"Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure."
In saying that sin will remain in us until we either put off the body, or are changed (for we "wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body," Rom. 8: 23), it is not at all meant that we should walk according to that evil principle; on the contrary, we ought to walk in the Spirit, (so as not to "fulfil the lusts of the flesh," Gal. 5:16), although 'the flesh' still exists.
Nor is this a mere question about words. So soon as we assume that we can be perfect, and there be no longer sin in us, a multitude of things, which the word of God calls sin, cease to be so in our estimation; the contrast between our own condition and that of Jesus Christ becomes less evident; we attenuate sin; true sanctification suffers in proportion; and the distinction between sin and sins is wholly lost sight of. It is not difference on a point of knowledge or speculation; the question involved is, 'What is sin?' a question evidently fundamental, as also practically of the last importance.
But it may be well to anticipate here a possible difficulty. 'What is the flesh?' asks the reader, 'What is there more in man than body, soul, and spirit?' And the apostle tells Christians, to whom he is writing: "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess. 5:23.) And we reply that Adam before the fall had body, soul, and spirit; but that after the fall there was in him in addition a will in rebellion against God - sin (that which the word of God calls 'the flesh'), a something which "lusteth (or struggleth) against the Spirit," in the man in whom the Spirit of God dwells, and which "cannot be subject to the law of God." (Rom. 8:7.) It is certain that there are few words more frequently employed in the word of God than 'the flesh,' and no subject more often and carefully treated, bound up as it is with the whole doctrine of the 'new man.'
The introduction of sin has completely altered the nature of our relationship with God. I could never more return to the condition of Adam before the fall; I now partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) by promises infinitely superior to anything enjoyed by Adam. God has not restored the first Adam, He has united us to the Second. Our glory consists not in ignorance of evil,* but in the enjoyment of the results of a complete victory over it. The law (though in its essence the rule of every pure being before God) could no longer characterize our condition, for we are very far from being pure, according to its requirements. Grace does not exhibit the creature in its perfection; it is the introduction of the nature, goodness, and power of the Creator into the midst of the evil, over which His perfections are victorious. Grace therefore recognises the evil over which it triumphs.
*"What Satan gave as a promise to man, God pronounced to be true, but man had it by disobedience. He knew evil in guilt, he knew it in disobedience, he knew it in the admitted power of sin over his soul, he knew it as a creature over whom it had power, he knew it by and with a bad conscience. God knows good and evil, but He knows it by the infinite and intrinsic possession of good, and Himself being good, and therefore knows evil as that which is infinitely repudiated by Him; and in this therefore His holiness is infinitely seen. This knowledge of good and evil may be darkened in its judgment, because a false rule or guide may be introduced. God may give up to a reprobate mind, or Satan introduce a law of darkness, having power to deceive or blend, which is not God's, and which may be made its estimate of right; but the knowledge of good and evil is inherent in fallen human nature. Man unfallen was innocent, he knew not evil, but only beneficent good. Fallen man knows evil, with a conscience subject to judgment and hating God."
Sanctification'* is based upon our union with Christ, risen and glorified. A new life has been communicated, which through the Holy Ghost sees and occupies itself with Him (Phil. 3), and which knows that, "when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2.) This life estimates everything according to the perfection of our state hereafter; it recognises that we have not as yet obtained the redemption of our body, and judges the 'old man,' root, trunk, and branches. Meanwhile, in walking according to this new life, the Christian "purifies himself as he is pure."**
*It may be needful to observe here that the word sanctification is rarely used in Scripture in the sense in which we commonly use it, that is to say its progressive sense. It more particularly designates an act of separation, a setting apart for God.
**Observe, it is not said here that he aims at growth in Christ, but that he "purifies himself" (not that he is pure) after the resemblance of Christ glorified.
Assured of the love of God, actuated by the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord, with joy and gladness of heart, he follows after the apprehension of that, for which also he is apprehended of Him.* By the power of the Holy Ghost he is changed into the same image, from glory to glory. (2 Cor. 3:18.) By faith he is already partaker of a perfection which in its fulness will be his when Jesus returns. "Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself."
