Life, purity, and maturity, these three prominent facts stand forth in Bible teaching as distinct. A proper regard to these distinctions would have saved the Church from much of her controversy on the subject of Christian Holiness.
Dr. Wm. Nast, in his address before the Evangelical Alliance, said respecting religious experience, — “There are three chief facts, viz. the impartation of spiritual life to the soul in regeneration; the cleansing of the heart from all moral impurity, through the sanctification of the Spirit; and the maturity of the Christian character.”
Life, which is imparted in regeneration, and received by faith, is the first and indispensable requisite of growth, and is the foundation of all maturity. The natural tendency of life is growth, and all life depends upon it; everything that has life begins to decay when it ceases to grow. Hence the very existence of Christian life depends upon its progress.
Nothing in the universe, so far as we can see, is capable of so much growth as our spiritual nature. Spiritual life is the highest possible life, and has the greatest capabilities of enlargement.
Physical growth is often great; intellectual growth is still greater; but neither are equal to the possible development of man ‘s spiritual nature. God has given laws to each, and adjusted principles of growth to them, and each has a living progressive power. Our spiritual being may progress more and still more through all future ages. God dwelleth in us, his love perfected in us; and still our love may abound yet more and more.
Purity in a progressive being can exist only in harmony with its growth and development.
As there were steps preparatory for and preliminary to regeneration, and the same in regard to purification; so there are conditions and preliminaries to Christian growth and maturity. After the reception of spiritual life in regeneration, and after purification through the blood of Jesus, the way is open for an unobstructed growth to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
By growth in grace, as we have seen, we do not understand growth from the vicious to the virtuous, or from defilement to purity; but the expansion and development of every virtue implanted in the soul at the new birth. Maturity, which of necessity must be comparative and relative, is applied to an advanced state of all the graces of the new man, — involving age, growth, discipline, cultivation and development.
Maturity is necessarily gradual, progressive, and indefinite; incomplete in this life, and very likely will be in the world to come. In this respect, the whole Christian life is to be one of progress; there being ample room for growth at every period of its existence, and especially after the heart is cleansed, which perfects the conditions of the most solid, rapid, symmetrical growth.
Identifying and confounding maturity with purity, lies at the base of nearly every objection we have seen to an instantaneous sanctification; especially is this true of those who regard growth in grace a cleansing process. How often the objection, — “I do not believe in this mushroom growth,” or “this jumping into twenty years’ experience by an instantaneous work.”
In the sense the objector means, he is right. There is no instantaneous growth to manhood. No child of God is cleansed into Christian maturity. No babe in Christ jumps into a maturity involving twenty years of growth, discipline and development. But a babe in Christ may at once be cleansed from all inbred sin, and thus become a pure Christian, which is quite different from a mature Christian. These objections, as is clearly seen, identify purity with maturity, and with the objector these terms are used synonymously. This makes serious confusion.
Rev. L. R. Dunn says,- “‘Holiness is not maturity. There may be moral wholeness where there is much that is immature and imperfect. A child may be healthy and perfect as a child, but it is not therefore a man. Maturity is the result of growth, discipline, development.” — Holiness to the Lord, p. 56.
We must distinguish between spiritual purity and spiritual development. Christian purity, a present privilege and duty, is very different from Christian maturity, which is largely a subsequent attainment, subject to the laws of growth, involving time, and an advanced religious life.
Spiritual purity refers more to our past and present state — the removal of original and acquired depravity; spiritual development refers to the future — our progressive nature and the growth of the Christian virtues.
The difference between an infant and a man is one of growth and development, as a child is a perfect human being, possessing all the constituent parts of a full-grown man — a man in miniature. This, very properly, illustrates religious growth and maturity, — but never purification. No child becomes a full-grown man instantaneously. The Christian is not made LARGE by instantaneous cleansing, but PURE. And, he may be pure and yet immature.
No one is BORN INTO MATURITY, and no one GROWS INTO PURITY. The Bible nowhere promises maturity by faith, instantaneously; purity, it does.
The advanced attainments of spiritual manhood are attained by growth, and purity perfects the conditions of that growth. After purity, growth in grace may be more or less rapid, according to watchfulness, diligence, study of Scripture, prayer and ministries of the Spirit. The “babe in Christ,” though possessing all the essential elements of the new life, has a diseased nature — “yet carnal,” which needs cleansing; and, when cleansed, he is not a mature Christian, he is still “a babe in Christ” — a pure, though an immature Christian.
Bishop Foster says, — “A being of inferior capacities may be as free from the taint of sin, as one of much more exalted powers. — Christian Purity, p. 71.
