HE personal holiness of believers is of immense importance. The strength, of all the Epistles may be said to be directed to this point . It is taken for granted, in all these Epistles that, to attract men to Christ, we must exhibit a Christlike walk; and experience in every age proves that "winning Christ" (PhiL iii. 8) makes us winners of souls. Yet, how often is this overlooked. Many good men, in their intense Evangelistic zeal, seem to make light of growth in grace, and will even be heard saying, when a soul has been apparently led to Christ, "Oh, leave him now; all is right with him; let us go on to others." This is a grievous mistake. That may be a saved soul. but he may, by his imperfect holiness, prevent the conversion of twenty others. He is a lighthouse; but if the reflectors be dim, and the supply of oil scanty, the dimness of the light may wreck many a vessel which never doubted all was well, since no warning ray on the waters gave notice of danger. Or, to take a Scriptural thought; if raised Lazarus had been left with his graveclothes unremoved, the napkin on his face, and the smell of the tomb's corruption lingering in these ceremerits, would he not have repelled those who came to him? Would he not have left on them the impression that this specimen of the Saviour's resurrection-power might almost as well have been left in the tomb 1
We must give most earnest and continual attention to our personal holiness and growth, even for the sake of winning others. I thought of this truth the other day, when a sailor was telling me that when far out at sea his captain, toward sunset, after seeing that all was right in the vessel, used to send one of the crew to the mast-top, with instructions to use his glass, and look all round, lest some disabled vessel might be within sight. Each morning at sunrise the same survey was taken; for, his own vessel being all in order, he could afford to look out for others in need of help. In this way they were the means of bringing deliverance to not a few. Is not this a word in season to saints? Your own souls well cared for, you can and will, day by day, look out for souls whom you may bless—but you cannot afford to do so, if your own souls be not in order.
(1.) But is it possible to be very holy in the midst of an evil world? Our union to Christ, if we be saints at all, tells us that it is. Our union to Christ leaves us inexcusable for imperfect holiness; for Christ is "our life" (CoL iii. 4); life for us is in Him without limit.
But perhaps it has been the case in all ages, and certainly it is so now, that all saints do not attain to equal degrees of holiness. In the varieties of meat-offerings mentioned in Leviticus ii., this seems hinted at, the meat-offering being prepared in different forms, not so much (it may be) because of the comparative ability or inability of the offerer in regard to substance, as in regard to spiritual feeling. In David's host there were many warriors, all like each other; and then thirty outstanding ones; and then three who excelled all the rest. May there be something here for us 1 higher and lower degrees of attainment? Did our Lord intend to lead us on from a lower to a higher stage, and then to a still higher, when He used the words, "Ask," "seek,'' "knock," as if to intimate that there would be found in His church those whose spiritual frames would correspond to these three words, the last being the highest, suggesting intense earnestness that will not be denied, but will knock loud and often, till every chamber of the house of David is opened to him? At all events, we have apparently a specific announcement of this difference in our Lord's words, in the parable of the Sower —" Other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold" (Matt. xiii. 8); or, as Mark iv. 8 puts it, " Some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred."
Using this statement of our Master, let us shew how something answering to it may be seen very commonly among us. And let us, in so doing, make use of a wellknown passage in the Epistle to the Eomans, chap. vii. 14-25. It may help us to see several things of importance in reference to different degrees of grace. Observe, then, that in the Church of Christ, among true and real believers—all of whom can say (Rom. viii. 1), "There is no condemnation to us who are in Christ" —there is nevertheless a difference of attainment in holiness (in some thirty, in some sixty, and in some an hundred-fold), which may be illustrated thus:—
(a) Eomans vii. 14-25 is the normal, or habitual experience of some believers. Are these not like the "thirty-fold t" They are ever complaining of broken resolutions, wandering thoughts, the power of corruption, the law in their members warring against the law of their mind, and dragging them into captivity. In them concupiscence, or desire for things of the flesh is strong. They have little to say of victories; of "peace keeping the heart and mind through Jesus Christ; only they do get a glimpse of His grace in the midst of all their troubles: and if they cry, "O wretched man that I am" (v. 24), they also cry, "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (v. 25). They can give thanks with one lately gone to glory, that "when borne away by the power of indwelling sin they are only prisoners of war, not deserters."