*The progress of practical sanctification must not be confounded with justification, because practical sanctification is wrought in a saved soul that has eternal life. It is an entirely new thing, of which there is no trace before we have found Christ. Have you peace with God? the pardon of your sins? if not, the question is of the justification of a sinner.
If then God gives us strength to walk in His ways, that strength is given through a knowledge which at the same time makes us understand that we cannot here below attain to that even which we know. Thus (instead of an end which we can attain), to encourage us, He sets before us that which hereafter shall assuredly be accomplished in us, but which preserves us ever in humility, ever in the sense that we are not all that we would be. But this very thing keeps us ever advancing towards our great end. The opposite principle, with a show of requiring only that which is right and suitable, is entirely at variance with the mind of God, and akin to self-righteousness; instead of holding fast, and being strong in His grace, it says, 'I have attained.'
A full pardon, through grace, is ours at the very outset of our course, and, as its termination, a glory is set before us, the power of which is in us by the communication of the life of Christ; but the very nature and excellence of this glory make it evident to us that it is not a thing attainable here below. We "rejoice in hope of the glory of God." (Rom. 5:2.) We are "saved by hope." (Rom. 8:24.) In the confidence of the certainty of God's grace, we press toward the mark for the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus. There shall we find ourselves in the presence of Him we have known, as the friend of our weakness, and the glory of our strength.
A word in passing on the separate state. There is an immense difference between my condition whilst in this body, and that of the soul, after this life, when the body has been put off; as there is, likewise, between the latter state and that in which the redemption of our body shall be completed in resurrection. After death, the believer is "unclothed," but not "clothed upon." (2 Cor. 5) "Absent from the body," he is "present with the Lord." Though not perfected in the glory, he is, nevertheless, delivered from a body which had not as yet its portion in the resurrection (enjoyed, through the Holy Ghost, in the soul). This body, which caused him to groan whilst on earth (not, it is true, without consolation), and which makes all groan who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, has ceased to be a cause of groaning; that which held him bound (in fact, not in heart) to a creation still subject to the bondage of corruption, no longer binds; the link is severed. If the goal of his hope is not reached, in dying he has at least laid aside a burden, a soiled garment, that he may, at once and unhinderedly, enjoy the presence of the Lord, its pure air and genial warmth penetrating his soul now freed from all obstruction. But death is not our Saviour. Death finds the believer already saved by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is risen with Him: this is already accomplished as to the soul, which, through the Holy Ghost, experiences the blessed result, and triumphs in a hope that maketh not ashamed. The putting off of the body adds nothing to our title in the presence of God, for we are there, by faith, what Jesus is there. We are merely stripped of a body which had not partaken of redemption, in order to be ushered into the presence of Jesus, awaiting that which remains, to wit, our being clothed with a body fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body.
We wait for perfection (there only to be found), when, mortality being swallowed up of life, we shall be made like unto the Second Adam - the accepted and glorified man, according to the purpose of God.
The Holy Ghost, which is given unto us, is "the seal" (not of fruits which He Himself produces, but) of our redemption in Christ Jesus, the "earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession unto the praise of His (God's) glory."
Man's Christianity works in order to obtain eternal life, not on the ground of eternal life being already ours, the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Again; to deny the existence of evil, in the sense in which we have been speaking, is to denaturalize grace in its essence, riches, counsels, and all its fulness. When the heart has got before it low views, in the belief that we have attained, our Christianity becomes debased and proud. It is the truth which sanctifies. All other sanctification, notwithstanding appearances, is not according to God.
