Since Satan’s primary purpose has ever been the obscuring of the fact of sin, and since human kind has ever been the tool for his exploitation, we may readily expect to find the field keenly contested for centuries past It is even so.
Of all the questions occupying theological interest, none has been more keenly and bitterly debated than the one of sin. Since man began to give expression to his attitude thereto every variety and shade of theory has been put forth. It would be exceedingly difficult and unprofitable if not hopelessly confusing to attempt definitions of the many startling phases of this subject. Every conceivable doctrine of sin has had its inception and inspiration in the myriad of cults covering our land. They run the gauntlet from bald denial to the most absurd scientific vagaries. Much has been written both in confirmation and denial. This is not the burden of our pen.
But before we define the propositions which demand our interest we must qualify the task before us. The controversy is not over the question of forgiveness but over the disposition of the sin principle in the heart of the believer. In orthodox circles there is a unanimity of mind regarding the forgiveness of sins. All will readily testify to the conviction and illumination of the Holy Spirit who gently leads the soul to a full confession and forsaking of the sins of his life; to the witness of the Spirit in full and complete forgiveness of the past. Personal testimony wherever you hear it always rings true at this point. It is through the conviction of the Holy Spirit that one is made aware of sin and made sorry for the life of the past. It is through the same Spirit that encouragement is given to renounce those sins. It is still through the same Spirit that faith is created in the heart of the one burdened for his sins and as a result he is at last brought to the place of full confidence of the witness of acceptance by the Father. The question before us, therefore, is not the way God deals with men’s sins as acts but the way God deals with sin as a principle.
There are, however, three positions relative to the solution of the sin problem that may be esteemed at all scripturally acceptable. These three attitudes cover a rather comprehensive definition of the orthodox field of teaching. So much of damaging evidence against the other position has already been heaped upon the bookshelves of the world that our small efforts would be of little or no value. These three positions or schools of thought are indexed by a proper and well-defined terminology familiar even to the casual orthodox reader. This terminology readily deepens lines already clearly drawn in the great fundamentalist host. Each position has its courageous champions with unsheathed swords ready for the fray. These three are the only positions we can consider relative to the Bible’s attitude toward sin. They are eradication, counteraction, and suppression.
Eradication is a word long since coined by that group called holiness people. Beneath its banner today can be heard the tramp of a mighty and militant host. Their battle cry is, “Death to sin and total deliverance from depravity!” Their terminology implies their doctrine. Although personal faith in the Christ of Calvary has resulted in a regenerated and transformed life, yet there still remains in that heart a sinful deposit However, a second definite experience, in the words of Wesley, “The second blessing properly so-called” is obtained by (1) an unreserved abandonment to all the will of God — past, present, future, known, and unknown and (2) by a definite living faith in the same Christ who formerly forgave all sins committed. It is effected by the operation of the Holy Spirit cleansing the heart of the believer from the entire remains of sin and filling the void with His own ineffable Presence so that in the days yet to come “when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” In this position there is a clear differentiation between sin and sins, between cause and effect, between source and outflow. The logic of the position assumes, upon a vital acceptance and appropriation of the facts, a life of constant victory outstandingly marked by consistent and constant reactions of perfect love in all the motions of life.
There is a further insistence upon the part of the eradicationist against any possibility of growing into this experience inasmuch as it is an absurdity to assume that one condition can grow into another. The eradicationist, unlike the suppressionist, refuses to accept the necessity of physical death as essential to holiness of heart on the grounds that such would make sin resident in the flesh. He insists that sin is basically a spiritual and moral quality, and can be related to the physical only in a secondary sense.
The teachings of suppression are championed by many who are loath to yield to what they claim to be the extreme and dogmatic position of the eradicationist. The latter’s conception of sin seems to the suppressionist to be extravagant and far-fetched. Sin to him is too inclusive, too indelibly written in the nature of men to secure a present release. True, sin resides in the believer even after the acts of the past have been forgiven, but to assume the possibility of the complete removal of the last remains of the despicable virus of sin seems to the suppressionist but an idle tale. He believes that there is no possibility of its removal until Jesus comes, or until one dies. Long since, we listened to a prominent Bible teacher whose name, if mentioned, would be familiar to many. He stated the suppressionist position clearly when he said, “I have been asked if I believe in carnality. Indeed I do,” was his reply, “and I expect to battle with this principle as long as I live.”
However, by a consecration for service and by persistent effort he can live a life of sufficient devotion so that the Holy Spirit will gladly own and bless his ministry by the suppression of inbred sin. He lingers about Paul’s hypothetical picture — “I find then a law that when I would do good evil is present with me” (Rom. 7:21).
We might add that a good many teachers and workers who belong to this group have been forced from the illogical position of teaching the possibility of a life of victory in such a setting. Thus they are now teaching that the work of regeneration and sanctification are simultaneous. Their pet phrase is, “You get it all at once.” They insist that conversion includes sanctification. Since we will later discuss this question more fully, we merely state this position in a further attempt to adequately explain the attitudes of the Calvinist toward the sin question.
The more modern school of counteraction, unwilling to accept the inconsistent position of the suppressionist, and firm in their stand against what they consider to be the extreme position of the eradicationist, feel that they must find a neutral ground. Many have supported this position not only as a doctrine but also with the fond hope that they will some way reconcile that long-time breach between those of like precious faith. In a strenuous effort to find a terminology that would clearly indicate their neutrality they seized upon the word “counteraction.”
Here again the definition implies and somewhat clarifies the position. This attitude may be a bit more vague in concrete expression, but its premises are certain. This school of thought believes that a happy yielding to the sweet suasion of the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus, will result in a counteraction of those evil influences lurking within the regenerated heart. They believe in having more of God than of sin. Like a pair of balances delicately suspended in the soul, a sufficient weight of blessing and divine power must surely outweigh the consequences of the inbeing of sin thus causing the believer to maintain a happy place of victory and spiritual poise. It is like the bright sunshine of the morning chasing away the gray shadows of the dawn. They say, “Let the sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings by a sweet submission to His presence and the shadows of sin will flee away.” This position is usually known as the Victorious Life. It is, in brief, commonly referred to as the Keswick doctrine.