"Let us go on to perfection."
In many souls, there is an earnest desire after increased holiness in these last days; and in the midst of so much declension and coldness of heart, that desire, and longing of heart for holiness and consecration to God, should be encouraged in every possible way according to God. With this object I now write a few thoughts on this subject. To help every anxious soul is my desire, and to hinder none.
As I know this will be read by those deeply interested in this subject, with them I can speak freely. I feel one question pressing upon my heart, and I know it has pressed on many of your hearts. How is it that so many of those professing holiness of heart, and many sincerely seeking it, have been so sadly discouraged? so many disappointed? so many almost giving up the pursuit in despair? And have you not heard precious souls, who have, and do, profess holiness, ask this question also — How is it there is so little growth? We attend holiness conferences, meetings, and preachings, and it is painfully felt there is little or no growth: how is this? The Lord, I believe, will enable me to answer these solemn inquiries. And I am sure He alone can.
It is then of all importance, that we rightly understand this portion of scripture, and all others which speak on this subject. Our blessed Lord says "He that receiveth seed into the good ground, is no that heareth the word and understandeth it; which bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." There is no uncertainty as to this, then, that all real growth and fruit-bearing must flow from a right reception and right understanding of the word of God.
Now have we been sufficiently careful in this matter. Take these few words, "Let us go on unto perfection." Who are the persons thus addressed? What are they to go on from, and what is the perfection the are to go on to? We may have carelessly quoted and used this text, as though it were addressed to all Christians; and as if it meant we were to go on, as some say, crucifying the flesh or mortifying it, either progressively or by one sudden act of faith, until we attain to purity within. Any way perfect purity within is the perfection suppose by many to be spoken of here.
For the present I will leave the inquiry as to crucifying or mortifying the flesh, and speak on that later on.
May I ask you now to go with me to this epistle to the Hebrews, and calmly yet closely inquire what is meant in these words we have before us. One thing is very clear, the whole epistle, and therefore these words, wore addressed to professedly believing Hebrews. And we must not forget that great numbers of them were very zealous of the law. (Acts 21:20.) And that they were very dull of hearing, as it is written, "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age," or perfect, see margin. (Heb. 5:12.) Surely we need to study these words carefully, and then bear in mind that the persons specially addressed were Jewish professors, and were babes as to the full doctrine of Christ.
You may have noticed that divisions, or sects, have the same sad tendency, or worse; so as to keep us carnal and babes; and that the apostle could not speak unto the Corinthians as perfect or of full growth; but only as unto babes. This is most clearly put in 1 Corinthians 2:6-7; 3:1-3.
And if we would rightly understand this subject, we must bow to these solemn admonitions. But was this word only addressed to believing Jews, who were in great danger of going back to Judaism? are not the great mass of Christians in division? Yes. And are not great multitudes of professing Christians gone, or going back to judaism, to forms and ceremonies? It is too true. Then surely there is a voice to us now, as well as to them then — "Let us go on to perfection." This whole epistle to the Hebrews is on this subject. The going on from that which made nothing perfect, to that which for ever perfects.
God's ways are not as our ways; we may, yea, we often do, look within to find perfection. But this is not God's way in this epistle. Granted to come to perfection is the purpose and object of the epistle; to lead these babes on to that. But what is the way or course pursued? The perfect One is first set before us. Yes, God's way is very simple. The law made nothing perfect; all perfection is found in Christ, the perfect one. Thus God begins. In chapter 1 the glories of the perfect One, the Son of God, shine forth. God had borne with the church at Jerusalem in tender grace. He knew how hard it was for them to give up all that was visible. The glorious temple in which they still worshipped: its sacrifices and ritual; its ancient priesthood; what a power all this had; and then the reign of their Messiah postponed (Acts 3:19-21) — I say, all that glorious reign postponed; for a time every earthly promise set aside. And then we should remember, the worship of the early church was purely spiritual. No place of worship on earth; no separate priesthood; positively nothing for the natural eye to rest upon: even Jesus was gone up to heaven. And more, the Roman armies were now soon to come, and utterly destroy the temple, trample under foot the city of Jerusalem, and after fearful slaughter of the rejecting Jews, the remnant were to be scattered amongst all nations. All this was present to the mind of God. Now was it not most tender and gracious of our God to give them this very epistle, to draw them from the shadows to Christ?
The destruction of Jerusalem was near, they knew it not; but God knew it. The destruction of the great apostate Babylon is near; men know it not but God knows it. (1 Thess. 5:3; Rev. 17, 18.) God, in tender love, would now draw us from the present Judaised Christianity, that makes nothing perfect; to that adorable perfect One, and His over perfect work.
Even the writer of this epistle is purposely kept out of sight. God speaks, and the writer identifies himself with the believing remnant of Israel. God who had spoken by prophets, now speaks, or hath spoken, unto us by or in His Son. God was manifest, God spake in Him, who is the appointed heir, not merely of Palestine, but of all things. "By whom he made the universe." Glory after glory shines forth. He was not made, but "beingthe brightness of his glory, the express image of his person," or exact expression of His substance, "upholding all things by the word of his power."
Now follows a marvellous glory of the Son of God. "When he had by himself purged our sins, [or made purgation for our sins] sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high." In Ephesians 1 we see Jesus raised from the dead and ascended up above all principalities and powers, as the head of the body his church. But here in His right and title as Son, having finished that amazing work, the propitiation for sins, in the glory of His own person, He entered the highest heavens, and sat down. How far this exceeded the utmost expectation of the Jews! Their Messiah is sat down, not in the temple, but in heaven, at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
But do you ask what have these glories to do with our perfection, or with going on to perfection? They have all to do with it. Truly it is not man's way; He would be constantly occupied with himself: but God thus unfolds the varied glories of the Son — the perfect One; and "we all, with open face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Corinthians 3:18.
Then let me ask you to take this chapter (Heb. 1), and look to God to enable you by the Spirit to behold the open face, the unveiled glories of the Son. Do not take a passing glance; but behold the Lamb of God; meditate on each distinct sentence. The Jews had justly boasted of angelic visits and ministries, to their fathers, and they had great veneration for those heavenly beings; but now trace the lofty contrasts of the Son, with all created beings, all angels shall worship Him: all are His servants. He is truly God: "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever." Truly man: "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows."
Marvellous grace to be linked with this glorious One, He who is Jehovah's fellow. He takes the feeble little flock, and owns them in resurrection as His fellows. Perfect humanity! Precious grace! And this is so real that the angels which are His servants minister to us also, so we read "are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall inherit salvation?" Oh think of this! as we pass along this weary journey, those holy beings, who do His pleasure, attend our path; and His pleasure is our service.