If nothing is properly sin, except a voluntary violation of the law of God,* it follows that the lusts, through which Paul was convinced of sin,** (Rom. 7) were not such, and so with faults and sins of negligence. So that, when Paul says, "The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do," he was quite wrong in looking upon such things as sin, and still more so in being thus distressed about them. (What can be less voluntary than doing that which we 'would not'?) This definition absolutely denies the existence of sin in the flesh - sin which dwells in us, even when it is subdued by the Spirit.*** It is a definition which attenuates the idea of sin, to make us satisfied with ourselves, instead of adoring the grace and goodness of our God. Assuredly lust is sin; my failures in the discharge of the duties of love proceed from the sin which is in me. These things were not in Christ. He was without sin; He ever and perfectly waited on and did the will of God. He never acted, as I at times do, with precipitation. This zeal after the flesh (even when I am doing good with all my heart) will not be imputed to me (not because it is not sinful, but) by reason of Christ's expiation of sin. These things result from a nature which is in me, and which was not in Christ. There is a principle at work in me, to bring forth evil fruit, which principle there was not in Him. I shall not be judged according to it; for Jesus has borne its guilt, and put it away; but it is precisely on that very account that I have to judge it.
*This very commonly received definition derives apparent authority from a false translation of 1 John 3:5. Upon it, to a very great extent, the formal judgment of the church, as to what sin is, has been founded. That which the apostle states is, not (as our translation has it) "sin is the transgression of the law," but 'sin is lawlessness;' or, the proposition being reciprocal, 'lawlessness (or insubordination) is sin.' Disobedience is sin. This may be proved in breaking the law, in a given instance; but there is a much higher characteristic of sin than the breaking of a commandment; viz., the spirit of disobedience.
**The law was given to man in the flesh (already a sinner); and the New Testament teaches us very clearly that God did not give it in the thought that man could keep it. The carnal mind pretends to do so; but the word tells us, that the law of God was given to convince man of sin by the discovery that he did not keep it; so that sin might become by the commandment exceeding sinful. The law entered, says the apostle, that the offence might abound. Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence; for without the law sin was dead. (Rom. 7:8.) Remark here, that sin produces concupiscence or lust. When the law had said, Thou shalt not covet, then Paul knew sin. 'The strength of sin is the law,' says the same apostle elsewhere. (1 Cor. 15:56.) God's purpose then, in giving the law, was to convince man of the sin which was in him. There was no thought that man could or would keep it.
***If it be urged that we are under 'the law of love,' and it is thereby meant that we are not now bound to fulfil the law given to Adam, or by Moses, but are under one which tolerates certain errors and deviations (things that would have been condemned as sins), the gospel becomes, not salvation by grace, but only a less rigorous law. The veil is rent; what is now our standard of sanctification? The light of God's holiness makes us judge as sin everything which was not in Christ while on earth, and which Christ risen cannot sanction. At the same time we see the complete sanctification of our persons by the blood of the Lamb.
Ignorance, error, and the like, are sometimes spoken of by us as distinct from sin.* It is written: "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light" (Matt. 6:23); if, then, I am in error or darkness, the eye has been, in some respect, not single. There is but the alternative: "Thine eye is evil" A false judgment proceeds from wandering affections.
*"And the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wilt it not, and it shall be forgiven him." (Lev. 5:18, 19.) There is no folly like that of making the blindness of our hearts to be God's estimate of sin; but let the evil and defilement be what it may, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.
There is the confounding of sin, with sins, that is to say, the confounding that which we do in following our evil nature with that nature itself,* and thus the denial of the very existence of sin in one who has 'put on Christ.' We ought to walk 'after the Spirit,' and not 'after the flesh;' but, on the other hand, sin is in our nature. The injunctions not to 'walk after the flesh,' not to 'make provision for the flesh,' show that it is a thing in itself evil;** still the flesh is neither temptation nor Satan, but something in man which is not at all a sin actually committed.
*In order to elude the force of the declaration, "If we say, that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8), it is sometimes commented on thus: 'If we say that we have not sinned,' etc. But this conveys quite a different idea, and exposes the fundamental error of a doctrine which confounds sins committed with the sin which dwelleth in us, in order to deny the latter.
**When I abhor the evil, and the 'new man' rejects with indignation that which Satan presents, it is a temptation, not a sin. But lust in me is always sin. It will not be imputed to me; but that is solely and absolutely because of the blood of Christ. The new man judges it as sin.
