Is Holiness Obtainable In This Life?
The experience of holiness, or entire sanctification, is the chief step whereby a loving heavenly Father proposes to restore the estate lost in Eden to the human race. Let it ever be remembered that the greatest loss sustained in the fall of our first parents was that of “the image of God.” While there is probably no doubt but that this “image” included some of the facts of moral ability with which the race was endowed, as well as the holiness, or perfect heart purity, with which they were created, still holiness was the ‘chief feature of that image. This they lost when through disobedience they fell.
We have been endeavoring to show that God’s plan to restore this estate is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and that it is accomplished, so far as this life is concerned, with two works of grace, the first being justification, or regeneration, and the second being entire sanctification, which results in perfect heart holiness.
The Standard dictionary states that entire sanctification is “The gracious act of the Holy Spirit, whereby the believer is freed from sin, and exalted to holiness of heart.” You will notice here that it is the believer who is made the recipient of this act of the Spirit. This goes to prove our contention, namely, that this experience is a second work of grace. The further statement of the dictionary is that this act of the Spirit, frees that believer from sin, this is, as we contend, the principle of sin, or the moral corruption, that remains in the regenerate after conversion. It also adds that such a believer is exalted to holiness of heart.
The catechism which has come down in many of the denominations of Christians for ages, states that this experience of entire sanctification is “the act of the Holy Spirit by which we are made holy.” Here we have the corroboration of the catechism added to that of the dictionary, in enlightening us as to what this gracious experience consists.
Another religious writer defines the experience of entire sanctification as “An experience awaiting regenerated people, whereby carnality is removed and the heart perfected in love.”
The great John Wesley, the founder of the Wesleyan revival of a century and a half ago, declared that it was the great depositum of truth to spread which God had raised the Methodists up. Another time he said, “Where this doctrine is preached, all the cause of God prospers.
If it can be shown that any of our preachers or leaders speak against this, let him be preacher or leader no longer.” The book of rules, discipline and government of that people states: “Let us strongly and closely insist upon inward and outward holiness in all its branches.” Adam Clarke, a great preacher and leader among them, and author of a famous commentary on the Bible, once said: “If Methodism once gives up preaching entire sanctification, they will soon lose their glory.”
We have quoted here, at some length, from the dictionaries, the catechism, and several prominent authorities in a movement that had its rise largely for the purpose of spreading throughout the world, this truth of full redemption from heart uncleanness; in order that we might have the whole case set before the reader, before we begin discussing the especial thought of the chapter, namely, is it possible to obtain an experience like this in this life?
Our first argument is based on the testimonies of the saints of old, some of our religious ancestors, and upon hundreds who live today. Guyon, Fenelon, Fox, Wesley, Fletcher, Clarke, Watson, Benson, hundreds of the Methodist fathers in America, the modern holiness movement numbering its great leaders by the multiplied hundreds, Free Methodists, Pilgrim Holiness people, Nazarenes. In these last two churches it is the rule to insist that every preacher shall be in possession of this grace, before he is recognized as a preacher. Here we have tens of thousands in early times and literal hundreds of thousands in more modern days, who have lived and died testifying that they had come into possession of the experience of entire sanctification, and “fell on sleep” in the full faith that their hearts were freed from sin, and that they were filled with the Holy Ghost.
All these thousands of people, some of them noted leaders, all of them well known in the communities where they lived, professed that they had received and retained this grace through their lives. If now they had really received the grace they claimed to have gotten, then holiness is obtainable, for these had obtained it. If, however, holiness is not attainable in this life, then all these people were mistaken. It is conceivable how a percentage of them might be mistaken. Say, for instance, that a goodly number had not gauged their conscious feelings correctly, and had mistaken a great emotion for a cleansing of the heart, and had supposed that a wonderful ecstasy which they had received, was indeed the descent of the Holy Spirit, and yet were mistaken in the matter. But in this case we must insist that if holiness is not obtainable, then every one of them was mistaken! For if only one of the entire number who claimed to have received this grace actually did receive it, then that proves that holiness is to be had here in this earthly career. But, if it is insisted that it cannot be obtained at all, if a clean, holy heart is not to be had this side the grave, if the carnal principle that became lodged in the heart of Adam, and through him was handed down to all his descendants, cannot and never has been removed from a human heart until after death, then every one of these hundreds of thousands of people who have so believed, and so claimed, has been deceived and mistaken; and not one of them has been in possession of that cleansing that they declared they had received. They were still in the bonds of the carnal principle of sin, that has warred for ages against the saints of God.
