The Divine Method Of Dealing With The “Old Man”
God has a way of proceeding against inbred sin. One may be certain that it is a thorough way, and eminently satisfactory both to the soul and to God.
That way or method has already again and again been anticipated in the foregoing chapters. It is one of extirpation and destruction.
This we would naturally expect from God. Who could believe that he would be satisfied with inbred sin, or the work of the devil left in the heart?
The writer once heard a preacher say that “any experience that was not satisfactory to a Christian could not possibly be so to God.” This was a wonderful utterance, and as true as the gospel, for the Word of God teaches the same thing.
The question arises: Can God remove or destroy inbred sin in the soul? If we say that he cannot, then has the devil done a work that God cannot undo, and we have a creature towering above the Creator. In a word, God is not all-powerful. If we say that God can destroy inbred sin but will not, then we have a being in the skies lacking in love and pity for his creatures, and actually allowing sin to abide in the soul when it is in his power to remove it.
The divine command in the Bible is not to “cover sin,” but this idea just advanced makes God a coverer of sin as well as man. So we are driven back upon the blessed truth that God can and will destroy all sin in the soul. And this is just what the Bible teaches throughout.
The figures used to describe the work are most powerful.
In one place the symbol of fire is used. There is no more destructive agency than fire. This is recognized in the physical world. God takes this well-known figure of destructive power, and promises the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire to burn out the remainder of iniquity.
It was the fire laid upon Isaiah’s lips that flew like electricity through his being and purged him of iniquity. There was no reference to pardon. The word “purge” refers to the action of fire.
Malachi is clear about it, as he prophesies that the Messiah is going to purify the sons of Levi (not sinners) and purge them with fuller’s soap and fire.
John the Baptist talked about it to forgiven people, for according to Luke i. 77 John gave “knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins.” To these same people who had received remission of sins he promises that Christ would baptize them with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
This was first fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the “fire” fell upon the one hundred and twenty. Peter, in speaking of it afterwards, said that their hearts that day were “purified.” Evidently something was destroyed in the souls of the disciples, for they were transformed men ever after. The change that took place was so remarkable that a child in reading the Book of Acts can see it.
This baptism of fire, destructive of sin in that it “purifies the heart” and delivers from man-fear as seen in the case of the disciples, is said by Peter to be for all. He calls it “the promise,” as Jesus himself so termed it when he said, “Wait for the promise of the Father.” Hence Peter addressing the wondering throng on the morning of Pentecost, said: “The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Let the reader remember that a birth is one thing and a baptism another. Moreover, a baptism follows a birth in the natural world, and does the same in the spiritual life. Have we been born again? Then should we seek at once the baptism of fire that destroys sin and purifies the heart.
A second figure of destruction is that of crucifixion.
There is not a more fearful and certain mode of death known on earth than that of the cross. The crucified man is bound to die. This figure God uses to describe the death of the “old man.” Moreover, it is put in a way to show that it is not a gradual lifelong dying, but something accomplished here, hence Paul says: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed.” He brings his own crucifixion forward in a tense that settles the fact that it is done, in the words “I am crucified,” even as we say today, “I am sanctified.”
We cannot get the idea of regeneration in crucifixion. Just as in the natural life we must be born first before crucifixion is possible, so in the spiritual world birth must come first, and then crucifixion. The life that follows is a most blessed one with Christ living continually in us. As Paul expresses it, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
A third figure is that of utter removal, shown in the words “put off.”
Some would read it as if the “old man” was to be put down and kept down; but God says, “put off.” When a garment is put off, it is certainly not on one nor in one. A quibble may be made by stating that the command “Put off the old man” is to the Church, and so is a human work or performance after all. But when the quibbler remembers that the Bible also says, “Save yourselves,” and yet salvation is of God, the objection falls to the ground.
John the Baptist saw this removal of sin from the soul and declared it in the words, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” He did not say “sins,” but “sin.” The sin of the world takes in this dark inheritance which makes men go astray. How we rejoice that Christ can take it away!
This same removal of sin was typified in the Old Testament in one of the sacrifices for sin. It will be recalled by the reader that two goats were brought to the altar; one was slain and the blood used; while over the head of the second goat the sins of the people were confessed and the animal led away into the wilderness with this imposed spiritual burden. In this symbolic scene we read that while the blood has been shed for our sins, there remains another act of grace in which iniquity is taken away.
Recently in our reading we came across the testimony of George Fox, the famous Quaker. His experience is in delightful agreement with the argument made under this third point. We copy his exact words: “I knew Jesus, and he was precious to my soul; but I found something within me that would not keep sweet and patient and kind. I did what I could to keep it down, but it was there. I besought Jesus to do something for me, and when I gave him my will, he came to my heart and took out all that would not be sweet, all that would not be kind, all that would not be patient, and then he shut the door.”
A fourth figure is that of destruction.
In Romans Paul tells us that the “body of sin” is to be “destroyed.” And this is not to be done at death, for he says immediately after that we should no longer “serve sin.” It is to be done in life, that we may present a holy and blameless life to the world.
John also speaks to the point and says: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”
The reader will notice that the word is not suppress, paralyze, or keep under, but destroy. A letter or book destroyed is the end of that article. Destruction means destruction. Free moral agency is not destroyed; no moral power or susceptibility of the soul is annihilated, but the proneness to sin, the body of sin, the “old man,” is destroyed. God created moral powers and susceptibilities within us, while the devil implanted a bias or proneness to sin. Christ has not come to destroy the works of God, but the works of the devil.
Is it not amazing that we have men in the pulpit today, posing as religious teachers and expounders of God’s Word, who affirm that the sin principle, or body of sin, remains through life, and that in the face of the express declaration of the Bible?
Paul is not referring to the deathbed scene or hour when he speaks of the crucifixion of the “old man” and the destruction of the body of sin. The proof of this is that he affirms that by this destruction we are placed where henceforth we should not “serve sin.” This shows that he is speaking of the life on earth, and not that in heaven. And we have his additional words:
Now, being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”
Reason itself demands that this deliverance from sin should take place in time. The honor of Christ demands it. What a belittling of the Saviour and his redemption it would be, if we were compelled to say that the nature of sin could not be removed by his power! How his work would suffer in contrast with that of the devil, who wrought a harm and curse in the soul that Christ is unable to uplift and undo!
The safety of the soul demands this destruction to take place in life. The mercy of God has determined that it shall be done, and, thank God, by the power of the Son of God it is done.
It is wonderful how the soul recognizes this peculiar destructive work. It is felt to be different from that wrought in conversion. Regeneration is life-giving and constructive, but sanctification is destructive and death-dealing. Something is felt to be taken away–yes, destroyed–when the blessing comes upon us. Bishop Hamline speaks of the divine work as “a holy, sin-consuming energy.” A lady in Tennessee, looking upward and praying for the blessing, suddenly received it, and in describing the experience said that something was taken out, and something came in.
The wife of a minister in Arkansas leaped to her feet as the holy fire fell upon her soul, crying out in an ecstasy: “The ‘old man’ is dead! the ‘old man’ is dead!”
Certainly it stands to reason that if we feel painfully the presence of this principle of evil, we shall most delightfully realize its removal and absence.
We have the witness of our own spirits to this destruction of the “old man.” Besides this, we have the witness of the Word, which declares that the body of sin is destroyed. and clearer still we have the witness of the Holy Spirit, who, in a delightful, indescribable language of his own, thrills the soul with the testimony of the fact. Who is it that says there is no specific witness of the Spirit to sanctification? Let such a one turn to Hebrews x. 14, 15, and hear what the Book says: “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them which are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us.”