Do we find anything about 'the flesh' ceasing to exist? "The flesh lusteth," we are told, "against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." Paul had need of a "thorn in the flesh" (something sent by God to arrest the workings of sin, and to prevent its hindering the apostle's labours), lest he should be puffed up through the abundance of revelations. (2 Cor. 12) So that it is plain a man's being caught up to the third heaven had in no wise changed the nature and tendency of the flesh in its opposition and unthankfulness to God. The flesh is ever the same, and might have grown proud even of this exalted knowledge of God. The divine remedy did not consist in a change of the nature, but in some means of keeping under that nature, still evil. Again, Peter's was a humbling experience. Though "filled with the Spirit" (Acts 4:8), he ceased to eat with the Gentiles (Gal. 2), and walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel. And Paul, far from not regarding these things as sins, withstood him to the face, and reproved him before them all.
The question opened in the book of Job is this: Is a man full of grace? is a "perfect" man wholly without sin? Might such an one present himself before God as having it not? or, on the contrary, is sin in him? And if through grace his walk has indeed been after a manner worthy of this vocation, should he not still, nay, only the rather, have the sense of, and search thoroughly into his state before God? Instead of becoming self-satisfied by reason of the grace accorded, ought he not to judge himself? Forgetting the things which are behind (his own past spiritual progress, save as in reference ever and alone to God), and reaching forth unto those things which are before, in a humility which, with the fulness of confidence in God, mistrusts itself, he should not merely watch, but judge himself, having before God the recognition on his soul of the nature that is there, although it may not act, which is in no wise necessary to our recognition of its existence.
Job is a man full of grace. "There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil." (Job 1:8.) He recounts his experience; and we at once perceive that his mind is taken up (not with the grace of God, or with the grace which is in God, but) with that which has been wrought in himself. He looks upon the manna placed in his hand; he keeps of it until the morning, and it breeds worms, and stinks. (Ex. 16:19, 20.) The flesh lays claim to the effects of grace, and Job's conscience and heart become in consequence less impressed with the abounding goodness and perfect holiness of God. Occupied with his own goodness, that of God is necessarily lost sight of in proportion. Contemplating his own holiness, that of God has by so much less hold on his conscience. But God in love sends him successive trials, in order to show him what is in his heart, to bring out thence the workings of sin, and lay them on his conscience. And thus he is called back to the contemplation of the goodness and perfection of God alone.
We learn, from Job 29, Job's feelings as to his own holiness and grace. "When the ear heard me," he says, "then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was a robe and a diadem," etc. In truth, Job was a man full of grace; but, alas! he perceived it, and his heart needed to be better instructed as to what he was before God.
Trials come. Job remains as exemplary in adversity as he had before been in prosperity. (The root of sin was not yet touched.) He becomes even more remarkable for his patience than for his goodness; for Scripture bears this testimony of him: "Ye have heard of the patience of Job." (James 5:11.), But at length God permits his friends to visit him, and proffer consolation; and Job, so noted for his patience, curses the day of his birth. What afflictions we can endure in secret! but no sooner do our friends become witnesses of them than our pride is stirred. Man's compassion excites impatience.
What is the after result of these trials, and of the lessons reaped by Job through them? Instead of repeating that the eye that saw him gave witness to him, no sooner does he discern the Lord than he exclaims, "Now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
Such is the history of the 'perfect man' according to the Bible.
Is this a rejoicing in iniquity? the endeavour to draw a dark and unfavourable picture of some of the most eminent saints? With all these saints we rejoice in God, rather than in man, having learnt with them that were we to justify ourselves, our own mouths would condemn us. In dwelling on the effect produced in ourselves, and not on the source in God, we manifest unconsciously the spirit of the Pharisee. The Pharisee (Luke 17) began by giving thanks - "I thank thee, O God;" that which characterises a pharisaic spirit is not the omitting to thank God for our blessings: its essence is this - in place of saying, 'I thank thee for what thou art,' it says, 'I thank thee for what I am.' The Pharisee thinks of the grace given, and is lifted up, in place of thinking of the grace which gives, and which forgives.
