The Moral Application for the Christian.
Therefore let no man glory in men," says the apostle (1 Cor. 3:21); and he says it of such men as "Paul or Apollos or Cephas." And of himself he says, "To me it is a very small matter to be judged of you, or of man's judgment; yea, I judge not mine own self: for I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified, but He that judgeth me is the Lord." (1 Cor. 4:3, 4.)
How simply and decidedly has Paul accepted, as we may say, the lesson of this long, sad history! How he disclaims the very ability to form even a really trustworthy estimate of himself! Not in the least to set aside the necessity of self-judgment: "Herein," says he, "do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." (Acts 24:16.) But having done all, — searching and finding nothing whereof to accuse himself, instead of pronouncing as to his condition, he refers that to Christ's judgment, and not his own.
And to this all Scripture seems, as if with one voice, to call us. On the one hand, it puts before us a perfect standard, the very highest, — to walk as He walked. When also it speaks of a Christian according to the divine thought, it draws a perfect exemplar, — no blots, nor defects. For a copy, it would not do: we should copy faithfully the defects: and this is what Dr. Steele has forgotten, easily and conclusively proved by this, that the picture is of the Christian as such, — not of a certain class. Then, on the other hand, if you look at the actual men and women, it seems as if your attention were to be specially called to their imperfections, and worse than imperfections. Scripture biographers differ from human ones so in this respect that it has been the subject of common remark.
So with the dealing of the Spirit of God with us individually. Do we dream that He is going to exhibit us to our own eyes "radiant with all the excellencies of Christ"? It would indeed be perilous: "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness" (Ezek. 28:17), it was said of old. "Lest, being lifted up with pride," says the apostle, "he fall into the condemnation of the devil." (1 Tim. 3:6.)
No; there is one place indeed in which we may contemplate ourselves without danger, but that is in Christ: the very thing which Dr. Steele so refuses. "I knew a man in Christ," says the apostle again: . . . of such an one will I glory; but in myself I will NOT glory, save in mine infirmities." (2 Cor. 12:2, 3.)
Holiness God seeks and requires from us, and He means it be real — imparted, not imputed. But God's way of it is still by faith, and in Christ for us in this sense, that it is as "we all with open face behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory." (2 Cor. 3:18.)
It is just while we have our eyes thus upon and are occupied with Christ that this effect is found. It is just because all legal effort means occupation with ourselves that it avails nothing to produce the holiness it requires. This is the true lesson of Rom. 7:4. To find deliverance from this experience, and power for a right walk, the "law of the Spirit," — or, as I would suggest it may be more clearly read, "the Spirit's law of life in Christ Jesus," is what sets us "free from the law of sin and death."
For this deliverance, we must know that in the cross God has not only put away our sins, but has put us away in all that we were and are as sinners; and this is what is meant by our old man being "crucified with Christ." It is not true for inward experience, for sense, or feeling. It is true for faith alone. And as "Christ died unto sin once, and in that He liveth, liveth unto God," so are we told, not feel or find, but "reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus."
It is thus we are set free from the necessity of self-occupation, and given ability to turn away entirely to Him whom God has made to us not only "righteousness," but "sanctification" also. It is faith realizing this that says, in words so misapprehended by Dr. Steele, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal.2:20.)
We shall now take Dr. Steele's objections to all this as he conceives it, and his own very meagre statement of his own views, as they lie, scattered with very little order through his book. We shall thus have the main points in controversy fully before us, and with this, so far as holiness is concerned, our task will be at an end. We must go back to the doctrine of the two natures first; — he says, reporting the views he is condemning, — "In regeneration, the new man is created in the believer, and the old man remains with all his powers unchanged" same as the new man, nor of course the old nature synonymous with the old man. Nature and person are essentially different. Scripture does not state that the old man exists side by side with the new in the believer, but that we have put off the old man and put on the new.
The old man is myself as I look back upon myself — a sinner in my sins. The new man is what I am now in Christ Jesus. It is manifest that these two things could not exist together. This leads us to what must be our next quotation. "The doctrine of the two natures is not completely stated till the fact is brought out that neither is regarded as responsible for the acts of the other. For they are conceived of as persons. If the flesh of the believer behaves badly, that is none of the believer's business.''