Read on in chapter 2 and you will find solemn warnings, lest the professing Hebrew Christians should slip away from so great salvation. There you will have the authority of His word. We have seen the glories of the person of the Son, now the authority of His word. It was confirmed by the apostles who heard, God bearing witness. Again He is contrasted with angels; the world to come is put in subjection to Him as Son of man, not to them. We do not see all things yet put under Him. "But we see Jesus." Oh meditate! behold this wondrous sight! the suffering of His death! the sufferings of His life here below! now crowned with glory — perfected as the captain of our salvation. And in bringing sons to glory, He takes them into oneness with Himself before God. How precious every sentence! "For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one. For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." What joy this gives our blessed Jesus, saying, "I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee." "And again," Jesus says, "Behold, I and the children which God hath given me."
And this introduces Him as our merciful and faithful high priest. He did not thus take angels by the hand, but He took the seed of Abraham. All this is specially addressed to the believing seed of Abraham, and is full of deepest instruction to us, in these last days. Do you say, "But what has this to do with christian perfection? It is so different from all I have read on the subject."
Well, it is God's epistle on perfection. Truly His ways are not as our ways, neither His thoughts as our thoughts. Our thoughts on perfection would load us to the most unprofitable task of considering ourselves. Not so this epistle; not so the thoughts of God. No, He sets before us His glorious Son; and then says, "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the apostle and high priest or our profession, Christ Jesus."
If you want leanness and spiritual poverty consider yourself; be occupied with yourself. If you want to he unwise, compare yourselves amongst yourselves. If you would grow in grace, in holiness, in conformity to Christ, then consider Jesus as thus set before us. There must be more prayerful study of the precious word.
And now read the solemn warnings against unbelief — and this done, then the glories of our great high priest, who is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. This brings us to the condition of these Hebrew professors of Christ. They had not gone on to perfection. They were only babes in divine truth, having a tendency to go back to the law, and was not their condition too sad a picture of Christianity in this day? We shall see.
In chapter 6 the persons spoken of are the professing Hebrew believers. And the writer identified himself with them. Then keeping before his mind the glories of the Son of God, he says, "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ [or the word of the beginning of Christ], let us go on unto perfection." Now mark, this could not have been said to those who were of full growth, or perfect. To those who had fully given up, or gone on from, Judaism, to Christ, where could they go on unto beyond Christ?
Judaism was a system of repetitions, because it made nothing perfect. In Christ all is divinely perfect, and therefore cannot be repeated.
Hence we read "not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God." With the Jew of old, it was sinning and repenting, over and over again, and with the repentance, the blood of bulls, and goats. "How much more shall 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?" The repentance of the Jew of old never brought him into the presence of God. The way into the holiest was not opened, he, so to speak, stood without, afar off.
Before the death of Christ that was the true place. "But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:13.) Is there not a striking contrast in this? And so "of faith toward God." However bright might be the faith of the Jew of old in a coming Messiah — yet how widely different is now the faith in God, which knows that He has sent His Son; that we have redemption through His blood, and the forgiveness of our sins? Yea, to go back from this, to faith toward God, as the Jew had it, before Jesus died, and rose again, would be to deny that Jesus had come in the flesh. And so "of the doctrine of baptisms [washings] and laying on of hands." These washings of the body, in case of leprosy, or defilements, were once the appointed ordinances of God. And as types and shadows most precious. Look at that sinning Jew: see him lay his hand on the head of that goat, and confess his sin on its head. This was identification, and the sin is imputed to the goat. It is killed, and the Jew is forgiven. This was most precious, in its true place, as the word of the beginning of Christ. But now, since He has died, the one sacrifice for sins, to go back to these offerings, or laying on of hands, would be to trample underfoot the blood of Christ. Oh yes, this is all very clear.
But what would you say "of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgments?" This is a very important point of truth. I gather from Josephus and the words of Martha (John 11:24), "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day," and the doctrine held by all Jews, to this time, is, that all mankind must die. That there will be a general resurrection of all the dead together; that all must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works; and that the sentence of judgment will be eternal. I know that this is the doctrine of Jews, Mahometans, and Roman, Greek, and Protestant churches. But this is not the complete truth or full truth. It was the beginning of the truth. Death is a reality, and resurrection of the dead is a reality. These are facts and compared with human philosophy great truths. But the resurrection from amongst the dead is the perfect truth or complete truth. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin unto salvation." Many other scriptures confirm this statement. There shall intervene at least a thousand years betwixt the completion of the first resurrection and the second. Revelation 20.
But now as to judgment, the fundamental truth involved is of all-importance. If all have to come into judgment, then must all be condemned, for all are guilty, and hence the great value of the full, perfect truth as to this.
If I have to stand before God to be judged I should be lost; Christ was offered to bear my sins. He has been judged on the cross as my substitute. My sins, all my sins, have been laid on Him. Why it is just this that makes the difference. My substitute has thus been judged on the cross. The rejecters of Christ must be judged before the great white throne. Do you not see that? Judgment on sin, there must be! Which is it? Is your judgment past, or future? It cannot be both, thank God. "Hath everlasting life and shall not come unto judgment (Greek), but is passed from death unto life." These are the believer's three divine certainties from the lips of Jesus. John 5:24.
Thus the doctrine of death to all men, resurrection of the dead, and judgment, contains the beginning of truth but is not the full truth of Christianity. Christ coming for those that wait for Him (without sin unto salvation, having borne their sins), a thousand years at least before the judgment of the great white throne, is the more complete truth — in other words, perfection. It is this blessed hope, for which all believers waited, before the professing church went back to Judaism.
On this subject let me ask you to go on unto perfection; do look to the Lord to give you the Spirit's thoughts on the following scriptures in reference to this. See John 14:1-3; Romans. 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:7, 8; 15:21, 23, 51, 52; Philippians 3:20, 21; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1; Titus 2:12, 13; Revelation 20:5-12.
Now this wondrous privilege, of being raised from among the dead at the coming of Christ, or of being changed if living until that event, and in one moment as He is, in contrast with the rest of mankind, being left a thousand years, and rising to judgment; I say it is this that marks the infinite value of the atonement, as applied to those who believe in Him. And therefore now to go back to the doctrine of a general resurrection of the dead, and a general judgment, is, though ignorantly, to undervalue the death of Christ.
Now do not suppose that scripture contradicts itself; oh never. "Well certainly I thought," some, will say, "that Matthew 25 taught the general resurrection of all the dead; and that all would stand before the judgment seat, both sheep and goats." How carelessly we read scripture! I cannot tell you how surprised I was to find that not only does this solemn chapter not bring all the dead before this judgment, but if you read it you will not find any of the dead in this scene at all. They are living nations who shall be dealt with according to their reception of the testimony and treatment of the Jewish remnant, when Jesus comes to reign.
But shall not we stand before the judgment (beema) of Christ, and be rewarded according to our labour or service? Ah, most blessedly true; but is that the same thing as standing to be judged for our sins? Surely not. Let us search the scriptures, and leave behind all that hinders our going on to perfection. Christians have no conception how far they have gone back, or, rather, they have never gone forward to perfection.