It is worthy of notice here, that after Pentecost we do not find a single instance of a man's being spoken of as 'perfect.' There is an important reason for this. The gift of the Holy Spirit has rendered us capable of discerning and judging the 'old man,' through the full knowledge we have of the relation of the 'new man' to Jesus Christ. Under the former economy, one who, touching the commandments and ordinances of the law, walked blamelessly, might be said to be perfect. The distinction between the 'old man' and the 'new' was not then taught, as we know and are able to discern it.*
*With Paul, we now can say by the Spirit, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20); and in another place, "It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (Rom. 7:20.) The being made free, spoken of in Romans 8, has rendered us capable of judging the old man, as a nature condemned by God, because we assuredly know that there is another nature, in which we live, and by which we can thus judge it.
The word 'perfect' is used with reference to each of the three great revelations of God - the Almighty (to Abraham), Jehovah (to Israel), and Father (to the Christian).
1st. God said to Abraham, "I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect" (Gen. 17: 1); which means that Abraham was to walk before God, ever confiding in His Almighty power. Abraham did not; he failed in respect of this; and lied (Gen. 20:2) precisely on that account. It was no question of sin in the fallen nature of Abraham; it had to do with his acting in confidence in the almighty power of God. As to fact, he still had sin, and fell.
2nd. The Israelites were instructed: "Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord (Jehovah) thy God." (Deut. 18:13.) This was in respect of their not imitating the abominations of the Canaanites in their idolatries, and not at all a question of sin, or the absence of it, in the heart of this or that Israelite. In the same book (Deut. 29:4), Moses tells them, "Yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day." It referred solely to faithfulness to God in the rejection of every species of idolatry.
3rd. In the sermon on the mount we read, "Be ye perfect, even* as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48.) The Lord Jesus Himself explains it by what goes before. This perfection consists in acting in love, and not according to the law of retaliation ("an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth"); it is to act toward men on the principle of the divine conduct towards us, according to the grace of our heavenly Father. It does not say, 'Present to God such a character of perfection, that you may be accepted of, or be made well-pleasing to Him;' but, 'Ye are the children of your heavenly Father;' show forth, therefore, His character toward, the world; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. He acts in grace, and not according to law; you saved sinners, you are the proof; be the witnesses of it; the publicans love those who love them - your heavenly Father loves His enemies, acts by this rule; 'be ye perfect,' etc. There is no allusion to the root of sin in our nature; it is no question whether or not sin is in the flesh, but of the principle which ought to regulate the conduct of 'children of God,' in contrast with law, or with natural justice.
*Observe the difference of expression. It is not said, "Be ye perfect before me," or "with thy God" (as to Abraham and the Israelites), but "as your Father."
There are, however, several passages which, from being looked at apart from their context, or misunderstood as to their true sense or bearing, have, as experience proves, been the occasion of difficulty to sincere Christians. A few of them are here referred to, in the endeavour to establish their true meaning.
1. "I am crucified with Christ." (Gal. 2:20.) It is so far from true that the apostle (who without question was eminently faithful) is speaking only of himself, or of his own state of sanctification here, that he elsewhere affirms that all Christians are crucified with him. In this same epistle he asserts, that "they who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." (Gal. 5:24.) It is no question of 'the reception of Christ by certain souls for their sanctification,'* but that which is true of all Christians. This is plainly taught in the sixth chapter of the epistle to the Romans (from the first to the 11th verse), where he says "So many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ, were baptized into His death," etc. Again, "Our old man has been crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin;" and again, "He that is dead is free from sin." The apostle deduces hence this clear and simple conclusion (not, 'you have therefore no more evil concupiscence;' not, 'you are therefore dead to all sinful inclination,' but) "let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies; that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof" - a poor, miserable, and unintelligible conclusion to those who assert that sin no longer exists in one who is crucified with Christ. If sin no longer exist, weak is the inference, 'Let it not, therefore, reign;' and to say, 'Let it not reign,' is incompatible with the thought that it no longer exists. The conclusion drawn by the Holy Ghost here is continually that of the word of God in similar passages elsewhere: Paul, for instance, writes to the Colossians: "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God;" and tells them: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth," etc.; Col. 3) And would we know how the Christian is dead we have only to read, the 11th, 12th, and 20th verses of the preceding chapter. To be dead is really true of all Christians; according to the mind of God. The same remarks apply to Rom. 8:10-12.