This is an inference, and not at all the doctrine of those Dr. Steele is reviewing. It gains plausibility from that confusion of nature and person which I entirely refuse. Accountability belongs to a person, not a nature.
It is not the flesh that sins, but the man; and if a believer does so, he comes under the divine government as liable for it. "The time is come," says the apostle Peter, "that judgment must begin at the house of God. And if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous be with difficulty saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:17, 18.) ''And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here with fear; forasmuch as ye know that ye are not redeemed with corruptible things, as with silver and gold, . . . but with the precious blood of Christ." (chap. 1:17-19.) "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." (1 Cor. 11:31, 32.)
Thus it is not true that there is not accountability, but it is to a Father's holy government, and any needed chastening is itself the fruit of grace.
As to the distinctness of the two natures, it should be plain that they must be distinct and opposed. The good is from God, — His nature and His gift. He could not be or communicate a half-evil thing. Life, it is true, we cannot define; how much less a life which is spiritual: but it is life we receive, and eternal life.
Moreover, we are absolutely assured that "the mind of the flesh," — not, as in our version, "the carnal mind" — "is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom. 8:7.) Flesh cannot be changed into spirit, nor spirit into flesh: they are opposed ever and only.
This may be difficult to understand psychologically. But as far as experience goes, Dr. Steele will not deny it to be the experience of most Christians. Even supposing it not to be his, and that he has never known it, this would have to be accounted for as an anomaly on his side.
It will be seen, therefore, that I do not adopt the "favorite method of exegesis of 1 John 3:9," which, our author says, "is, to substitute 'whatsoever' for 'whosoever,' and to say, 'That part of our nature which is born of God doth not commit sin,' the unregenerate part will continue to sin." And as to the illustration which follows, he should have informed us whether it is his own putting into words the thoughts of others, or from what nameless writer he derives it, or why he cannot give the name. It is "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin," and applies, therefore, to all the children of God. It is their character, not that they are always (alas!) consistent with themselves.
The questions which follow (pp. 65-68) are all therefore set aside by this, where they have not been answered. We turn to the passage which shows us God's way of power in this condition.
"Says McIntosh, 'It is no part of the work of the Spirit to improve human nature,' — that seems to be past praying for, — but to make a brand-new man to dwell in the same body with the old man till physical death luckily comes and kills the old Adam, who had successfully defied all power in heaven and earth to crucify him. Henceforth the new man has the entire possession of the disembodied soul. How different this from the holiness bearing its heavenly fruit this side of the grave.
The only scripture cited for this doctrine of death-sanctification is Rom. 6:7 — 'He that is dead is free from sin.' This evidently means (see ver. 6), He who has died unto sin is freed, or justified (R.V.), from sin" (pp. 60, 61).
I must not question Dr. Steele's uprightness. I can only, therefore, say that his incapacity for even understanding what he is opposing is indeed phenomenal. I never, that I can remember, heard the text in question quoted for "death-sanctification" in the sense in which he speaks of it. Nor does he appeal to any particular writer, but says it is so. The writings of the "Brethren" in general are to be, I suppose, the proof. Then I say, it is simply, and without any qualification, an untruth. Let Dr. S. meet the challenge, and show proof. But it is a little too gross to say that we do not believe in "a holiness bearing its heavenly fruit this side of the grave"! If nothing less than "freedom from all sin, original and actual," be holiness, then the charge is true; but no more true of us than of the mass of Christians. But will even our author contend for this? The fact is, that the use of Rom. 6:7 is in the interest of present holiness, and always for this end. The application of it Dr. S. makes is true as such, that "he who has died to sin is justified from sin;" but his thought about this is another matter. He supposes that to have died to sin is to have ceased from it practically and altogether, whether actual or original.
"He finds St. Paul's inspired unfoldings of the gospel-germs dropped by Christ to be the exact fulfillment and realization of these predictions, when the apostle asserts that 'our old man is crucified with Him' — that is, in the same manner, and with as deadly effect — that the body of sin might be destroyed' — 'put out of existence' (Meyer); so that every advanced believer may truthfully assert, 'It is no longer I that live'" (p. 25).