We must not overlook that some of these professors were in great danger of relapsing to Judaism. The class here spoken of, "once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come." These are described by the Lord as "he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it. Yet hath he not root in himself." (Matthew 13:20, 23.) Let us rejoice with trembling to see how far a person may go, and yet be deceived! such was the light and sense of Christ as the heavenly gift, and power of the Holy Ghost, and authority of the word of God. And so near did the world to come appear to the early church, that a person could not possibly leave Judaism and take a place, if only in profession, in such a scene, without being greatly altered outwardly. And great joy anon within. But the testing time came, and if there was no root, there would be no fruit.
Now to give up Christ, and go back to Judaism, was to crucify Him — such an apostate from Christ would have to deny and curse Him, before he could be restored back to Judaism. This brings out the force of the argument. Let not such an one be deceived. There was once the renewal of repentance, in the law, but now that kind of renewal is impossible. The ritual is set aside, and was about to be utterly destroyed. No doubt the returning Jew would again take his sin-offering, and laying on his hands expect to be renewed afresh. Impossible! It was terrible. It was putting the Son of God to open shame.
The sad mistake, however, that many have made as to this, is that it referred to a Christian; that if he fell into sin it would make it impossible to restore him to repentance. This would be worse than Judaism of old; for there was repentance and restoration then to him. Nothing can be more certain than this, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
If we see what is spoken of here, the giving up Christ, and going back to Judaism, all is clear. Of true Christians He says, "But beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak."
It is now high time we went on to perfection; therefore "let us go on to perfection." I do not see, however, how we could have gone on until all these points were cleared up; do you?
As this is God's epistle on perfection, we cannot do better than follow the order God has laid down in it. First, then, as to priesthood.
The principle of a human priesthood had been tried for fifteen hundred years; an ordained priesthood, separated from the people, consecrated to the service and worship of God. All nations bear witness that this is a principle that man esteems. It is remarkable how this principle, sometimes called the clergy and laity, was adopted by every idolatrous worship on earth. The rude Briton, the polished Greek, or the ancient Egyptians, and Chaldeans. All had their priesthood. But in Israel "no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." So that the Jewish priesthood, had not only antiquity, but divine authority.
All this is fully admitted, and stated in this epistle. Was there not then perfection in this ordained priesthood? No; for "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should arise after the order of Melchisedec?" Then, "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity — a change also of the law." "For the law made nothing perfect."
Now think what a change is here spoken of. The gorgeous solemn service of the priesthood — yea the whole system, and ministration of the law is set aside, and why? because these made nothing perfect. No perfection by the law. The Jew had the temple, the priesthood, the law, with all its beautiful ritual. What had the Christian? a material temple on earth? not one, except the Christians themselves, which temple are ye. A priesthood? not one, if even Christ were on earth he should not be a priest. A ritual service? no, he must beware of going back to such beggarly elements. If the Jew had all that the eye could rest upon, with delight: what has the Christian? Let it be reckoned up. It is this, "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens!"
I would give a very simple illustration. It is a bright clear morning, how very far you can see; but stay, how is it all the lamps of the city are put out? They were very useful in the dark. True, but they would be of no use in the light. The sun shines in all his brightness in the heavens. This is perfect creation-light, and the lamps and the darkness have passed away. The priests were the lamps, useful in the time of darkness. But now the true light shineth brighter than the noon-day sun.
This one great high priest, after the order of Melchisedec, the royal priest, had been clearly foretold, in their own psalms and prophets. But there are again, in the professing church, priests and candles. Yes, it is sadly true, and why? Because the mass are not going on to perfection, but back to the darkness of Judaism.
If you light the lamps of a city in the full blaze of noon-day light, it is saying the light of the sun is not enough. If you ordain a human priesthood on earth, you deny the all-sufficiency of Christ, our one great high priest, set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens. Let the sun arise and the lamps disappear. Let Christ have His own blessed place before the soul, and a separate priesthood must vanish like a dissolving view. He hath an unchanging priesthood; He is able to save to the uttermost. Having loved His He loveth them to the end. He never fails to wash our feet; to restore our souls. Truly God, really man, infinite power, tenderest sympathy. Let me beg of you again, to study the high priesthood of Jesus, as revealed in this epistle, and thus go on, for in Him you will find perfection.
The second point I name, as to perfection, is access to God. You will read a description of the first tabernacle and service in Hebrews 9:1-7. Then "the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not made manifest, whilst as the first tabernacle was yet standing." And that all these services and sacrifices "could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience." We will notice the conscience when we come to chapter 10. And now as to access to God. The law and its priesthood could not bring the worshipper into the presence of God. It fell short of this, could not finish or perfect it. But we, that is all believers, have boldness to enter into the holiest "by the blood of Jesus." Now this is perfection. I cannot say to a well instructed Christian, as to access, Let us go on. He is there, he knows it is the place of every child of God by the blood of Jesus — in contrast with the Jew under law, who could never enter. The priesthood could not bring him there. Christ has, and thus again in Christ, we have found perfection. There are no distinctions of priests and people, clergy and laity in the holiest. How can there be, since all are alike brought there, as purged worshippers? The very principle of priest and laity is, I am in, and you are out; or I am near to God, and you far off — so far that I will be your mouthpiece to God, and God's mouthpiece to you. This is terrible wickedness. If every believer has boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus, and yet the pretended priest says of the laity, I am nearer to God than you, then he either does not believe in the blood of Jesus, or he believes in something of greater value than the blood of Jesus, which brings him nearer to God than the believer who has only the blood of Jesus.
If the term Clergyman is only used to convey the thought that he is a servant of Christ, to minister the word of God to Christ's sheep, I have little to say, except, that I judge it better not to use such unscriptural and dangerous distinctions as clergy and laity; and I am sure, if Christ has His true place before the soul, all such distinctions will be distasteful. I love the scriptural terms of evangelist, pastor, &c.
The third point I ask you to notice is perfection as to redemption. The Christian can say, "We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." O blessed fact! who can tell its value? Now what could the Jew of old say? Certainly he had been redeemed from the bondage of Egypt; but as to sins? Well, the most he could say was the sins of the nation have been confessed on the head of the scape goat. The sins of three hundred and sixty days — the Jewish year. But when? On the day of atonement. Yes, and the goat has been sent far away, to return no more. And the blood of atonement has been shed, and sprinkled on the mercy seat. But blessed as all this was as pointing forward; yet it could not give the Jew complete redemption from sins for one year of three hundred and sixty days. And if it could? If he could have said, I have redemption for one year, would that have been perfect redemption? Certainly not! far from it. If you were to give £10 for the redemption of a poor slave you greatly pitied for one year, would that be perfect redemption? Why, it would only make the poor man's case worse, as he lapsed again to slavery, and cruel bondage. No, if it is perfect redemption, you must pay down a sum that shall set him free for ever. Now it is written of our precious Jesus that "by his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us."