*A specious form assumed by error, is this; 'we ought not to seek sanctification by human effort, but, by receiving Christ as our sanctification, the germ of sin is destroyed, and we are perfectly holy, and without sin or evil concupiscence.' We shall never indeed, by any strength of man, attain to sanctification, but, in looking to Christ, we find an abundant spring of life and holiness.
2. "Being now made free from sin." (Rom. 6:18, 22.) The apostle tells those to whom he writes, that he speaks to them "after the manner of men, because of the infirmity of their flesh." The term "made free" is used by him in contradistinction to a state of slavery, and he adds, by way of marking the contrast, that they have become servants to God. It is a simple illustration of slaves and freedmen; introduced by the apostle to make himself better understood. Moreover, the condition spoken of is that of all Christians, without exception.
3. "As he (Christ) is, so are we in this world." (1 John 4:17.) We are told in the preceding chapter - "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself; even as he is pure." What hope? That of being "like him; for," it is added, "we shall see him as he is." So that to be whilst "in this world" (and not merely when He comes) "as he is," is to be as Jesus is now in glory, and not as He was (that which is nowhere said in the Word). But it is certain that in our present state we are not in ourselves as He is. An attentive examination of the whole passage will show what it is the Holy Ghost designs to teach. "In this was manifested the love of God toward us," we are told (v. 9), "because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him;" and further (v. 17), "Herein is love with us perfected, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world." Love perfected with us does not make us say, 'so' that we may be this in ourselves, but 'that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.' And what gives this boldness? God has manifested His love in sending His Son into the world, etc. He has completed (or perfected) this love in setting us before Himself in Christ. We are not (He is) personally in the glory: but we are perfectly as He is before God. Accepted in the Beloved; loved as He is loved; righteous, as He is righteous; in principle and in hope we are made partakers of His glory. Our union with Him is a real thing; whoso touches us touches Him. He can say (speaking of us) as He did to Saul of Tarsus, "Why persecutest thou me?" God in Christ manifested His love to man. Man in Christ is presented to God in the perfectness of Christ's acceptance, and has the enjoyment of this through the Holy Ghost in the new nature communicated, and by which we participate in it. This nature manifests itself in a walk according to its own principles. But the old man is not changed, though judged in thought and way
4 "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18) This refers to that thorough confidence in the love of God that sets the heart at liberty in His presence, and gives peace and joy in communion with Him. It has not anything to do with the absence of sin in the flesh. His love is shed abroad in our hearts - "not that we loved him, but that he loved us." God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us. Made partakers of the divine nature; and filled with the Holy Ghost, we are filled with love (the consciousness of His love), and consequently we love after a divine manner. But it does not follow that the flesh is changed. The soul, filled with the Holy Ghost, thinks of the love which is in God, and not of the love we have for God.
5. "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." (1 John 3:9.) The apostle, here and in similar passages of his epistle, predicates that which is true of all Christians (not of certain Christians who have attained 'perfection,' so that they no longer sin, while other Christians have not). It is those who are 'born of God.' As a distinctive mark between them and the children of the devil, he brings forward the character of that nature which they have received from Christ, and consequently that of their life and conduct. "He that committeth sin is of the devil." (v. 8.) So that according to the idea refuted, every one who is not 'perfect' is of the devil. It may be replied that there are many scholars in one and the same class, who individually have made very different progress. But this is said of the entire class, and does not refer to the greater or less progress of particular scholars.
6 "Let us go on unto perfection." (Heb. 6:1.) We find, on examining the passage, that this has no reference to the 'state of sanctification,' but to advancing in knowledge. The apostle is contrasting "the principles of the doctrine of Christ" (as a believing Jew might have understood them before Pentecost), and the knowledge, which the "Holy Ghost sent down from heaven" gives of the fulness of the glory of the Son of man, exalted above all. The signification of the word 'perfect' in several other passages is similar, and has no reference whatever to the presence or absence of sin.
7 "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded." (Phil. 3:15) Paul adds (vv. 12, 13), "not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect. I count not myself to have apprehended." Jesus Christ had apprehended him for the resurrection from the dead. Having learned the purpose of Jesus, he pressed towards the mark, and in so doing acknowledged the imperfection of his actual condition.