(b) Eomans vii. 14-25 is, from time to time, more or less, the experience of another class, but is not by any means their prevailing state. They may help us to illustrate the "sixty-fold." They work cheerfully for God. They enjoy much fellowship with God, singing daily, "Thine anger is turned away, and thou hast comforted us;" for their eye rests on Christ, in whom they see themselves at all times accepted by the Father. Still, their fellowship with God is frequently broken in upon. They feel the motions of sin, and desire for things of the flesh costs them many prayers and incessant watching. They are made to cry, "There is a law in my members dragging me into captivity." But they are not overcome. While, with David Brainerd, they are forced to cry, "O that my soul were holy as God is holy; must I be sinning so long as I am in this world!" or, with Eomans vii. 24, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me out of the body of this death,"—they are habitually able to recover the tone of triumph, "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
(c) In the case of the " hundred-fold, the victory over indwelling sin is more decided; and obvious to others, if not to themselves also. The solicitations of the flesh, and Satan's temptations by means of the flesh and the world, are watched against and baffled by the soul being enabled to "abidein Christ" habitually and consciously, enjoying wonderful communion with the Lord, and enabled to live for Him from day to day, in all manner of service. Yet even these may be heard telling the Lord of "the law of sin in their members, which would fain drag them into captivity;" and they become of very quick discernment in regard to their corruptions and failures, their omissions and neglects.
Such is a general delineation of what may be supposed to be indicated by the thirty, sixty, and hundredfold.
(2.) But some maintain that there are saints (of this hundred-fold class) who get entire victory over indwelling sin, and are not troubled with the conflict spoken of in Eom. vii. 14-25 any longer. One goes the length of saying, "You may so get into contact with Jesus, that holiness will be yours; power, such supernatural power, peace, and gladness, as circumstances will no more affect than a summer breeze affects Mount Blanc." But surely no passage of Scripture authorizes us to expect such attainment as this; though it may be said we are allowed to aim at it, because of the fulness of life for us in Christ. Paul was not superior to the influence of circumstances; holy as he was, he had not attained, even after being in the third heavens, what is described above. For in 2 Cor. ii. 12, 13, he tells us he was so affected by the circumstance of Titus not arriving at Troas, that he had no rest in his spirit, and was so unhinged that he could not embrace the opportunity he had of preaching the gospel.
It is often asked, whether or not, on to his last hour, Paul would have occasion to use his own words (Eom. vii . 14-25) as his own experience. It may have been so, or it may have not. That passage does not decide the matter; for the drift of it is not so much to describe the conflict that goes on within us by reason of indwelling sin, as to explain it. That conflict is a phenomenon in the new creation that needs explanation; and Paul is taught of the Holy Ghost to give it. It is to this effect.
Having fully set forth justification by faith in Jesus, he had also shewn the privileges that follow (chap, v.); thereafter, the holiness it entails (chap, vi., vii. 1-6); and then our relation to the law. On this last point, having shewn that we are not under the law as a covenant of works, being completely freed from all its charges against us, it might appear as if he were disparaging God's law. Accordingly he takes great pains to shew the excellency of the law (vii. 7, onward). And here our passage comes in. He wishes to make plain to us that The Law does not lead to sin, and that the new nature in us quite agrees with the law. The law is an exhibition of God's mind and will; the new nature cannot disown it. "The law is holy, and every precept of it holy, and just and good " (v. 12). It is a miserable mistake in some good men to speak disparagingly of the law of God; they might as well speak slightingly of His holy will and loving heart. "We know [says the apostle, at v. 14, using what is his favourite phraseology when speaking of uersally acknowledged verities] that the law is spiritual;" i.e., it teaches the mind of the Spirit; the mind of the Holy Ghost; the mind, therefore, and heart, and will of God. Thus, with unqualified satisfaction, he exalts the law. How is it, then, that a man justified and saved commits sin 1 Is sin his element? The reply is, "I am carnal, when I am sold under sin," i.e., I breathe the mind of the flesh, my old nature, when at any time I have been hurried into sin. He takes for granted that any justified person may be borne away by sin within him. He uses the expression "sold," to shew that for the time he has been carried off like a captive, or kidnapped; and in the original he uses a participle (ireirpafievoi) which speaks of the thing having been done by another. At such time (he says) I am manifesting the mind of the flesh. For the thing which I at such a time carry out into act, I disallow; for I do not (at such a time) set myself energetically to perform the thing as if I wished it; it is a thing I hate that I am found doing. So that I consent to the law that it is good (excellent), in the very act of doing what I do not wish; and it is not that [properly] I do it, but sin still dwelling in me (14,16,17): for I know that in my flesh, my old nature, good (see v. 13) does not dwell. For (let me repeat it), a desire to do what is right is in me, even when I fail. It is true I perform not the good I desired, but on the contrary, do the evil that I did not desire; still, inasmuch as I do not desire it, it is not I (the justified man in Christ) that do it, but indwelling sin. The sum of the matter, therefore, is this: I find at such times a law of evil present with me, though I desire to do what is right; I say, a law of evil, not the new nature at work. For I delight in the law of God ("after the inner man") in my inmost soul, with my whole heart (Eph. iii. 16); but I see another law in my members, warring against the divine law which my mind approves, and seeking to drag me into captivity, and make me a slave to the law of sin, which is in my members. My cries at such times are, "O wretched man, who shall deliver me out of the body of this death 1" "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." So, that you see I, my true self, am a bondman (SowXeuw)* to the law of God, so
* The very same word is used in the Greek version of Exodus xxi. 6, when telling of the servant whose ear was bored to the door-post, that he might thereby express his hearty love to his master, and his delight in bis service.
