Scriptural Deliverance and "the Clean Heart"

It is to be feared that there are many who, though converted, are lacking in clear apprehension as to the full effects of redemption as bearing upon the question of acceptance. These have known forgiveness of sins, and it may be are assured of their final security through the work of Christ, but still connect acceptance with the thought of personal completeness and fitness, which tends to direct the minds of such towards the doctrine of "inward cleansing," or "the clean heart."

Where the spiritual state is real, this stage is accompanied by the deepest exercises, expressed in the most explicit and accurate way by the language of Scripture in Romans 7:16. From this condition the following verses furnish the way of divine deliverance, preceded by three preliminary experiences, viz., first, the discovery that there are two natures in the believer, "If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me"; i.e., there are brought to light two distinctly opposite energies, one to the other, a relief, but not yet full clearance. Secondly, the conviction that "in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing," a conviction quite beyond and distinct from the admission and confession of positive sins. Thirdly, that I have no strength: "How to perform that which is good I find not." (v. 18.) This brings the distressed one to look outward for a deliverer, there being consciously no good and no strength within. "O wretched man that I am I who shall deliver me from this body of death?"

The believer now learns that acceptance is not for God in what he personally is as to inward holiness or cleansing. In the effort to acquire "a clean heart" he has totally failed; acceptance for him now is wholly in what Christ is as estimated by God.

The knowledge of deliverance thus comes in the form of a discovery that the Christian is "in Christ" (Romans 8:1), that the Christian is not viewed by God as being "in the flesh," though the flesh is surely in him; so that the apostle can say, as of a past condition, "when we were in the flesh," and now the relief that such a new discovery necessarily brings with it is consciously experienced. From that time self and self-occupation, and the expectation of self-improvement, cease to have a prominent place in the thoughts, and the truly-delivered soul is freed from itself to turn in happy liberty to divine objects in heaven, or the interests of God on the earth. The believer discovers that he has "in Christ" what he cannot have or attain to in himself, and finds his rest. and liberty in it.

But there still remains the tendency to the active energy of sin within. This is met by the divine injunction, "Reckon ye therefore yourselves to be dead unto sin," not the attenuating dying, or death, of the nature sin, but the annulling (proper force of "destroyed," Romans 6:6) of that dominating energy by the refusal of the vessel, the mortal body, which is to be accounted dead (Romans 8:10) as far as obedience to the dictation of the evil nature goes, otherwise it must be the obedient servant of sin. Of this it is needless to say the Spirit of God is the power. "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live," i.e., live normally as a Christian. Instead of being now "servants to sin," such are "servants to righteousness unto holiness."

Thousands of Christians nowadays are straining every energy to attain to a condition represented as "the clean heart," which involves for them "sin dead" in them; but from Romans 7:8 this is before God an unconverted state. "Without the law sin (was) dead," i.e., there was no consciousness of its living energy as an evil thing before the commandment spoke aloud to the conscience; "but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Sin becomes then a consciously existing energy, and the law pronounces the sentence of death in the conscience. Hence it is clear that the attainment of a condition in which sin in the believer is dead is not scriptural, and consequently no legitimate object of pursuit by the Christian.

The believer has died with Christ, but bears in mind that in that He (Christ) died, He died unto sin. Thus what was true of Christ as dead is to become true of the believer while living in the body by accounting himself to be "dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus"; made good practically by being non-responsive, as though a dead body, to the dominating effort of the evil nature, which is dependent upon the body and its members by which to express itself. In this light, chapter 6:12-13, 16, 19-22, and chapter 12:1, possess peculiar interest and significance.

The vitally important truth of deliverance has, without doubt, been greatly obscured by ignoring the plain teaching of Romans 6 and 7; false human views of inward perfection, the clean heart or some modified form of personal holiness having taken its place, to the bewilderment of souls in the spiritual condition described in Romans 7:15. The attraction towards such teaching lies mainly in the fact that it leads the way to and contributes towards inward satisfaction with personal condition, not with objective perfect standing before God "in Christ."

Honest souls cannot at any stage of their spiritual history admit having attained to what some are bold enough to assert they have attained, namely, "the clean heart." For it is not merely the possession of a divine nature, which is common to every real Christian, but an attainment of inward holiness in more or less perfection, that is insisted upon. If not scripturally cleared, such souls remain for life in the bondage of legal effort and unsatisfying pursuit of what can never be attained down here, allured by the pretentious claims of those who have never known the distress described in Romans 7, and who are really seeking to be endued with power consciously and permanently, rather than to be delivered from a condition of bondage and misery.

Scripture, simply and honestly searched, will be found to solve every spiritual difficulty, as well as to expose the merely human substitutes for divine teaching which so frequently obscure, or wholly displace, the clear light of truth contained in the Word of God. Scripture nowhere assumes or encourages the attainment of a fixed inward spiritual state of holiness or perfection; what it does encourage is that the believer should preserve a good conscience, i.e., a conscience untroubled by any overt acts which tend to grieve the Spirit of God, whereby he is sealed, and thus hinder communion.

One has well said, "who being dead yet speaketh," "My normal state is, not grieving the Spirit, and so in God's presence being able to think of Him and not of self; no state here is the object of the saint. He is not alive in the world, and he looks, having this life, to be conformed to Christ in glory, and if he thinks of himself at all it is only to judge himself." Again, "He (the Christian) has no thought of a present state of perfection or of purity (only the Spirit is ungrieved and has not to make him think of himself); for his only owned state is conformity to Christ in glory, God having wrought him for that self-same thing, in virtue of which he purifies himself as He is pure. … But purifying himself is not consciousness that he is pure. His conversation is in heaven, his motives there, and hence, necessarily, if he thinks of himself, the consciousness of short-coming, though he be not troubled by any present thought of sin, but is able to think of Christ. A return to think of himself is for him already failure."*

*Forgiveness and Liberty. By J. N. D.

It may be well to remark that the word state only occurs thrice in the New Testament, viz., Phil. 2:19-20, and Col. 4:7. In the verses in Philippians it is "the things around," or "concerning," in the latter "the things against" me (Paul); in neither of these is the word directly expressive of inward state or condition attained or attainable. M. C. G.