, in spirit, soul and body, to Christ. By all means let us teach that there is more holiness to be attained and more of heaven to be enjoyed upon earth than most believers now experience. But I decline to tell any converted man that he needs a second conversion and that he may some day or other pass by one enormous step into a state of entire consecration. I decline to teach it because I cannot see any warrant for such teaching in Scripture. I decline to teach it because I think the tendency of the doctrine is thoroughly mischievous, depressing the humble-minded and meek, and puffing up the shallow, the ignorant and the self-conceited to a most dangerous extent.

to be continued