8 "Every one that is perfect shall be as his Master." (Luke 6:40.) This refers to the principles of the believer's conduct, the complete reception of the principles of his Master. See the whole passage. There is here no allusion to the nature of the disciple, but to the light and principles which ought to guide him. We can admit of no example but the perfect walk of Jesus Christ Himself, But Christ in His nature was without sin, and we were shapen in iniquity; and, although I put off the old man, and put on the new, the work of God does not consist in restoring the first Adam here below, but in communicating the life of the Second, to whom I shall be made conformable when I see Him as He is; and never till then.
9 "There is no concord between Christ and Belial." (2 Cor. 6:15.) This is referred to here on the ground of its being sometimes made to affirm that Christ and Belial cannot dwell in the same temple. The saint's body is not the temple of Belial, it is the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 6: 19), although the root of sin still remain in us. Christ and Belial do subsist together. They were together in the world, of which Belial himself was 'the prince,' when Jesus was on the earth. To say that there is 'no concord' between them is a totally different thing.
Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth. Do we find Paul turning back to rest upon his own feelings? His conscience bears him good witness - "I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified," he says: "but he that judgeth me is the Lord." (1 Cor. 4:4.) In vain we search the whole Bible for a witness given by the Holy Ghost to our souls of our complete 'sanctification.' We clearly see in Scripture that we are "children of God," "heirs of God," objects of His perfect love; that, in communion with Him, we have the enjoyment of His love, that we glory in Him. But as to entire 'sanctification,' we find it not at all; it is a notion which can in no way be made to accord with the true 'perfection' - that 'perfection' which is ours, already enjoyed by us in hope, but which will be completed only in the resurrection. It is an error connected with a host of other errors, and destructive of some of the most precious truths and consolations of the gospel.
A knowledge of God's perfect love through the Holy Ghost produces necessarily in us a reciprocity of love (feeble, doubtless, but real and pure). We manifest the divine nature. God dwells in us, and we in Him. The love with which He loves us is shed abroad in our hearts, and the consciousness we have of this shows itself in love towards Him; the brightness of His countenance beams on ours, and we reflect the mild and powerful rays. But as it is through the gift of the Holy Ghost that we know the love of God, so, by the same Spirit, the love of our hearts responds without effort to His love so known. If I am told that God demands this love, that He requires it as indispensable, you place me under law, and do away with the very principle of justification; grace is set aside, the grand gospel principle that God justifies the ungodly. (Rom. 4:5.) In confounding this love, where it exists, with perfect holiness and the extinction of sin, I evidence a deep ignorance of my own heart.
The soul set at liberty, and having tasted of this love, filled, absorbed with it, may suppose (the capacity of the heart being limited) that nothing else does or ought to exist in it. But sin exists ever in our nature, and more, it germinates at times, precisely because we stop at the effect of love instead of being occupied with the source. No sooner do we turn in upon self, and the effect grace has produced in us, than communion with the spring is interrupted, and the effects of grace become, through the deceitfulness of the heart, the incentive to sin, especially to falling into pride.
Vain are our efforts to derive fresh strength from the effects of grace; the conscience is never thus brought into exercise (not even in the most elevated spiritual state), which it always is where the soul has God before it; and, as liveliness of conscience in His presence is practically our safeguard, the moment I turn in upon self, to contemplate the grace that is in me, I am on the highroad to a fall. I am away from the source of my spiritual strength.