much do I love it and honour it! It is only my flesh (the old nature, not the new) that loves the law of sin.
You see now the drift of Paul's argument there. He is not undertaking to state his own experience farther than to explain thit when, at any period after his justification, whether in his quarrel with Barnabas (Acts xv. 39), or in his despondency at Troas (2 Cor. ii. 12, 13), sin appeared at work; it is not the fruit of the new nature, it is not the genuine result of freedom from the bondage of the old covenant. No! the justified man loves the law of God, delights in it, in his inner man; for the truth is, if he be like Christ, that" law is within his heart" (Ps. xL 8). If he be a partaker of the blessings of the new covenant, God has "put his laws into his mind, and written them on his heart" (Heb. viii. 10). Love to God, kindled at God's love to him, is the motive-power; and the holy, just, good law of God is ever his blessed rule. It is " the highway of holiness."
(3.) But now we come back to the question of how far we may attain in holiness 1 We may surely say that we are warranted, nay, called upon, to aim at the hundredfold. We have dwelt on Paul's case, because some try hard to make out that such was not his experience as a justified man, fancying that if it were, it might be quoted in favour of contentment with very imperfect holiness. Now the plain, obvious, unforced meaning of the passage is totally in contradiction to their view. At the same time, we are alive to the fact that many do abuse the passage, making it an excuse for their unvanquished indwelling sin; and so we wish to state again, that there is nothing in the passage to forbid our believing that Paul was not speaking of this state of conflict as habitual. If a physician carefully expounds the relation of a patient's wounds and bruises to health, we cannot infer that he meant thereby to inform us that the patient was always smarting under sore wounds. At all events, we must not, on any account, use Eomans vii. 14-25 to excuse ourselves for a low degree of grace, a thirty-fold, when we might have had an hundred. If some have gone to what seem great extremes in maintaining the possibility tof " reaching heights of holiness, where no breeze of earth can affect them;" let us, at any rate, press up higher than we have done.
Very possibly, some of those who seem to claim for themselves an attainment that looks like perfection, mean rather a state in which they are not at the moment conscious of sin. This may be all they mean; absorbed in the love of God and His fellowship, they, for the time, feel nothing of earth or of sin. Of course, this is not perfection. Our consciousness does not prove much. A man may not be conscious to himself of sin, and yet may be far from "loving God with All his heart, and All his soul, and All his mind, and All his strength," which is the only real perfection, and not to be reached till Christ come. "When we shall see Him we shall be like Him" (1 John iii. 2).
