Scriptures Supposed To Teach The Impossibility Of Possessing A Pure Heart
There are some in our midst who deny the possibility of a pure heart and holy life.
Such denials are in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Word of God, and show a profound ignorance of the plain statements that “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin,” and “whosoever abideth in him sinneth not.” Such speeches bring into contempt the blessed work of the Son of God, who came to destroy the works of the devil, and make to mean nothing the words of the angel about him, that he would save his people from their sins. The plan of human redemption thus becomes a farce, and the word “salvation” itself is but an empty sound and mockery.
The Bible is called the Holy Bible, it came from a Holy God, shows the way to obtain a holy heart, live a holy life, and finally reach a holy heaven. There is not a single hint in it that God will allow us to sin; and while the atonement provides for the recovery of one who falls into sin, it does not provide for a man’s sinning. It contemplates the restoration, and not the falling, of man; the holiness, and not the sinfulness, of the soul. Hence every commandment forbids sin, and every precept and command and prayer points to holiness.
This being the case, it is certainly astonishing to hear men plead for the privilege of sinning some, deny the possibility of constantly living a holy life, and in so doing convict God of cruelty or folly. For if God commands us to be holy, and we cannot become so, then the command originates either in folly or cruelty. There is no escape from this conclusion.
The objectors and deniers of the sanctified life entrench themselves behind certain passages of Scripture, which they quote in proof of their position. We call attention to several.
The first is Proverbs xx. 9: “Who can say, I have made my heart clean?”
We quickly reply: No one that we have ever heard of but a madman. Who could say such a thing: “I have made my heart clean” The emphasis, laid upon the fourth word of the verse, “I” unlocks the meaning of the verse, and shows that the writer is declaring what we all will agree to: the inability of a man to purify himself. But while we cannot do this work, another can; and while we have never heard any man say that he had made his heart clean, we have known myriads to declare that Christ had done so. This is certainly a very different thing.
A second verse is Ecclesiastes vii. 20: “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”
This passage is felt to be very strong by the objectors, and is quoted with smiles of certain triumph. But the seeming strength of the verse arises from an improper translation. No less a Bible critic and scholar than Dr. Adam Clarke calls attention to the fact that the mood in which the verb appears in the original is not made to appear in the King James version, and that the true reading is: “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and may not sin.”
With this fact we all heartily agree; we firmly believe in the possibility of sinning while in the body on probation. If a good man fell in Eden, a good man may fall outside of Eden, and in his home and in the Church. No well balanced holiness teacher ever says that we cannot sin, but declares instead that while we may sin, yet, thank God, through Christ we need not. “I cannot sin” is a speech that belongs to the fair land and country beyond the grave, while “I can, but do not sin” is an utterance that we are privileged beyond question to utter in this life.
A third quotation is made from I Kings viii. 46 and 2 Chronicles vi. 36. They are identical. “they sin against thee (for there is no man that sinneth not).”
The explanation is that there is the same failure to bring out the proper mood, which when done we have the words: “for there is no man that may not sin.”
A striking confirmation of this meaning is seen in the word “if.” “If they sin” shows that possibly they may not, and anyhow need not. For how silly it would be to say: “if they sin–for there is no man that sinneth not.” It is seen that the two sentences thus arrayed against each other make an absurd statement.
So we are doubly driven to the true rendering, “If they sin against thee (for there is no man that may not sin).”
A fourth verse cited is Matthew xix. 17: “And he [i. e., Christ] said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.”
This is regarded by some as containing a Waterloo defeat to the advocates of a sanctified experience and life. The slightest glance will show their mistake.
Christ was speaking here about the Father. According to the objectors then he ruled himself out and said that he, the Son, was not good. Such a construction of his words proves too much, as they say in logic, and so proves nothing if forced in that way.
What kind of goodness was he talking about? Any thoughtful person will say absolute goodness. He was affirming that there was only one being who possessed underived goodness, in whom goodness dwelt inherently and from all eternity. In that sense there is none good but one, and that is God. But while this is so, he does not teach that there cannot be relative goodness, and that a soul coming to God may not be filled to overflowing with divine goodness. Nor does his gospel teach that men have not been thus filled, and that there are no good men. On the contrary, the Bible says that Barnabas “was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost,” and so of others.
A fifth passage is Romans iii. 10: “There is none righteous, no, not one.”
The trouble with people who quote such passages as this is that they do not read the context, the verses going before and coming after. If they did, they would be surprised to see the meaning that they had first attached to the passages utterly vanish away.
Let the reader turn to Romans iii. 10, and then continue reading, and have his eyes opened, that the Lord was not speaking here of his people at all, as the description that follows proves.
“There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.”
Why surely this is not a description of everybody, for we all know many people who do understand and seek after God.
“Their throat is an open sepulcher; the poison of asps is under their lips.”
The writer knows many Christians who have no such throats and no such poisonous lips.
“Whose mouth is full of cursing.”
There are people reading these lines who never did, and never will curse.
“Their feet are swift to shed blood.”
Countless millions of people have never committed murder.
“The way of peace they have not known.”