We must not confound conduct void of offence with the absence of all sin, that is to say with the extirpation of 'the germ of sin' in our nature. Doubtless the Christian ought to maintain a thoroughly blameless conduct; he cannot justify his having, even for a moment, walked 'after the flesh.' As to fact, "in many things we offend all" (James 3:2); but "God is faithful, who will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able." (1 Cor. 10:13) I can never excuse myself by saying, 'It is the flesh which is still in me that caused me to fall,' that flesh ought to have been mortified. I must confess to my own want of watchfulness and prayer. Possibly I had not sufficiently got to the bottom of my heart, and this has been permitted, as with Job, for my instruction, to work in me a deepened apprehension of the exceeding riches of God's grace, who loves me, and can bring good out of evil, though he never justifies it. I am without excuse. The blood of Jesus Christ expiates the sin; but I have failed. If I go on to plead; 'I am but a child, I am yet so weak in the faith;' this alters not the case; for, had there been in me the fear and distrust of self which befit weakness, I should not have fallen. Sin (the principle of self-will) was at work,
Alas! how much of levity of heart there is in us all; the, unholy levity of the world is not that of which we speak. What lightness, even in our best intercourse one with another! lightness of thought and lightness of speech, even about good things! We must remember that, if the flesh is in us, the Holy Ghost is in us too. It is our privilege, and might be our experience, to know the flesh only in the presence of God, only to know it as we learn it in communion with Him; and what it really is, is never so well known or so hated as when so learnt. We shall be conscious of the workings of the flesh; but ought it ever to be allowed so to work in a saint as to get into his conscience, or to show itself before others? The way it should be detected is by abiding in the presence of God, and them we should not have the pain of learning its nature by its own workings, but through the Holy Ghost in judging it. When we detect the flesh because we are in communion with God, it never either troubles our conscience before God, or dishonours our Master before men. And God is able to keep us from falling, both inwardly and outwardly. One who loves holiness knows if he gets into unholy thoughts even for a minute - a saint must feel that an unholy thought is a fall, as truly a fall as an open transgression, though not so manifest to others. We should bear in mind, that even these inward falls are not necessary; if the flesh were always by us judged, and thoroughly judged, in the presence of God, we should find that He would thus keep us. When we are in communion with Him, when living as in His presence, are not sin and temptation powerless? Nor need these happy seasons be short; the more simplicity of heart and faith, the longer they will last.
This is not said to discourage. Let us not mistrust God, or feel less certainty that we can go to Him (as though He did not love us), because our attainments are low. It is not the Holy Ghost who would lead us away from God, even though we may be conscious of much failure and sin; it is Satan. It is always the work of the enemy, when distrust of God's love is the result of a sense of failure; though the consciousness of sin may be of the Holy Ghost. God shows us our failure to lead us on; but Satan seeks to spoil His work, by throwing in distrust. "If any man sin, we have am advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," (1 John 2:1), and thus that communion should not be interrupted.
Heaven in prospect, our being made like Jesus in glory, our being with Him, the joy of His presence, the absence of all evil, no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither any more pain; in a word, the presence, glory, and heavenly rest of our God, what incentives these to advance indefinitely in the career of holiness and piety! whilst we are made to feel by that which imparts to us fresh vigour, that we are still far from the goal which, through grace, we shall assuredly attain. How different this from the endeavour to make the whole revelation of the grace of God serve to set up afresh a species of Judaism! Paul, who, perhaps, stood foremost in the ranks of the soldiers of faith, has said: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." (1 Cor. 15:19.) It was because he had received the first-fruits of the Spirit, that he groaned within himself (Rom. 8:23); that he ran not as uncertainly, that he fought not as one that beateth the air, that he kept under his body and brought it into subjection. (1 Cor. 9:26, 27.) This is not the rest that remaineth to the people of God. (Heb. 4:9.) Are there no internal conflicts? or admitting that we have not any longer to struggle with an enemy indomitable and harassing us with all his might, is not continued watchfulness needed, for holding in one who, with malice and enmity unchanged, is ready at any moment to break out and do us hurt?
To love God, because He ought to be loved, and so to reflect His image in purity, is that which the law demanded.
Grace presents the love of God towards us, when we were undeserving of that love. It places us, in Christ, upon a new and unchangeable ground of eternal joy. It presents God Himself under an aspect unknown to Adam, and impossible under the law; for the law of necessity requires perfect love in us; it cannot, it should not, spare the sinner.
By the regenerating power of the life of Christ we are renewed after the image of God; but we are renewed on the principle of an eternal gratitude, which alone puts God in His right place with regard to the creature; and which puts the creature, fallen and made alive anew, in its place in relation to God.