But (we say) let us not be deterred by the extreme statements of some men from aiming very high. Let us take a case of high attainment, the details of which are recorded with most minute particularity, and in all soberness of style. The case is that of the wife of Jonathan Edwards, related by himself in his published work on the great revival at Northampton. She was apparently converted at five years of age, and at the age of thirteen was noticed by all her friends as one living near God, often enjoying seasons of inexpressible delight in meditation and prayer. In 1728, at the time of her marriage (she was in her eighteenth year), friends spoke of her as having made singular progress in holiness: but this was only the beginning of her attainments. This was her period of "lower degrees of grace." She was subject to unsteadiness in her frames, her temperament being rather of a melancholy cast. But divine grace overcame these disadvantages. In 1738, after a new resignation of herself to the Lord, she found her views of the glory of God, and the excellency of Christ, become wonderfully enlarged. "A kind of omnipotent joy " filled her heart, and she lived from day to day in "all the the riches of full assurance," says her husband. She had wonderful access to God in prayer; it often seemed to her that Christ was as near as if He was on earth standing by. She never felt any inclination, on this account, to slight the means of grace, but rather more and more prized them as most needful to her soul's growth. She used to look forward to the Sabbath with great desire, and began on Saturday her preparation for it. Several times after this, she anew dedicated herself to the Lord, renouncing self and the world, and seeking "life more abundantly." In 1742, one day, having had her usual calm of mind disturbed by some things that bore on her husband's concerns and her own good name, she saw she must ask yet more from the Lord, that she might be enabled to resign herself more entirely still to Him. The words of Eomans viii. 34 to the end, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect 1 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" &c, were brought home to her with extraordinary power, and seemed to tell her of God's unchangeahleness, and her own unchangeable security in Him, so certainly that" the everlasting mountains and hills were but shadows in comparison." At the same time, Christ was seen to be a mighty Saviour, "The Lion of the tribe of Judah, talcing her heart with all its corruptions under His care, and putting all under His feet." Not that she fancied herself free from sin, for she was even led to perceive more fully the sinfulness of her heart. And thus she was enabled to go on from day to day, week to week, year to year, as testified by such a calm, credible witness, as President Edwards, who watched and wondered at her walk during the remaining eight years they were spared to each other.
All the while there was no apparent tendency to pride, but rather deep abasement of soul, through a continual sense of unworthiness; a willingness to go behind all who were going heavenward. Her compassion for the lost and perishing often took away her rest; she was full of love to mankind. Her husband persuaded her to put down something of her feelings in writing for his own use; and among other things she savs. "My heart and soul flowed out in love to Christ; there seemed a constant flowing and reflowing of heavenly and divine love from Christ's heart to mine." And all this did not weaken, but, on the contrary, it greatly strengthened her daily attention to ordinary, commonplace duties. "I realized how great a part of godliness lies in the performance of our social and relative duties to one another." Necessary worldly business was found by her "as good as grayer when done as service to God." She made her husband's home the abode of neatness and order, peace and domestic comfort; sparing no pains to have everything in family arrangements pleasant and agreeable to the family, and to visitors. She was never gloomy, but always cheerful, even under sickness; guests and visitors found her most pleasant and kind. She bestowed great care on her children's training; was tender, but very firm in exacting obedience; and failed not to discipline them to good habits in all departments. She would, for example, inculcate the duty of watching against wastefulness and carelessness, often reminding her children "that Christ bade His disciples gather up the fragments of that bread which He had just before so easily created by a word." She was free from all censoriousness, saying as little as possible about other people's imperfections. Withal, she was liberal in giving away, and very charitable to the poor. It was always when her health was best and her mind most vigorous that her enjoyments were highest.
One other remarkable feature in her high attainment of holiness must not be omitted. She had oftentimes an extraordinary view of the infinite terribleness of God's
wrath, the exceeding sinfulness of her own heart, and
of her desert of that wrath for ever, with intense sorrow
for sin, and the loathsomeness of her corruptions. At
times, her grief for the lost was such as to take away her
bodily strength. It may be added, she survived her
husband nine years, dying in the forty-ninth year of
her age, 1758, and to the end continuing in the love of
"Walking in holiness below
To holiness above."
(4.) Now examples like this one, though they are rare, might be found in the various sections of the church of Christ, more or less remarkable. The hundred-fold is a great leap beyond the sixty and thirty-fold. And shall we not aspire to such height of attainment, that we may even here glorify the riches of the fulness of Christ, who has said that this is the privilege of believers, "He that believeth on me, out of his inmost soul [for this is the meaning of cotXia, the same as in Psalm xl. 8 "bowels "], shall flow rivers of living water." In Exod. xxiv. we find all Israel alike freed from the clouds and darkness and thunderings of Sinai by the sprinkled blood of sacrifice. But notice, the mass of the people, safe indeed and happy under the clear sapphire sky, remain down at the foot of the mountain, far off comparatively; then seventy of the blood-sprinkled people ascend the height, and the power of the blood (though only typical blood) warrants them to go up and feast under the eye of the Holy One, the God of Israel; while one bloodsprinkled man goes up further still, even to the very seat of God, amid the glory on the mountain top. In which of these ranks would we have sought a place, had we been there that day? With the people? With the seventy elders? With Moses?
