Chapter 6.

Sin in the Believer.

We are come now to the discussion of one of the most sorrowful of topics. That, spite of grace, sin should be in the believer; that, spite of perfect power over it provided, (for in the Spirit of God dwelling in us there must be perfect power,) sin should prevail, so far as it must be acknowledged it does, over the mass at least; that for absolutely sinless perfection in any, few will contend, — this is surely a dark and difficult problem to solve, — a sad and humbling fact to contemplate.

Dr. Steele's confession, that "human nature in its best estate can never be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear," is surely as humbling as any. While his doctrine of perfection is one that only adds difficulty to the problem, instead of throwing light upon it.

"He is confident that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus does now 'make us free from the law of sin and death,' although it does not, this side of the grave, deliver us from errors, ignorances, and such innocent infirmities as St. Paul gloried in without detriment to his saintly character." (p.25.)

Again : "If he will confess his lost condition, God is faithful and just, not only to forgive, but also to cleanse from all sin 'actual and original'" (Bengel) (p. 24). Original sin is thought to mean the corruption of nature as born of fallen parents; so that Dr. S. admits in these cleansed ones "no defiling taint of depravity, no bent toward acts of sin." Yet he cannot "be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear"! Perfect and free from everything but errors, ignorances, and infirmities a saint may glory in, and yet —! The passage referred to in 1 John 1 cannot by any possibility be made to apply merely to a certain class of "advanced Christians." If one confessing his lost condition is cleansed by God from all sin, actual and original, then it is surely plain that every Christian must be so cleansed*** for where one who has never confessed his lost condition?

If, however, every Christian is not thus cleansed (and Dr. S. cannot but allow this), then, as God cannot be unfaithful, it is perfectly plain that cleansing from all sin cannot go as far as this. But this does not necessitate that "judicial clearance or justification" must be in that case understood." (p. 106.) It is plain from ver. 7, which is parallel to ver. 9, that cleansing by blood is meant, and this is not, that I am aware, ever applied to inward sanctification, — holiness. This latter is by the Spirit, and the truth, "washing of water by the Word." (Eph. 5:26.) Cleansing by blood is not justification either, but its effect, "the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience." (Heb. 10:22.) "How shall not the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God" (chap. 9:14)?

But Dr. Steele would still urge that "this involves St. John in the Romish doctrine of good works as a condition of justification — 'If ye walk in the light'. This is certainly a course of good works prescribed as a condition of cleansing." (p. 106)

But this is not so, it is not how we walk, but where. "That which doth make manifest is light." (Eph. 5:13.) And "God is light" (1 John 1:5) — said only a few verses before. It is of a soul before God, brought to conviction in His presence, that the apostle is speaking. Here sins are brought out only to be removed; and that, in fact, as charged against us, and so for the conscience also.
As for 2 Cor. 7:1, God's cleansing and our "cleansing ourselves" are somewhat different. But the first is not justification, as I have said.

This is the place also to say that "it is of the utmost importance that we accurately distinguish between sin in the flesh and sin on the conscience" (p. 82), and that where the apostle says, "There is no more conscience of sins," he does not mean "no more consciousness of sins." "Conscience," says Dr. S., "is nothing more than consciousness when the question of right or wrong is before the mind." (p. 81.) As usual, he has not a thought of looking at the context.

"For the law," says the apostle, "having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the corners thereto perfect: for then would they not have ceased to be offered? because the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." (Heb. 10:1, 2.) Now here it should be plain that it is all a question, not of the commission of sins, but of the efficacy of the Jewish sacrifices to purge or perfect the conscience as to them. For Dr. S., it should be a most convincing lesson. Why should not the sacrifices have been offered year by year? Not designed, of course, to put away again the old sins, but those of the year since the last, why should they not? Because the conscience could never be perfected after that method. One year's sins would hardly be put away before another's would begin to accumulate. Sin would be always thus, not merely in their consciousness, but on their conscience. But that could never be the divine thought. No, the worshippers once divinely purged would have complete settlement and perfect rest; they would have had no more conscience of sins.