He did not redeem us for three hundred and sixty days: that would not have been perfect. My reader, if you have redemption, remember, it is, it must be, eternal redemption. Oh how few grasp this blessed fact! How few believe it! Have you eternal redemption by the blood of Jesus, infinite in value? How can it be less than eternal in efficacy? This is the value the blood of Jesus has before God, for all the washed, redeemed on earth and in heaven; and it is always the same. Is it before your soul as it is before God? I can tell you — who have never yet given it this place; all who speak of oft-recurring masses or sacrifices for sins; and all who speak of a fresh application of the blood of Jesus — that if you have redemption at all, you have eternal redemption. You will see this, if look again at the illustration of the slave. If his redemption is not perfect, or complete, and for ever; if only for one, two, or ten years, then there will need a fresh application of money, to purchase a further redemption. But if redeemed for ever, there can be no such fresh application. Now if you have not gone on to the perfection, in the blood of Jesus once offered, for eternal redemption, then sure, as you have imperfect knowledge or views of that redemption so surely you will be uneasy, and inconsistent, and talk about fresh applications of the blood of Christ. The scripture never thus speaks.
But you say many professing holiness do thus speak, as though they constantly needed fresh application of the blood of Jesus. Then it is evident they have not gone on to perfection, as to redemption. For they ought to know, and all God's dear children ought to know, that every Christian has eternal redemption in Christ; and eternal redemption is perfect redemption. Therefore we have now gone on until we have again found perfection in Christ.
The fourth point I notice is perfection as to the conscience. We are distinctly assured, the law could never give this perfection. "For the law, having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then they would have ceased to be offered." (Heb. 10:1-2.) Do take this chapter and weigh every sentence. The blood of bulls and goats could not possibly take away sins. And now we hear the eternal Son, in the counsels of the past, engaging to come, and accomplish this vast work, cost what it may. "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." This is twice repeated. "He taketh away the first" (the law, that which made nothing perfect) "that he may establish the second." "By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus once."
This is a marvellous depth, perfect consecration, separation to God! But this is not by an act of our own. He said it, He did it. "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." Oh, let this one offering of the body of Jesus Christ once, have its full place before your soul. Mark well, that all our sins — I speak to those who are saved — were there laid on Him — all our sins were then future. No finite sacrifice could have thus met us, nor could have met God. These could never take away sins. "But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand or God." Was ever glory like this! And as everlasting is its efficacy to us, as its glory to Him. "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Oh, do you believe this? can we go on any farther? can there be any perfection beyond "for over perfected?" That which is infinite cannot be repeated. No, one infinite act for ever perfects all the sanctified, by this offering of the body of Jesus once.
If we have gone on to this perfection, by this one offering, then the worshipper, once purged, has no more conscience of sins. He may be conscious of sin and failure, and there will surely be repentance and confession. For this is God's way of restoring the soul in interrupted communion. This is the washing of water by the word. But as to the conscience, all sins have been judged, and borne by Jesus; and so put away, that they can be remembered no more. "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." God says it, and there are two witnesses. The Son of God, having finished this very work, sat down on the right hand of God; and the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us. May God give unto us more exalted thoughts of this perfection we have in Christ! "For ever perfected." No man that understands this can talk of fresh applications of the blood of Christ, or of repeated or continued sacrifices for sins. The whole system of repetitions, and fresh applications, is taken away; and this one sacrifice stands alone, and for ever perfects. "Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." Oh, let us take our happy place within the veil; "having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus."
What I would press is this, that in all this that has come before us, there is no attainment. This is the perfection of every child of God. He may he only a babe, and not know it. But it is his all the same. For all this was addressed to those who were only babes; and written to lead them on to perfection. And note also, this perfection is not in themselves, it is in Christ Jesus.
Were you aware, my reader, there was so much on perfection in this epistle? "I did not even know it was upon the subject at all," some will say. Well, do you now see that perfection in Christ is put in direct contrast with the law, which made nothing perfect? The human priesthood made nothing perfect! Our great high priest has perfected the work of atonement, and is perfect now, set down on the right hand of the majesty in the heavens, able to save to the uttermost, and will save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him.
Under law the veil hid God from man. The veil is now rent, and the only true place of every child of God is within, not without, that veil. And as to redemption, the death of Jesus, infinite in value, could not obtain an imperfect redemption; so it cannot be a temporary redemption from sin; it is, it must be, perfect, eternal redemption. Oh precious, oh priceless gift! Bless the Lord, O my soul. I have not redemption for a week or a year; but eternal redemption, praise the Lord for ever!
And, as we have seen as to the conscience, the sacrifices of the law could never make the comers thereto perfect, as regards the conscience; but the one offering of the body of Jesus Christ, by which we are sanctified, also for ever perfects. Now this is grace beyond all human thought! This truth can only be received by faith; faith that bows to the word of God.
You say, perhaps, "Well, but if I should in an hour of temptation fail, and sin, do I not lose all this perfection in Christ at once?" Now this was just where the law failed, and a repetition of sacrifice was needed. And this is just where the one sacrifice of Christ does not fail. No single point in the whole range of truth tests the soul like this, as to whether I am on Jewish or christian ground. If I want a fresh sprinkling of blood, am on Jewish ground; and not on the for-ever-perfected ground of the one offering of the body of Jesus Christ. So that all who seek relief by masses, or repetitions of any kind, reduce the death of the Son of God to the level of the sacrifice of bulls and goats. Nothing can be more certain than this.
But you say, "How then are the believer's sins dealt with?" Ah, that is just the very marrow of the question. They have been dealt with on the cross. "What, my future sins?" I never ought to say or think of committing future sins, but to follow holiness. "True, but if I should sin again, would not that he a future sin?" Well, as to that, do not you see that all our sins were future when Christ died for them on the cross? Did He die for some of our sins only, or for all of them? He has been the substitute for all our sins first; and then all were future. They have all of them been dealt with in the glorious person of our substitute, Jesus Christ the Son of God — perfectly dealt with, so dealt with, that we are for ever perfected as to the conscience. That precious blood, once shed, for ever cleanseth us from all sin. And if you are walking in His light, you will know this. Oh how few give this one sacrifice its true place before the soul. I do bless God it has its true place before Him. He sees the blood, and He says, "And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." And if this were not so, if all our sins had not been laid on Him, then would He have often to have suffered since the foundation of the world.
Do you say, But when the believer sins, is not the Holy Spirit grieved? and does the believer not feel distress of soul and interruption of communion; then what is he to do? If he is not to go to mass, or seek fresh applications of the blood of Jesus, what is he to do? He must assuredly go to his Father in confession: confession to God our Father is the only means of receiving forgiveness of sins. "If we confess our sins, he is, faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." And for one who has given up Judaism, and taken his place in professed faith in this one offering of Jesus Christ, and commits the fearful wilful sin of going back to the many sacrifices of the law for sin, he will find there are no longer such many sacrifices; and there can on that ground be no more mercy, but a fearful looking for of judgment. Read the solemn warnings to the end of chapter 10.