Assuming for the sake of the argument that this is the case, then the one who insists that they were all thus mistaken, must answer for this fact: How could every one of them be thus mistaken? And mistaken in the same identical way? And be able to pass that mistake on from generation to generation? These were, also, among the very holiest people who ever lived on this earth, and yet they were all mistaken in their conscious understanding of what God had done for them. Some of them were people of the keenest thought. Some wrote books that are models of keen thinking, deep erudition, and comprehensive grasp of many things, yet they were one and all totally mistaken in this contention of having a holy heart. They were totally deceived into thinking that they had been cleansed by the baptism with the Holy Ghost. Furthermore, they, thousands of them, lived lives so near to all that they professed,. that their very enemies were unable to find any fault in their actions, their speech, or their business practices. They were free from anger, avoided the very appearance of evil; were instant day and night in their service to God; exhibited perfect love when they were mistreated; when they were reviled, took the mocking with unruffled tempers; went about doing good; never asked for place, position, or favor; “Took joyfully the spoiling of Your goods” (Heb. 10:34); meekly turned the other cheek when they were smitten; yielded up their cloaks when their coats were taken; humbly accompanied their oppressors the “second mile;” were always cheerful under keen adversity; acted like their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ; were instant in prayer; loved their enemies; blessed them that cursed them; and did good to them that shamefully mistreated them. And yet, if the enemies of holiness, who claim that complete cleansing from all sin cannot be obtained in this life, are sound on their contention, these men and women, some of whom suffered martyrdom for their faith, were all, every one, mistaken. In spite of all their holy living, in spite of all their faithful walk, in spite of all their testimonies, and their devotion, they were rank impostors, not to say deceivers. This is so incredible as to become impossible of acceptance. But if these saints and martyrs were not mistaken, if they actually had come into the possession of this hallowed grace, then holiness is obtainable.
But this is an appeal to Christian experience, and, in the last analysis, it is not wise to pin one’s faith in a spiritual matter too much to Christian experience, unless one can show that it is corroborated and reinforced by the plain teachings of the holy Book. Let us appeal to the Scriptures. These holy writings are filled with statements regarding holiness. Bishop Randolph S. Foster, of the Methodist Episcopal church, writing of this same experience, as found in the Bible, emits this literary gem: “It breathes in the prophecy, thunders in the law, murmurs in the narrative, whispers in the promises, sparkles in the poetry, resounds in the songs, speaks in the types, glows in the imagery, voices in the language, and burns in the spirit of the whole scheme, from its beginning to its end. Holiness! Holiness needed! Holiness a present duty; a present privilege; a present enjoyment!”
In the Scriptures God promises holiness to His people. In Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the Lord thy ‘God will’ circumcise thine heart, . . . to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.”
“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you” (Ezek. 36:2,5).
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled,” that is satisfied (Matt. 5:6).
“That we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74, 75).
“Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it, . . . that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25, 26, 27).
These are God’s promises. They are recorded in His Word. They are the utterance of his inspired writers. Either they are true, or they are not true. There is no ‘half way, no middle ground. Either He will do what He has here promised, or He will not. That these marvelous Scriptures mean holiness, can scarcely be doubted. Even the beginner must admit that if God will do what is here pledged, there can be nothing else result than a holy heart, a fully sanctified experience. In the first one, an operation on the heart of mankind is offered, that will have as a result the enabling of that one to love the Lord God with all his heart, and all his soul. If a person is truly loving God with all his heart and all his soul, certainly that will mean that he is freed from all things in his being that are opposed to God, and is now in possession of perfect love, he will be in possession of holiness. Another declares that we shall be clean, with the cleansing of God himself, and that all filthiness, all idols shall be cleansed away — reader, what else can that mean, than that a person so cleansed by the power of the Almighty God, shall be a holy man? Another states that we may be supremely satisfied, another that we may serve Him in holiness all our lives, another that we, His church, may be sanctified and cleansed so that we do not have spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that we may be holy and without blemish. If language can depict’ anything of a spiritual nature, surely here is set forth the very thing that we are discussing, namely, holiness of heart and life.
Now let us suppose, for argument’s sake, that God will not keep His word, and will not do this amazing thing for His humble children. What do we confront? If He has promised that He will do this, and now He refuses to keep that promise, what does that prove? Clearly, it proves that God is false. That He will not keep His own solemn pledge.
That His Word cannot be relied upon. If this be the case, then all grounds for trusting Him are removed. Then there is no moral ground on which thinking, reasoning men can stand. Then we have moral chaos. His law is gone, because a false deity cannot expect His creatures to respect and obey His law. Indeed, can there be a law of God, if He be false? His honor is gone, His holiness is gone. We are compelled to say that God is, Himself, gone, for a false Supreme Being is unthinkable. He cannot be God and be false. Hence to say that holiness is not obtainable in this life is to say that God has abdicated His throne, and emptiness fills the heavens, that spirituality is a delusion, faith a fraud, and salvation a dream!