Behold, we could not count the multitudes in different Churches who know all about, and daily and hourly enjoy, the way of peace.
Does it not dawn upon the reader that here is not a description of God’s people at all, but of one of Satan’s crowds. To think of such a company thrusting its own photograph before the eyes of the Lord’s redeemed and saying: “Look at your picture!” What amazing impudence and ignorance is here seen!
The passage is recognized by commentators as a picture of depravity, or the condition of the soul without the regenerating and sanctifying grace of God; but none of them supposed or taught that these corrupt hearts, sepulchered throats, and poisonous lips, could not be cleansed and made to glorify God thereafter with holy hearts and lives.
A sixth quotation is from Romans iii. 23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
This is true–no one dreams of denying it. We believe that every man has sinned in the past. The statement of the verse is in regard to the past. We have all sinned in the years that are gone. But that is no reason why we should sin in the days and years to come. We once transgressed through ignorance and unbelief, but through belief and knowledge of the truth, which makes us clean and free, we can, according to God’s word, live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.
A seventh citation is I John i. 8: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Here is another formidable-looking verse, that at first glance seems to call for an Appomattox surrender on the part of the holiness people; but with a little fixed attention, and by reading the context, the whole passage becomes clear.
In the first place, let the reader remember that John is writing to Christians, and that he has said to them in this same Epistle that “whosoever is born of God, sinneth not,” and that he urges this upon them again in the words: “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not.”
The question we urge now is: How can Christians find excuse for sin in the face of such statements? How can the reader reconcile these verses with a life of sin? Evidently the passage advanced by the objectors must refer to something else, or we have established the startling fact that the word of God contradicts itself. Here we read that we must not sin, and yet if we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves. What is the explanation? There is one, and one that should commend itself to any unprejudiced mind.
The Bible throughout recognizes two kinds of sin, a fact that the Churches have embodied in their creeds and articles of religion, calling one personal or actual sin, and the other inbred, inherited, or original sin. One is an act; the other is a nature. One is a transaction; the other, a bias or principle.
Being so diverse, they are described differently and are treated differently. The dissimilarity is made evident by distinguishing terms of quite a variety. One way of discrimination appears in this chapter in the words “sin” and “sins.” Nor is it the only place by any means where this peculiar discrimination is observed. David in the fifty-first Psalm, and Paul in his Epistles, both recognize this difference in sin, and use language accordingly.
“Sin” stands for the inherited principle or nature, while “sins” refer to our personal transgressions. Both of these words appear in the first chapter of John’s Epistle. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” Again: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, … the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
That two different kinds of sin, and two different works, are referred to here appears in the use of the singular and plural numbers by way of contrast. And also that in one case the man is in an unforgiven state and comes confessing his sins; in the other, the person is walking in the light as God is in the light. In the one, the man is pardoned; in the other case the man is cleansed, and cleansed while walking in the light. One obtaining deliverance from “sins;” the other, from “sin.”
According to these facts, a regenerated man, or one born of God, has been forgiven of his “sins” (plural number), but sin (singular number) in the form of inbred sin is still left. If such a man should say that he is without “sin” ( and many are saying it today who deny sin left in the regenerated heart), he deceiveth himself. The thing to do is, after we have confessed our “sins” and been forgiven, to walk in the light as He is in the light, having fellowship one with another, and right there in the light of a blessed regenerated life we shall suddenly be cleansed from all “sin.”
Thus being forgiven of “sins” and cleansed from “sin,” who wonders that John writes: “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not?”
The eighth passage cited is Proverbs xxiv. 16: “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.”
We call attention to the fact that this verse is usually quoted in this remarkable way: “For a good man sinneth seven times a day!” It is said that the devil never quotes the Scripture correctly. The devil is not alone in that particular. Standing in a hotel one day we heard a man of the world, who was laughing at the idea of holiness, say: “What can be expected of a man like myself, when the Bible says: “A good man sinneth seven times a day”? We italicize the words that are not God’s words. The real verse reads differently: “A good man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.”
We are glad to notice in the first place that we do not have to fall seven times a day. This is certainly in itself a great relief. The thought of seven falls in a lifetime, sad as it is, is more endurable than the seven daily overtakings and overwhelmings.
In the second place, we are delighted to find on tracing the word “falleth” back into the original that it does not mean sin at all, but refers to temporal affliction or trouble. So the true meaning of the verse is that a just man will or may fall into great sorrows or troubles seven times in his life, but he shall rise up from them all!
So ends the boasted array of Scripture that was supposed to teach the impossibility of being pure in heart and holy in life. The false meanings attributed to them go down before an honest investigation, and especially before the heavy broadsides of the Ten Commandments and such cannonades as “Stand in awe and sin not,” “Awake to righteousness and sin not.” “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not.”
To crown all, after we go over the battlefield and make a closer scrutiny of these scriptural batteries that were supposed to be firing into us and our claims concerning holiness we discover that they are our own guns, and are really pointing against the men who have tried to use them against us, and that they are in perfect harmony with the rest of the Bible, which teaches us the gracious fact that God has granted to us through the life and death of his Son that “we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and