If all this be true, and it is true, how deeply important it is, to have faith, unshaken faith, in the everlasting efficacy of this one sacrifice for sins, once offered. Surely it is; and is not this the very reason why the Spirit of God brings before us the cloud of witnesses who believed God? Read chapter 11.
But what is this in chapter 12 — the race? The race, that which man puts at the beginning of his books on perfection, God puts at the end. This is very striking. In all the books I have read on perfection, there is the race, sometimes long, and sometimes short, but the race first, and perfection at the end of the race, the race to get it. Just so. Now mark this contrast: we have ten chapters, to shew out the perfections of Christ; and how we are for ever perfected by His work; then another chapter to shew the immense importance of believing this — then comes the practical race. God's way is right; all other ways are wrong. Now if you have been after holiness the wrong way, backwards, is there any wonder you should have been so disappointed?
Now for the race. This must be run with patience — not an impatient leap of faith. Israel not leap into Canaan. No, there must be, mind, not the eye on one another; but the eye on Jesus. Oh what patient endurance! Consider Him — looking off everything else, to Jesus. I see persons professing holiness, clinging to all kinds of systems of men, where evil reigns. There is no laying aside, no coming out from among them, no separation from iniquity. Ah, this is not the race. Be in earnest; let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. You will find the path of Christ a thorny path, but it shines brighter and brighter to the perfect day. "Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."
"There is one thing I am not yet clear about," my reader may say, "and before we go any farther I should like to tell you." What is it? "If God accepts us within the veil, for ever perfected worshippers, by the one offering of Christ, it seems as if He made light of our sins and failures. I do not mean that He made light of them on the cross; but in His dealings with us here."
Thank you for that thought. It just prepares us for what follows, in this chapter 12. Mark this, God is not dealing with us as sinners again; but as sons; "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Now study this whole subject of fatherly chastening. Is not this chastening really perfect in its place, and lied to every son? I thank my Father for all the chastening I have known, for these forty years. This is a large subject and very precious.
Our for-ever-perfect standing in Christ, through His one offering, must not be confounded with practical holiness. A Christian cannot pray at all that he may be for ever perfected. This he is, this has been done, never to be repeated. How can it? There cannot be two perfected-for-evers. This our great high priest hath done. But the Christian cannot pray too much and seek too diligently for practical holiness. This is the very object our Father has in all our chastening. It is all "four our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness:" "and it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."
And now having learnt, or having gone on to perfection in Christ, and having learnt the object of God in all our afflictions and chastening, how beautifully the exhortations come, in their true place. "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord," &c. It will not do to reverse this divine order, We must not begin to follow holiness, in order to attain to perfection in Christ. No, we must first know our happy place within the veil, for ever perfected, and then God must be before the soul; no less a standard of holiness must we diligently follow. Thank God for the clearness of His word; and if God is thus before the soul, you will not follow men, except any who are wading in the light of His presence. What is it to follow holiness? It is not only victory over our own lust, blessed be God it is this; but it is real separation from all evil. This will cost (if it can be called cost) much. Can you not say, Lord, deliver me from everything that hinders holy communion with thee? The believing remnant of the Hebrews, then, were called to go outside the camp of Judaism, to Christ Jesus, bearing His reproach. The person of the rejected Christ outside the religious world was then, and may I not say now is, the test of perfect faithfulness?
If on will turn to the seven addresses to the Churches, which describe the seven successive stages of the history of Christendom (Rev. 2, 3), you will find Thyatira describes exactly the state of the Romish church [See "The Revelation of Jesus Christ," Studies & Commentaries page.] Sardis describes as exactly the state of the protestant churches; but Philadelphia describes a feeble remnant, gathered outside the camp, to the person of Jesus, "He that is holy, he that is true." Is there not a voice in this to you? Do you not know that Christendom, both Roman and protestant, is in a state of shameful departure and apostasy from God? The precious Jesus, "the holy and the true," is set before you by the Spirit of God? And if you are seeking to follow holiness, you must follow Him. "Let us go forth unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach."
Far be it from me to write one word, to weaken the earnest desire after holiness. I desire in my inmost soul, to press on with diligent haste, God is my witness; but the right object must be before us. And that object is Christ, outside the camp. If I heard you say, I have just come out of the bath, and I desire to walk in clean paths, and at the very time I saw you walking in a place of mud and filth, how could I believe you? Now what is that awful worldly Christianity around? Mystery, Babylon. Oh let us not merely talk of holiness, but come out of her, cost what it may. "Come out of her, my people," is the word of the Lord. Surely this is intensely practical. Well, let us have Jesus before us, the holy and the true.
Having thus very briefly gone over this epistle on christian perfection — and I trust this paper will serve as an introduction only, for you, to this epistle — I now call your attention to other scriptures, on this deeply important subject.
In the second part of this little tract, I would meditate a little with you on two things: our standing before God in Christ; and our state — Christ in us.
These two things certainly go together in scripture. If you are in Christ, Christ is in you; yet these two things are never confounded, but always kept distinct. Where would you like to turn first?
Well, I have heard much said about the Epistle to the Romans on this subject.
Very good. It is most precious to my own soul.
First, then, the standing. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," whether Gentiles without the law, or Jews under the law. And thus, being sinners, on the ground of law none can have a standing before God. Man is guilty, and therefore by works of law cannot be righteous. "But now the righteousness of God, without the law, is manifested." The righteousness of God must be perfect righteousness, for whatever is of God is perfect. And how has this righteousness of God, in dealing with man, been manifested, since man is guilty, and under judgment? The answer is very clear — it is the propitiation of the blood of Jesus, borne witness to by law and prophets. Thus the same blessed Jesus is brought before us. Behold the cross of our adorable Lord. Infinite person, infinite sacrifice. Oh, this explains, unfolds, the perfect righteousness of God in passing over the sins of the saints of old, and displays the perfect righteousness of God now, in justifying him who believeth in Jesus. Yes, on this principle God was righteous in reckoning righteousness to the Davids and Abrahams of old. They believed God, and righteousness was reckoned to them. (See chap. 4.)
And not only so, "But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed (or reckoned), believing on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Here are two things, on the value of which depends our standing before God as to sins.
"He was delivered for our offences." Was this a perfect sacrifice, or an imperfect one? Mark, this is not a work done by us, but a work done for us, by the perfect, infinite Son of God, and must be perfect, as God is perfect. Nay, God has shewn this, declared this, for He has raised Him from the dead. "Was raised again for our justification." Is this perfect? We are for ever perfectly justified from our sins, once laid to His charge, laid on Him! Look up in the face of that glorified Man set at the right hand of God. Could He be more perfect? Oh, certainly not. But He was raised for our justification who believe on God that raised Him from the dead. God says so, and I believe it. What He is up there, we are reckoned to be.
"Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." is this peace perfect, or imperfect? The whole thing its of God, and cannot he imperfect. He gave His Son for our offences. He raised Him from the dead for our justification. The peace, then, that He has, who once bore our sins, as the holy substitute, is and must be our peace. Could His peace be more perfect? then can ours? I cannot pray for justification; I have it. I cannot pray for peace with God; I have it. I may pray for the peace of God to keep my heart; but to pray for peace with God, or to pray for it to be more perfect, would be to doubt the testimony of God. Such is the value of that precious blood, there is not one offence betwixt the believer and God. Apart from this, the work of Christ, to be thus before God, would utterly consume us. But now all is perfect peace with God, in the fullest discovery of all that He is.
All this must be understood, and the soul have perfect peace with God, before there is one word in the epistle on practical holiness. And what perfect access by faith, not by human intercessors, or by feelings, but by faith, into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
If we know this blessed, perfect truth, and through grace have received it, we glory in tribulations, and we are sealed by the Holy Ghost. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us. O reader, are you standing afar of, as a Jew of old might, praying for these things? or have you been brought nigh, and can you give thanks for all this? All this is of God.
Just dwell on that thought, the love of God. I am looking at some beautiful flowers but I never think of flowers, without my thoughts rising to heaven. The rain of heaven descends on them, and the dew of heaven pervades every leaf. That rain of heaven descends to the very roots, and pervades the whole plant, and see how each flower opens so gently to the morning sun, and how the sweet perfume ascends to heaven. All this is of God. And so the Holy Ghost distils the love of God into the heart from heaven, until the whole person is pervaded with the love of God. And now the eye opens gently on Christ, the sun of righteousness, and the sweet perfume of praise ascends to God. Oh, blessed God, how perfect are all thy ways! Yes, it is not my love, but God's love, and that love He has commended to us, in that whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
Now, the subject of christian perfection is so fall here, that words can scarce be found to express it. The words, "much more," are found five times from verse 9 to the end of Romans 5. Just mark them in your Testament, look them out for yourself. Now, these verses, 9 and 10. Is not this perfect love of God to us? "Much more, then, being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled we shall be saved by his life." Is not this perfect love? If we had been once saved by an imperfect love, and an imperfect sacrifice, for some of our sins — not all — and then left to perish, of course, this would have been sad; but there is no such imperfection here. Do you believe this perfect love of God? If so, this will lead you to perfect joy in God. "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation." This closes the first part of the epistle. We have perfect justification from all our sins. We have perfect peace with God, perfect access, sealed with the Holy Ghost; the perfect love of God not only revealed to us, but shed abroad in our hearts, perfectly certain that He who has thus saved us, will save us to the end; so that we joy in God.
And mark, in all this there is no attainment; but the common blessed standing of every Christian. As to sins, all is thus perfectly settled.
Now, as to sin?
What do you mean? I never thought of any difference betwixt sins and sin.
What, not betwixt the sins we commit, and that sinful, fallen nature, the carnal mind, that commits or leads us to commit, them? Well, you will find it is now not sins, but sin; that which entered this world by one man, Adam, and thus death passed upon all men. Read the argument: do you notice that though much has come in by Adam the first much more has come in for those in Christ, by Christ, the second Head?
If sin and death come in by Adam, life eternal and ever-subsisting righteousness have come in by Christ. Now, let the eye again rest on Christ, but Christ raised from amongst the dead. The Eternal One passed through death for us, to be the beginning of the new creation of God. Thus we are justified and have eternal life; and the life communicated to us is beyond death, in ever-subsisting, accomplished righteousness. Now then, all here is divine perfection again. Can there be a more perfect, or a higher, christian life than this risen life — a resurrection and eternal life? And this is the life of every true Christian passed from death unto life. Look up at the highest and the Holy One, the risen Christ, at God's right hand; the life there is your life. Can there be a higher life than the highest? Then He was raised from the dead to be our righteousness; "upon them that believe" — and always upon them — always their righteousness — always the same. I challenge the answer: can there be a more perfect righteousness? Can there be a better robe, can there, I ask, be a better than the best? What an unfolding of divine perfection there is in all this!
Hold a minute, I am a little alarmed. If one sacrifice, because perfect, has perfectly put away all our sins; and if we are for ever righteous, in Christ; would not this lead to carelessness, to antinomianism, in fact? Let us continue in sin.
Now, if you read chapter 6, this is the very question taken up.
I am glad you will look at that chapter. I have heard so much about it, and I do not exactly understand what is said. It seems as if some had attained to something like this, the death of the old man. That is the complete destruction of sin in them, so that the old man is somehow made pure by faith. Does it describe a state of attained purity? and is it true of some Christians, and not true of others?
Let us look at it. The object is to shew the great folly of supposing that grace teaches that we may continue in sin. God forbid, or far be the thought; not only the act, but far be the thought, of continuing in sin. One thing we ought to know — that so many of us as were baptized into, or unto, Christ, were baptized unto His death. But do we all know this now? That as many as were Christians then, took the very place of death, to sin, with Christ, as symbolized by burial in baptism? Do dead persons continue in sin? But that is the very place we have taken. Dead with Christ; risen with Christ. In death old things passed away; in Christ risen all are new. All Christians ought to know this — "That our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might he destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." Now, who crucified the old man? and have some crucified the old man, and others have not?
And when was the old man crucified? Clearly this is not an act of faith; it was God who thus judged my sin, my old carnal man, in the person of the adorable substitute. "He was made sin for us." Now, when we believe, faith identifies us with all this. We accept the judgment of God, not only on our sins, but on ourselves, and we shew this by the outward act of baptism.
But beware of setting aside the cross, and making the whole thing some act of our own. On the cross we see the just judgment of God on our proud, sinful self. There "I am crucified with Christ;" and thus accepting the crucifixion, we justify God. And if we have thus accepted this place of death to sin, we have in that sense crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts. Shall we, then, walk in them? Far be the thought.
It is a precious chapter — do not read it lightly or carelessly, and do not forget it is the standing of every Christian. He may not understand it; but it is of all importance for a holy walk that we should understand it. Ponder over each sentence. But is it our actual state that is my question? Oh, certainly not, or why should we read, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord?" When we see the Lord, and are, as to our glorified state, actually like Him, in sinless humanity, we shall not then reckon ourselves, but we shall really be so.
Then you cannot say that the believer is pure within, and has no sin as to his state?
How can I, when I read immediately, "Let not sin, therefore, reign in our mortal body," &c. (Ver. 12-14.) If the believer were pure, without sin, there would just be no meaning in these exhortations. It is a sad modern mistake to suppose that our old carnal nature is over purified from sin, by any means. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit," The doctrine of the two natures is a truth of great importance. The old is never changed or improved; before God it is judged on the cross, and buried in the sepulchre of Christ. And thus our standing is wholly as risen in Christ.