Thus, then, it is only "the advanced believer" who can be "justified from sin"! Is that true, Dr. Steele? There is, then, in this case, no such thing as the justification of the ungodly! Or is this another thing from justification before God? or is it a second justification of the believer, not the first?
I know that it is maintained by Mr. Fletcher that the sinner is justified by faith without works, but the Christian is justified by faith and works, and by and by in the day of judgment to be justified by works without faith! But even Mr. Fletcher hardly maintains that a Christian can only be justified by absolute freedom from sin. If it be indeed so, then it must be the case that every one who is first justified by faith without works must be immediately cleansed from all sin, actual and original, and his justification thereafter must depend upon his maintaining this condition. But a consequence of this will be that instead of its being an "advanced Christian" who can speak as our author, every Christian who is not perfect must have fallen from perfection; and, in the same act, fallen from justification. There can be no justified Christians but these perfect ones! And those so fallen must begin again as sinners, and be justified afresh! Justified how often also must the mass of Christians be! One would think, upon this plan, as often as you shake a friend's hand in the street you would have to ask, Do you belong to Christ today? and that Methodist pastors must find it their chief labour to bring back souls to justification! As for the rest of Christians, — the imperfect ones, — there are none. It ought to be earnestly protested against as a delusion that there can be such!
I should not impute such consequences to Dr. Steele except that they seem necessarily to result from his view of 1 John 1:7, which we have considered. But if this is not his thought of justification from sin, he should surely tell us what it is. Can it mean simply that you cannot charge with sin a man who is practically dead to it, — if it refer to the past, this is not true: former sins might still be charged; if it refer to the present, it is a mere truism. Think of the apostle solemnly telling you that a man who had no sin could not be (properly) charged with any!
So that we are tired of finding meanings for Dr. Steele: very unnecessary work, no doubt; only he seems to want to be (and to suppose that he is) intelligible. It remains that if "justified from sin" cannot be taken in the way he takes it, the door is open for an interpretation that will stand the test of intelligibility and of Scripture. The truth is, that "he that has died is justified from sin" is simply an appeal to fact. Death cancels all possible indictments. He who has died is passed beyond them. The death to which he applies this is our death to sin. How, then, are we dead to sin?
The fundamental basis of all the reasoning here is in the latter part of the fifth chapter, — the doctrine of the two heads. Adam, the head of the old creation, is the figure of Christ, the Head of new creation.
Our relation to the first Adam is by life, a life actually communicated from him, and by which corruption of nature becomes ours, and death the stamp upon a fallen being. Our relation to Christ is by life also, real and holy in its nature, as we have seen, — a life eternal, upon which death can never pass.
But this would not be enough if it were all. There must be also complete atonement for sin, and justification.
Death is the removal of the fallen creature from the place for which he was originally created, the sign of divine displeasure, by which the old creation comes to an end in judgment. Christ's death for us on the cross glorifies God in this setting aside of the old creation; not, therefore, to restore it, but to separate us from it, as those who have their part in new creation with Himself.
For those, then, who have life in Christ, that they are "dead with Christ" has the very deepest meaning. It speaks, not of an inward change, but of a change of relation. It is that in which our relation to the old creation is judicially ended. In this sense, as a question of liability on this ground, we have died to sin, and to have died to sin is to be justified from it. This, then, is the fact for every child of God; but it is a fact, not to be felt or experienced, but reckoned; not for sense or of attainment, but a basis-fact for faith. "In that Christ died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. So," as the word is better, reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus" (Rom 6:10, 11, R.V.).
Immediately there follows, "Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body." Not, let it not be, but Let it not reign: a very meagre result if we were actually and experimentally dead to it. But this is to be the moral result: "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed" — or rather, spite of Meyer, — "annulled," made to be as though it were not, — "that henceforth we should not be slaves to sin" (Rom 6:6, Gk.).