But, suppose that we say that God, having made the marvelous promises will do and keep His word, will fulfill every one of them, will accord to His people what He has so solemnly pledged. Then there can be no other conclusion than that His consecrated and believing children can be made holy in this life. If they can be, then holiness is obtainable!
We find in the blessed Scriptures, that God not only promises holiness to His people, but that He commands them to possess this grace.
“Walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen. 17:1).
“Be ye holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1:16).
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind” (Luke 10:27).
“Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
These are all commands of God, or the commands of His Son, Jesus Christ. They are all in the imperative mood, present tense. They are as binding on the followers of Jesus Christ, as any other command that He ever delivered. Does He not say, “If a man love me, he will keep my words” (John 14:23)? And does He not reinforce this by adding, “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings” (John 14:24)? We are, then, under solemn obligation to “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).
Will the Master command us to possess something that we cannot possibly obtain? Will He demand of us that which He well knows we cannot secure in this life? Will He constantly leave the impression that we are to be holy here below, nay, absolutely command us to possess it, when He is well aware that this grace cannot be had this side of the resurrection day? To answer these questions in the affirmative is clearly to imply that our Lord and Master is a tyrant. Could He be otherwise, if He would insist with positive command that we be holy, when He well knows that it is impossible? If therefore the enemies of this second work of grace declare, as they have done, that holiness of heart and life is not obtainable in this life, they must do it in the face of the consequences, which are nothing else than that if it is impossible, then Jesus Christ has commanded an impossibility, and is as a result, a tyrant.
But suppose that having commanded us to be holy, He proceeds to authorize and empower us to possess that grace. Suppose that He shed His very blood “that he might sanctify the people.” Suppose that we actually can keep His commandments through the merits of His death, and the power of His Holy Spirit, then, will we not be holy? Will not holiness be obtainable? We must either believe that Jesus is a fearful tyrant, commanding that which can by no means be obtained, or else His commands can be met and obeyed, and holiness is obtainable in this life. Which horn of this awful dilemma, reader, will you take?
But, again, the Scriptures state that it is God’s will that holiness shall be possessed by His creatures here on this earth.
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4).
“For this is the will of God . . . your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3).
“For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thess. 4:7).
In these passages of holy writ we find the will of God, the desire of the most High, the wish and longing of Jehovah. It is that His people shall be holy. Does He wish us to possess something that we are utterly unable to possess? Does He long for us to have that which is unattainable? To say that He longs for us to have it, and will bestow it at the resurrection day, is beside the point, because there is not a scintilla of evidence that this is what He plans to do. If He had planned that we should possess this grace at the Resurrection Day, and not to obtain it here, why has He not so stated? The Resurrection Day and the experience of glorification are practically one and the same. Why has He not urged glorification upon us, as He has entire sanctification? It must be’ clear to the reader that it is because He knows that glorification is to come to us after death, while entire sanctification is to be bad right here and now, through the merits of the atonement of His Son, and the power of the Holy Ghost.
If holiness is, then, as we have showed by the Word, His will for His children, and yet, the enemies of this truth state that it cannot be possessed this side the Resurrection Day, can, then, the will of God be done? Is His will a vain thing? Has He simply willed an unattainable ideal for us, and published it in His Word with all the force and conviction of something that He expects us to possess? If all these questions must be answered in the affirmative (and they must be, if we cannot obtain the experience of holiness in this life), then we are forced to the conclusion that God is toying with the feelings and hearts of His people. That He cannot be a God of love and infinite reason and treat His devoted children thus. That for God to will that we should be holy, and publish His will in His Word, and at the same time know that by so doing He was merely tantalizing His creatures, for they cannot realize His will, nor do His will, nor reach the thing that He has wished for them in His will, if so be that Christians cannot obtain holiness in this life; is to advertise that God is unkind, that He is unjust, and that we are more unhappy to know His will, than if He had not revealed it unto us.
But, suppose, that He has not only willed that we should be holy, but that He has provided an infinite atonement through the death of His Son, and that because of the merits of this atonement, and because of the outpoured Spirit of holiness, He is able to lift us to the place where He can put His will into effect in our hearts, and cleanse us from all the defilement of inherited corruption, and to do it right here in this life, then will not His divine will be put into effect? Will not His will, so far, at least, as making His creatures holy, be done in earth as it is done in heaven? And, if His will can be done, if His wish can be realized, if His desire can be made good in the hearts and lives of His consecrated and believing people, will we not be in possession of holiness? And, if we are in possession of holiness, does not that prove that holiness is obtainable in this life?
Again, let us observe, that this experience of entire sanctification is made the subject of inspired prayers.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (Luke 11:2).