Then I suppose you would say that the hopeless struggles of Romans 7 is true christian experience?
Indeed I should not.
What is it, then; the experience of an unregenerate person?
No; for in that case it would make an unregenerate person delight in the law of God.
What is it, then?
It is the hopeless struggles of a quickened soul under the law, and a sense of responsibility to keep it; yea, earnestly desiring to keep it; but having no power. I have often been struck with the fact, that it is placed so far on in the epistle. Forgiveness and justification may be known before its solemn lessons are learnt.
But if it is not christian experience, why are so many Christians in it?
Because so many Christians are under law, as if in the flesh, vainly hoping to be able to keep it. Where the experience is deep and real, it is of great use to the soul when deliverance comes. But we must learn our utter helplessness. It is the claims of the law on one powerless. It is doing the things I hate. There is no help for the wretched man that I am. But there is deliverance when I know and own the deliverance from the law by the body of Christ, being dead to that wherein I was held. "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." But then, when full deliverance comes in Christ, is the flesh any better? The old "I," my old nature? Not in the least; for after deliverance these words are given: "So, then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."
Now, why do these words come after deliverance? Lest we should suppose there is any inward purity of the old nature. I can reckon it dead; but I must ever walk in the fear of the Lord; for if the flesh acts, even in the most delivered saint, it is sin; and if it does not act, it is still flesh. But, alas! we all fail, though we should not; so that, if we who are delivered say we are without sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Well, then, there must be condemnation!
No; that is just what there is not, to them that are in Christ Jesus. Let us read the words very slowly: "There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." This is the standing of every Christian; could it be more perfect?
But stop; how can this be, if the old nature is sin?
Well, it is; is it not? or how could it lust? It must be sin, for the moment it acts there are sins.
How, then, can there be no condemnation?
I know under law this simply could not be. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin (or by a sacrifice for sin) condemned sin in the flesh."
I now see clearly how there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus; for all has been condemned on the cross; both sins and sin. And if all has been condemned in Him, there is nothing to condemn that has not been so already.
Oh, the deliverance this gives to the soul. As to the standing of the man in Christ it is absolutely perfect, there is nothing to condemn.
What, not my sins?
No, they have been perfectly judged, on the holy substitute, the Son of God.
What, not sin in the flesh?
No, it is judged too. Dead with Christ; risen with Christ; no condemnation in Christ. This is christian perfection.
But what then as to the state of a believer; what is the provision, or power for a holy life or walk?
"The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." One thing is thus certain, if you are in Christ, Christ is in you. In the flesh you have no power, but in Christ; and Christ in us, gives all power. It does not say free from sin, but free from the law of sin and death. The law of sin led me captive, I was powerless. But the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus gives me infinite power. Yea, it is the very law of this Spirit to give victory.
Read verses 8-14. Is not this most important? The certainty that the Holy Ghost dwells in us gives not only present power for holiness, but though the body is still under the sentence of death, because of sin, yet the resurrection of the body is sure. And mark, all this is not the attainment of some, but true of all the children of God. "Now, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his."
But if I have still a sinful old nature, can the Spirit of Christ dwell in me? I thought the Holy Spirit could not dwell in me unless there was absolute purity from sin.
If this were the case, how could He dwell in any except the holy Son of God, who is sinless? But we are told, "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and, these are contrary, the one to the other; so that ye may not do the things that ye would." You could not apply these words as to the state of Christ.
But they are applied to believers. These contrary things are found in the same person, and in every child of God; so that as to our state, we are not like Christ, in sinless purity. We shall be when we see Him. Then we shall be like Him. Oh blessed hope! "And he that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." It does not say, "ispure as he is pure," but "purifiethhimself." All scripture is consistent with itself. But error is never consistent with scripture. There is no scripture for the thought, that some believers have attained to a state of purity, as Christ is pure.
I feel great difficulty in seeing that the Holy Ghost can dwell where there is a sinful nature. I thought that nature had to be gradually or suddenly changed into a holy nature, before the Holy Spirit could have anything to say to us.
Then am I to gradually change my sinful nature, and make a fit abode for the Spirit? I have heard something like this. I must make a vacuum, and He will come and fill it; but where is that in scripture?
You will find if you turn once more to Hebrews 10:14, 15, that the Holy Ghost is not a witness of the purity of our old nature, but of the infinite value of the blood of Jesus. In the cleansing of the leper there was a striking type of this in Leviticus 13:12-17. The blood was put upon the leper, and the oil was put upon the blood. So our sins and sin having been judged in Christ, God does not impute them to us. He does not see in that sense our sins. He sees the blood, and when He sees the blood, the Holy Spirit can and does dwell in us, and shall abide with us unto the end. I know this is a serious truth, but it is the truth, the only truth. For if it be possible for you not to have the Spirit of Christ, at any time, then you would be none of His.
I fear this would lead to great carelessness and unholiness.
It is the opposite of this; it is the great power of and for a holy life. The apostle so uses it when the saints at Corinth were in danger of falling into dreadful sin. "What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God?" This leaves us without excuse. We have no need ever to be overcome of sin, for we have the command of infinite power, the Holy Ghost evermore dwelling in us. "Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh." Oh child of God, your vows, and promises, and efforts, are all vain. If on this ground, trusting to poor flesh, I know sin will have the victory over you, sooner or later. Now let Christ have the full glory of deliverance. The difference is so great, you will never conquer until you find you cannot fight. Lay hold of these two facts; all your sins, and sin, have been judged on the cross. God sees the value of that blood. And now at all times, and in all places, the Holy Spirit dwells in you. Walk in this consciousness, believe them, as blessed facts; for facts they are, if you are His.
Now what becomes you as a temple of the Holy Ghost? How often have you felt disturbed, and miserable, and you could not tell why. Ah, you have grieved "the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption."
This is very often the case, when least suspected in these degenerate days of worldliness. You will know practical holiness just in proportion as you are led by the Spirit. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." (Rom. 8:14.) The Holy Spirit will not lead you into the circles of that world, which has rejected, and hates, the Son of God. All, all, of that world must be given up. Oh, let it not be in talk, but let us now, in simple dependence on the Holy Ghost, seek only to do the will of God. And if you thus walk in the Spirit, there maybe much that is of the fleshly will of man to give up. But is not the Spirit putting it into your hearts, as you read this paper, to long for more entire consecration to God, or to be men of God, walking in the power of the Holy Ghost! What do you see around, but hollow profession? The house of God turned into shameful merchandise; the form of godliness but the power denied. Oh, awake, awake.
Before I close, will you bear with me a little longer? I want you to see how distinct the standing and the state are kept in Ephesians.
In chapters 1 and 2 we have the absolute perfect standing of the believer in Christ. In chapter 3, the prayer for the state of the Christian. Now read these verses; you cannot pray for the things that are yours.