Consciousness of sins, no doubt, is the work of conscience; but conscience of sins means not to be at rest because of them. A perfected conscience should be, according to Dr. Steele, a conscience made fully alive and sensitive to right and wrong; a perfected conscience, for the apostle, means a conscience completely at peace through the blood of atonement.

As for sin in the flesh and sin on the conscience, it is hard to see how any one could confound them although we might not all agree — as I could not, — to use the passage in John cited in proof of the distinction. I must not be expected to defend this use of it therefore.

We have in fact discussed sin on the conscience, and looked at the divine way in which it is met. Sin in the flesh is our present theme. It is of course sin in the nature; and Dr. Steele must allow that Gal. 5:17 is at least a convincing proof that in many Christians it is thus yet found. The Galatians were backsliders, he contends; in them, the flesh might lust against the Spirit. It does not, I suppose we are to infer, in him. But has he observed that where the apostle enjoins "Walk in the Spirit," he does not say, and you shall not have the flesh, but "you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh:" a very poor result for a modern perfectionist! Moreover, the fact of the conflict is stated in direct sequence to this: "for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." Thus it seems surely to follow that those lusts of the flesh might indeed be there, though they walked in the Spirit.

In Romans also, if the apostle does say, "The law of the Spirit hath freed me from the law of sin and death," that is another thing from the presence of sin in the flesh. Moreover, he definitely states, as we have seen, "If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin." By and by, but not in the present life, "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal body." (Rom. 8:10, 11.) Not till we are raised or changed, then, shall the body partake of the new life which the Spirit has received. As a consequence of this, the apostle exhorts, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh; for if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye, through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." So again in the twelfth chapter: "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice," — sacrifice in life, and not in death, — "holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."

And again in Col. 3: "Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth, — fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry."

It is plain from these passages, —
1. That the body and the flesh are connected, though not confounded. Indeed it is evident that the "flesh" as a name for the old nature is derived from the body.
2 That the new life received in new birth has yet not been communicated to the body, nor will be till our final change comes.
3. That however sin is not of course to be conceived of as if it were a material thing, nor the body, as if it were unconnected with the soul, which is ever in Scripture the seat of its lusts and appetites.
4. That never in this life can sin be extirpated from the person, so as that the body shall not be "dead because of sin," to be rendered up therefore a sacrifice, not to be treated as a living thing, but a passive instrument by which under the control of the Spirit of God, He may be glorified.

I have no thought that this goes to the bottom of the question or covers the whole ground. I merely give what is enough to show that the perfection which Dr. Steele imagines is not the scriptural one. And he himself conclusively shows this when he cannot allow that these perfect ones, in whom "no bent toward the acts of sin" is conceived to remain, can be safely freed from the "salutary restraint" — restraint upon what? — of fear as to their ultimate salvation!

All the terms in which this sinless perfection is described are taken from passages in which, not a special class, but all the children of God are spoken of, who yet are confessedly not in the condition which they are supposed to picture: a conclusive proof of how imaginary the condition is.

While, to accommodate the experience to the condition supposed, "lusts of the flesh" are constantly, by perfectionists, ascribed to Satan, and spoken of as temptations when they should be judged as sin.

The standard is always and necessarily lowered: for who that admits that "he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked" would dare to prate of a perfect fulfillment of this obligation?These are marks of essential antinomianism in all who profess a perfection such as Dr. Steele so loudly trumpets forth.

Yet it does not follow that because sin in the flesh is admitted, it is at all admitted that there is the least apology to be made for sin ruling over any. We should surely realize a "law of the Spirit" which set us "free from the law of sin and death." There is no doubt that the strength of perfectionism lies in the revolt of the conscience from the thought which makes the experience of the seventh of Romans the proper and inevitable Christian state. A loyal adherence to Scripture will not consist with the maintenance of either of these positions.