The power is in this, that we are thus freed from all need of self-occupation. By the cross, for faith, our old self is set entirely aside; not that we may be occupied even with a new self in its place, but with Christ, in whom we live, and who, as this is practically realized, lives in us. This is the true meaning of what Dr. Steele quotes: "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2:19, 20.) It is certain, therefore, that Dr. Steele is again under misconception when he represents us as saying that "those scriptures in which the old man is to be crucified, mortified, or killed are all understood to imply a life-long torture on the cross, — a killing that continues through scores of years" (p. 62). Not merely do the Plymouth Brethren never speak of a life-long torture, but, with Scripture, they absolutely never speak of the old man as to be killed at all. "Our old man was crucified," and we reckon ourselves, not dying, but dead. The seventh of Romans shows the working of this practically, in contrast with legal effort and self-occupation. Deliverance is by turning from it all to Christ, in whom we are, that beholding His glory we may be changed into His image. "To me, to live is Christ" is necessary holiness; "To me, to live is holiness" leaves out Christ.
On my side, to sum up: — I object to the system Dr. Steele advocates, first, because its relaxed law for men of "damaged moral powers" is really and manifestly Antinomian.
Secondly, because in it righteousness in Christ is repudiated, and our own obedience to this law as a "rule of judgment" is substituted for it.
Thirdly, because Christ's work, according to it, merely puts man in a salvable condition — does not save him.
Fourthly, because the penalty of sin is not really borne, and God, therefore, as inflicting it, not really glorified.
Fifthly, because new birth is made merely a work of moral suasion, to be undone as easily as it was done.
Sixthly, because fear, which would have torment, is made an essential means of holiness, and perfect rest in Christ is made impossible.
Seventhly, because, to maintain perfection in the flesh the standard of walk is lowered, and sin in the believer is palliated or denied.
These are grave charges. They have been sufficiently substantiated by his own words, and I have, I trust, faithfully and fully examined these. It is for our readers now to judge by Scripture, and in the presence of God, where the truth is. The question of practical holiness is one of the greatest importance, and connects itself, as we have seen, with the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. It is the outcome of these when wrought by the Spirit of God into the life. Well may it be, then, a test of any creed, how it provides for this. As such, we may not shrink from it, although able to make no such pretensions as Dr. Steele makes for himself. We dare not say that in us the flesh does not lust against the Spirit. We dare not claim to walk up to our standard, Christ's own perfect walk. We are unfeignedly thankful to find thus in the cross that which has set aside for us the need of a self-occupation which we have found fruitless in the accomplishment of deliverance from the law of sin; and in Christ risen from the dead, an absolute acceptance and an object for the heart which we are persuaded ***are the only power for holiness practicable to man, Occupation of heart with One who has passed into the heavens is deliverance from self, from the world, from sin. In Him there we have an eternal satisfying portion, which frees from the corruption which is in the world through lust. But we are feeble and dependent, and all Scripture unites in pressing this upon us; our wisdom is, to know how truly so. Weakness is not discouragement when a God of infinite resources and unfailing power bids us take hold upon His strength. And this gives Him also His place and glory: "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," becomes thus indeed a blessed reality.
For this He would remove all tormenting fear out of our hearts, that He Himself may be trusted fully, and dwell fully in them. Faith worketh, not by fear, but by love. Chastening itself is from a Father's hand, and a token of sonship: "What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" Thus we may indeed need to be recalled to ourselves and to Him. But "work of faith, labour of love, patience of hope," these are the three tokens of our "election of God."
Imperfectly I have expressed all this, I am sure; but Dr. Steele has attacked as the theology of brethren what is truth, and vital truth. What the "brethren" hold may be in itself quite unimportant — save indeed to themselves. What is the truth on the great themes we have been discussing is of the greatest importance. May the Lord guide His people in judgment!
Of "brethren" themselves I have designedly said nothing. Those who are interested in this can easily have their desire satisfied. Only I would say that they should be judged by their own statements, and not otherwise. Upon the matter of prophecy also I do not enter. It is a wide subject, there are plenty of helps to be obtained, and the attention of Christians is being largely, thank God, directed to it.
F. W. Grant.