But is God's way of holiness hard to be understood 1 Does the hindrance to our advancement lie there? No; the Holy Ghost, the Sanctifier, has a very simple way of carrying on His work in us, if only we did not resist. He takes Christ's way; and Christ said to His disciples such things as these, "Abide in Me, and I in you" (John xv. 4); " Continue ye in My love" (John xv. 9): that is, consciously. By faith on your part, realizing My love to you and My presence with you, go on from hour to hour in fellowship with Me. The Holy Ghost "purines our hearts by faith" (Acts xv. 9), fixing our eye on the Lord Jesus, His Cross, His Crown, Himself and all His work, in sanctifying us. But we are slow to yield to the Spirit; we are not as clay to the seal.
Still this, and only this, is the way the Holy Spirit uses. In all ages it has been the same. "We all, with unveiled jace [It is here we so often fail: we let a veil come between us and the Lord], beholding as a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. iii. 18). And this is substantially the import of 1 John v. 4, 5. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he who believeth that Jesus is the Son of God." Our eye must be fixed on this mighty One, the
Son of God. When in the act of beholding Him we are like Stephen (Acts vii. 55, 56), more than conquerors through Him that loved us. And this is the true way in which to realize Christ "made unto us sanctifkation" (1 Cor. i . 30). It is not Christ's holiness imputed to us that is meant here; but the Apostle speaks of Christ, "our life," imparting holiness to us; for the order is righteousness by imputation, then holiness by impartation. Believer, have you not found it to be thus with you an hundred times? in looking unto and upon Jesus, your soul has at once felt a complete calm? You wanted patience; you betook yourself to the fulness of Christ; and as you "considered him who endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself" (Heb. xii. 4), you became patient. Perhaps you were weak; you went to Jesus, and as you were in the act of beholding His strength, and listening to the voice that said, "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. ii. 1), you found strength imparted to you. With your eye upon Him, you left it to Him to fight the battle, to still the waves, to bring down the heat of temptation, to calm your temper, to bear your burden of care.
This is the divine way of rising up to our "high places." The Word of God nowhere says that we may in a moment reach the heights. We may have to climb upward step by step. And it would be well with many of us, to an incalculable degree, if our souls were only constantly, from hour to hour, taking in a little of the Word that is (so to speak) the vehicle of His grace— quietly and continuously feeding on some crumb of the bread of life. Plants that grow well are taking in moisture, and drawing carbon from the atmosphere constantly, though the quantity be small. And does He not say of the vine, "I will water it every moment?" (Isa. xxvii . 3). If, then, it be so on His part, why not a response on ours to such amazing grace? At the same time, it will be none the less needful and desirable that we should have our frequent seasons of closer and more prolonged communion with the Lord, for these seasons have ever left behind most blissful and transforming effects. From such seasons of prayer, meditation, direct and continued communion, you come away as from a Transfiguration, with the glory still lingering on your soul. The world would know that you had been with Jesus. In the days when the Mosque of Omar was first built, over that spot of Moriah where the worshipper could touch a piece of the unhewn original rock of the hill, it was customary to bring loads of incense and all aromatic shrubs into the shrine, which was called Sakhrah. As a consequence, if any one from the city had been worshipping there, he carried away with him so much of the fragrance of the place, that when people passed him in the market-place of Jerusalem, or in the streets, they used to say to each other, " He has been in the Sakhrah to-day!" Would to God we thus lived, coming forth daily with our "garments smelling of the myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, from the ivory palaces." With fresh holiness every day drawn out of Christ, what witnesses for Him should we be! How joyfully should we listen to the loving voice that is ever calling, "Be holy, for I am holy ;" and He who speaks thus would hasten to give us more and more when we repair to Him.
We are "looking for and hasting unto the coming of the Day of God" (2 Peter iii. 12). Now, is it not written, "When we shall see Him, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure 1" (1 John iii. 2.) That Day approaches. Therefore, beloved, seeing that we look for such things, and seeing that all present things shall so soon be dissolved, "what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?"
"Had I a throne above the rest,
Where angela and archangels dwell,
One sin unslain within my breast
Would make that heaven as dark as hell.
"The prisoner sent to breathe fresh air,
And blest with liberty again,
Would mourn were he condemned to wear
One link of all his former chain.
"But oh! no foe invades the bliss,
When glory crowns the Christian's head;
One view of Jesus as He is
Shall Btrike all sin for ever dead.''