Chapter 1, oh how we are blest in verse 3, "in Christ;" with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. Chosen in Him, to be holy, and without blame before Him in love — adopted children — He hath made us accepted "inthe beloved," "inwhom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." Oh, my soul, what food for holy meditation! Oh, let us go on unto perfection, even to Christ raised from among the dead, set at His own right hand in the heavenly places. Oh, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints: and all this is ours. For God "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." We cannot go further as to christian standing; it is the same as Christ, our Head in heaven. It is christian perfection. We cannot pray for this: we may pray for one another that we may know this perfection in Christ in the heavens. All is ours. Oh, praise the Lord.
But this the apostle does pray for as to the state of these believers, "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith," &c. Oh, is not this a blessed state? Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. And then mark the great variety of exhortations that follow, all of which have to do with our state, and must not be set aside.
Thus in Ephesians it is first our standing in Christ, then Christ in us. "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us." But does this prove perfection in ourselves; or any change or improvement of the old nature? Indeed not, for every exhortation in the remaining chapters shews the greatest need of watchfulness, against our old carnal nature. Thus I find a perfect standing in Christ, but no intimation of perfection or purity of state. What! then am I to sink down into a careless continuing in sin, or to practise sin? If I have still an evil old nature, am I to be a slave to its lusts? By no means. If I know the power that worketh in us to be infinite — even the power of God, then surely I may count on deliverance.
if we were in a state of purity, we should not need these precepts and exhortations. God knows we need them every one. When we shall for ever be in the same state of purity as our blessed Lord, do you think we shall need then to be told to "let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouths;" "and be not drunk with wine?" Can we then be told to "grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption?" Can these things be said to Christ? Then if we were now pure as He is pure, they could not be said to us. No corrupt communication can proceed from Him. He is purity itself. I am waiting for the blessed change: when we see Him we shall be like Him, and "he that hath this hope purifieth himself as he is pure." He is the standard. But can we say in this state now that nothing impure can proceed from us? If we did, our own mouths would condemn us. Oh, let us be watchful, and ever seek to abide in lowly dependence on God.
We will now briefly notice these two points in Philippians. Here the apostle lays aside everything that he may be found in Christ. All that he was as a pious, devoted Jew must be counted dung, and he did count it loss, just to be found in Christ, not leaning on his own righteousness. And true christian experience is shewn to be this, "that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, an the fellowship of his sufferings; being made conformable unto his death." Now I ask you, is this our experience. To talk about ourselves. To write about ourselves. This is not to know Him. If you would grow in practical holiness, this will never be by being occupied with yourself. You must read the word more, forget yourself, in being occupied with Him. Are we walking, and seeking more and more to walk as dead persons, but risen with Christ? Do we know anything of the power of His resurrection? Not an atom of worldly place or distinction is consistent with this true Christian experience. Yet if our walk in this day was like the experience here described, then surely we could not pretend to perfection as to our state. For the apostle, looking forward to that blessed moment when he shall he actually raised, or changed, into the full resurrection state of purity, says, "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead" (or from among the dead.) Anyhow I only look for that, by whatever path of suffering, or loss, that is my only desire and object. Not that he had attained to this state, or, as to his state of purity, was already perfect. "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." The idea of present perfection and purity destroys the whole force of this scripture. Not that the apostle could possibly question his perfection in Christ as to standing. Indeed he says, "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded."
What has pained me, in trying to read recent writings on holiness, is the almost entire absence of shewing all believers their absolutely perfect standing in Christ, and the putting in its place a supposed kind of purity, or perfection of state, attainable here; and thus setting aside the blessed hope of the Lord's coming, and also the full value of the one offering of Christ. If you take up any work on this subject, you will detect these two things. I am grieved it is so, and I am sure it will work great harm to souls. For if we do not know our perfect standing, how can we have peace? And if we are not waiting for the Lord, as Saviour, from heaven, in the blessed certainty that when we see Him we shall be like Him, we thus lose the sanctifying power of that blessed hope.
I rejoice with all my heart in the awakening and wide-spread desire after more devoted holiness of life and walk, and I earnestly entreat my readers again to remember the power we have in Christ, and Christ in us. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me," or, "I have strength for all things in Him that gives me power." (Phil. 4:13.) So that he could say, "Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death." Philippians 1:20.
I merely point out the same perfect standing in Christ in Colossians, and then also exhortations for the same holy walk. Have you ever thought these words are true of, not some, but all the children of God? "Giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:12-14.) And again, "And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." (Chap. 2:9.) Have you weighed every word that thus describes the perfect standing of every believer? Yes, of you, if you have passed from death unto life. Read John 5:24, and you will find every exhortation to a holy walk in keeping with this your perfect standing in Christ. "If ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above."
And oh the certainty that "When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon earth," &c. Now shall we have any such members to mortify when we are pure as He is pure? Plainly not. Then we are not here on earth pure as He is pure. If you vainly think you are, the result will be, you will fail to mortify your members; and in the end fall into sins again; and then Satan will get great advantage over you — if he has not already.
If this should meet the eye of any, who, whilst professing holiness, have been overcome, oh, let me beg of you to go to your Father, and confess our sin. Beware of going on one step farther in hypocrisy. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just in forgiving our sins, and in cleansing us from all unrighteousness."
Then may we not look for purity of heart, entire purification from a sinful nature?
Oh yes, and earnestly long for it, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I thought I had heard such words as these "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly, body, soul, and spirit."
You may have so heard; but you have not so read. Turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, and now let us read carefully. "And 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." Now you observe here is entire sanctification to God; and yet we need entire preservation. If spirit, and soul, and body were sanctified in the sense of being made pure as Christ is pure, then there would be no need of being preserved blameless. Does Christ thus need to be preserved? If He were on earth would He thus need it?
Then what do these words mean?
The very God of peace is so to fill the mind, so to command us, that we shall be wholly separated from the very appearance of evil; wholly sanctified to God.
But if there be still an old evil nature, called the flesh, how can we be truly consecrated to God in holiness?
That evil nature, sin in the flesh, has been condemned, not sanctified; and we have the prayer that spirit, soul, and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Most clearly implying, that until He comes for whom we wait, we shall need preserving, spirit and soul and body.
But what is the difference from the way I had heard this text quoted?
All the difference possible. You had heard it as if it meant that spirit, and soul, and body might be made pure; whereas it is that they might be preserved blameless.
Thus may we be kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation. And thus may deliverance and victory be our portion now, even as purity in all its above perfection shall be then; and oh, how soon! If we so long for it here, what will it be to be there? To hear that sweet voice; to gaze on that lovely face; the smile of His welcome; the glory of God shining in that face! and no fear; for we shall be like Him. "The glory that thou hast given me I have given them."
Oh, go ye out to meet Him. As Rebecca left her mother's home of idolatry to go to Isaac, so may we leave an ungodly world to meet our precious Lord. Wilt thou go?