“I bow my ….. . that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).
“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” (1 Thess. 5:23).
“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
These are inspired prayers. Two of them uttered by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Two of them offered by the great Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul of Tarsus. That they are praying here for heart holiness, the entire language employed would indicate. That they were jesting, or speaking lightly, or aspiring for something that was beyond reason, it would be sacrilege to assert. Are we, then, taught by the examples of these inspired prayers that we are to ask for what cannot be accorded? Yet that is exactly what we must conclude, if the enemies of this second work of grace are correct, and we cannot possess this sanctifying grace in this life. If this be the case, and these illustrious persons were pleading with God for something that could not be obtained, then how are we to know whether God will grant the answer to any of our prayers? What are we to do with statements like this: “Ask, and ye shall receive”? Or with this: “Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them and ye sh all have them”? Or with this: “There hath not failed one word of all his good promise” (1 Kings 8:56)? For here we have Jesus himself asking for something for His people that none of them can obtain this side of the Resurrection Day, if so be that holiness is not obtainable. And Paul, the saintly apostle to the Gentiles, is pathetically pleading for something for his converts that no one can possibly obtain, if holiness is unobtainable in this life. What shall we say, then, that prayer is a mockery? That God simply incites us to prayer by dangling some unattainable ideal before our spiritual eyes in order that we may strive for it, when He knows well that we cannot possess it? Would God tantalize His people in that manner? And yet, this is the very thing that we must allege in case holiness is not to be had this side the grave. If all this be true, then Jesus was deceived, or else was Himself a deceiver. Paul was deceived, and if he were, then his writings that have so blessed the world, were the asseverations of a totally deceived man, and cannot be classed as inspired Scriptural utterances.
But, on the other hand, suppose that God can and does answer prayer! Suppose that He has made ample provision for the answering of these prayers offered by His. Son, and His great minister. Suppose that because of these fervent petitions there should be poured out on the disciples of our Lord, and upon the consecrated and believing converts of the Apostle Paul, the fullness of the Holy Ghost, cleansing away with His fiery presence the inherited moral corruption that remained in their hearts after they had been converted to God, would they not be in possession of holiness? In other words, the very answer to these prayers would mean the coming of holiness to the recipients of the answer. Then if God is a prayer answering Deity, holiness is obtainable in this life.
The Scriptures clearly condition this experience of heart holiness. That is, they set forth certain conditions, which in case they are met, then holiness will be accorded to the one meeting the conditions.
“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
What if a man fulfills these conditions, will he not have a holy heart? Notice that the first reference states that “If we walk in the light,” that something will result. And it declares that that something is that we shall be cleansed from all sin. Suppose that a person should walk in the light, just as the text requires. Will he not have the result, or else prove that God will not keep His word? If then He does keep His word, will not that one who walked in all the light that was thrown upon his pathway, obtain holiness?
Finally, entire sanctification is made by the Scriptures a necessary condition for entrance into heaven.
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
“Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
“And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:2,7).
If, now, holiness is not, as some say, obtainable, then heaven is not attainable. If we are all commanded to be holy in order to reach heaven, and we cannot be holy, then we cannot obtain entrance to that place. If the reader here insists that multitudes have undoubtedly gone to heaven, who were justified (that is regenerated), but who had never heard of holiness, never been made familiar with the teaching ‘of the second work of grace, then we answer by saying that, as they approached the grave, they must have been walking in all the light that God was pleased to accord them, and obtained that cleansing in the hour and article of death. It is unthinkable that there should be moral corruption permitted in heaven. All denominations teach that ere heaven is reached, all moral corruption must be removed. The Roman Catholic church arranges for an unscriptural purgatory, in order to provide for this. Hence heaven is a holy place, and every one who enters there must have become possessed of it before he can be allowed to participate in its felicity. We allege that the Scriptures make no provision for this to be done anywhere except this side the grave. If complete moral cleanness cannot be secured this side the tomb, then it can never be secured at all.
Oh, friend, who reads these lines, are you in possession of this grace? Thousands have testified to the possession of it, and died happily shouting the victory it accords. God promises it, and will surely keep His word. God commands that we shall be holy, and certainly a command with God, is only another way of expressing an enabling act. When God commands, we can certainly obey. God wills our sanctification, and who will dare to claim that His will cannot be performed? Christ prayed for it — Saint Paul prayed for it, and if we will completely consecrate ourselves, and utterly trust Him, those prayers may be answered at once. It is conditioned, and with His grace assisting us, we can fulfill the conditions and possess it. It is declared to be necessary for entrance into heaven, and our Lord who prepared the place for us, will also by His abundant grace, prepare us for that place. Such a preparation is holiness of heart. Holiness a present necessity, a present privilege, a present possibility.