Holiness - Introduction (5)

7. In the seventh and last place, is it wise to teach believers that they ought not to think so much of fighting and struggling against sin, but ought rather to 'yield themselves to God', and be passive in the hands of Christ? Is this according to the proportion of God's Word? I doubt it.

It is a simple fact that the expression 'yield yourselves' is only to be found in one place in the New Testament as a duty urged upon believers. That place is in the sixth chapter of Romans and there within six verses the expression occurs five times (see Rom_6:13-19). But even there the word will not bear the sense of 'placing ourselves passively in the hands of another'. Any Greek student can tell us that the sense is rather that of actively 'presenting' ourselves for use, employment and service (see Rom_12:1). The expression therefore stands alone. But, on the other hand, it would not be difficult to point out at least twenty-five or thirty distinct passages in the Epistles where believers are plainly taught to use active personal exertion, and are addressed as responsible for doing energetically what Christ would have them do, and are not told to 'yield themselves' up as passive agents and sit still, but to arise and work. A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier's life, a wrestling, are spoken of as characteristic of the true Christian. The account of 'the armour of God' in the sixth chapter of Ephesians, one might think, settles the question. ‹I3› Again, it would be easy to show that the doctrine of sanctification without personal exertion, by simply 'yielding ourselves to God', is precisely the doctrine of the antinomian fanatics in the seventeenth century (to whom I have referred already, described in Rutherford's Spiritual Antichrist), and that the tendency of it is evil in the extreme. Again, it would be easy to show that the doctrine is utterly subversive of the whole teaching of such tried and approved books as Pilgrim's Progress, and that if we receive it we cannot do better than put Bunyan's old book in the fire! If Christian in Pilgrim's Progress simply yielded himself to God and never fought or struggled or wrestled, I have read the famous allegory in vain. But the plain truth is, that men will persist in confounding two things that differ - that is, justification and sanctification. In justification the word to be addressed to man is 'Believe,' only believe; in sanctification the word must be: 'Watch, pray, and fight.' What God has divided let us not mingle and confuse.

I leave the subject of my introduction here, and hasten to a conclusion. I confess that I lay down my pen with feelings of sorrow and anxiety. There is much in the attitude of professing Christians in this day which fills me with concern and makes me full of fear for the future.

There is an amazing ignorance of Scripture among many and a consequent want of established, solid religion. In no other way can I account for the ease with which people are, like children, 'tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine' (Eph_4:14). There is an Athenian love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true. There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational and exciting and rousing to the feelings. There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better than spiritual dram-drinking, and the 'meek and quiet spirit' which St Peter commends is clean forgotten (1Pe_3:4). Crowds and crying and hot rooms and high-flown singing and an incessant rousing of the emotions are the only things which many care for. Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is 'clever' and 'earnest', hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully 'narrow and uncharitable' if you hint that he is unsound! Moody and Haweis, Dean Stanley and Canon Liddon, Mackonochie and Pearsall Smith, all seem to be alike in the eyes of such people. All this is sad, very sad. But if, in addition to this, the true-hearted advocates of increased holiness are going to fall out by the way and misunderstand one another, it will be sadder still. We shall indeed be in evil plight.

For myself, I am aware that I am no longer a young minister. My mind perhaps stiffens and I cannot easily receive any new doctrine. 'The old is better.' I suppose I belong to the old school of evangelical theology, and I am therefore content with such teaching about sanctification as I find in the Life of Faith of Sibbes and of Manton, and in The Life, Walk and Triumph of Faith of William Romaine. But I must express a hope that my younger brethren who have taken up new views of holiness will beware of multiplying causeless divisions. Do they think that a higher standard of Christian living is needed in the present day? So do I. Do they think that clearer, stronger, fuller teaching about holiness is needed? So do I. Do they think that Christ ought to be more exalted as the root and author of sanctification as well as justification? So do I. Do they think that believers should be urged more and more to live by faith? So do I. Do they think that a very close walk with God should be more pressed on believers as the secret of happiness and usefulness? So do I. In all these things we agree. But if they want to go further, then I ask them to take care were they tread and to explain very clearly and distinctly what they mean.

Finally, I must deprecate, and I do it in love, the use of uncouth and newfangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. I plead that a movement in favour of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by disproportioned and one-sided statements, or by overstraining and isolating particular texts, or by exalting one truth at the expense of another, or by allegorizing and accommodating texts and squeezing out of them meanings which the Holy Ghost never put in them, or by speaking contemptuously and bitterly of those who do not entirely see things with our eyes and do not work exactly in our ways. These things do not make for peace; they rather repel many and keep them at a distance. The cause of true sanctification is not helped but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness, which produces strife and dispute among God's children, is somewhat suspicious. For Christ's sake, and in the name of truth and charity, let us endeavour to follow after peace as well as holiness. What God has joined together let not man put asunder.'

It is my heart's desire and prayer to God daily that personal holiness may increase greatly among professing Christians in England. But I trust that all who endeavour to promote it will adhere closely to the proportion of Scripture, will carefully distinguish things that differ, and will separate 'the precious from the vile' (Jer_15:19).