It will be admitted, human nature is the same in all unregenerate men, though subject to various modifications by surrounding circumstances. Regenerate nature, though specifically the same, is subject to like modifications of temperament, capacity, education, and other circumstances. The same holds true of entire sanctification; which, though essentially the same in every case, is consistent with many unessential modifications, which many appear to disallow.
There are “babes,” “young men,” and “men of full age,” in a state of entire sanctification. We should not fail to distinguish between them, and bear in mind that maturity is to be understood only in a relative sense.
Holiness, as has been seen, is expressive of moral quality, and not a name significant of an advanced process of religious growth or maturity.
A small young apple-tree may bear as good fruit in quality or kind, as a much larger tree. It may also bear fruit to its utmost capacity and strength, just as perfectly as a larger tree. The husbandman expects fruit from it only according to its capacity. He looks upon growth to increase its capacity for fruitfulness; but not to change the nature or quality of the fruit. So a babe in Christ, after being entirely purified, may love God just as purely, fully, and with all his heart — to the extent of his capacity, as an adult Christian.
Mr. Wesley’s definition, — “Pure love reigning alone in the heart,” may be possessed just as positively by the “babe in Christ,” cleansed “from all sin;” as by the “man in Christ.”
Water in a small channel may be just as pure, and it may fill its channel just as perfectly, as in a much larger one. And a pure stream may increase in volume and power. Perfection in quality does not exclude increase in quantity. The powers of the soul are improvable, and its capacities are expansive. Bishop Foster says: “If a finite soul be to its utmost capacity filled with love, it is perfectly holy, though its capacity be capable of endless expansion.” — Christian Purity, p. 77.
Dr. John Dempster, in a sermon heretofore alluded to, says: “The difference between these two states, is moral, not physical, owing not to one being more largely developed than the other, but to one being more pure than the other.”
These quotations recognize the difference between simple moral cleanliness — purity, and maturity — an advanced development in purity, or spiritual manhood. These ideas, and their processes are totally distinct. We must know there is a difference between purity or entire sanctification in its infancy and in maturity — as an advanced, established, and confirmed state of purity. The purified soul by growth, confirmation, and the law of habit becomes “rooted and grounded in love.”
Dr. Dempster says, — “Beyond sanctification there is no increase in purity, but increasing increase in expansion.”
“Purity is to be distinguished from maturity. When inbred sin is destroyed there can be no increase of purity, but there may be an eternal increase in love, and in all the fruits of the Spirit.” — Binney’s Theological Compend
Bishop Hamline says, “The field may be cleared of weeds, while the tender blade is springing up, and months may be necessary to grow the grain. So the heart may be cleansed from all sin, WHILE OUR GRACES ARE IMMATURE, and the cleansing is a preparation for their unembarrassed and rapid growth.” -Sermon, Beauty of Holiness, 1862.
There may be a large difference in the measure of grace in those who are wholly purified, while there is an essential sameness as to their purity. The graces of the Spirit may exist in the soul with much variety of strength and measure, while there is no alloy, or sin in it, this being the test of its purity, according to the word of God.
The word perfection does not always imply equality. Two apples, each perfect, growing on the same tree, may be equally sound, ripe, and delicious; and, as to quality exactly identical, yet one may be much larger than the other. Their difference is in size and not in quality. And growth does not change their quality.
Millions of Christians die in immaturity, and are saved. They have been cleansed, and they die in the arms of Christ, and in good hope through grace. Maturity is nowhere made a condition of entrance into heaven, while purity is.
Making the foregoing easily understood and clearly revealed distinctions, relieves this subject of difficulties which have greatly perplexed multitudes of good men. The only way to understand Mr. Wesley, is to observe these distinctions, which some failing to do have made that great and good man contradict himself. The same is eminently true in regard to the Bible, which is as clear as light, on the precious fundamental doctrine and duty of Christian holiness.
Maturation is the process of being “established, strengthened, settled;” — the being “rooted and grounded” in the love and grace of God. It is, advancing toward “the length, the breadth, the depth and the height,” involved in a life of obedience to God. Maturation is “giving all diligence, adding to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity.”
So far as I know, all orthodox Christians teach the doctrine of total depravity, and that those totally depraved may wax worse and worse, becoming more and more degenerate, and sinking deeper and deeper in moral degradation. “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Why may we not with equal propriety, teach that those cleansed from all impurity, may increase more and more rapidly in all love, knowledge, and goodness? If wealth and health enable a man to accumulate property easier and more rapidly than one in a state of poverty and sickness; will not purity, which is the soul’s health and wealth, prepare it to grow with increasing vigor, beauty, and symmetry?
Vegetables in a garden cleansed from weeds and grass will grow more thriftily than otherwise, nor will they cease to grow when every noxious thing is exterminated. No gardener would have fears that in destroying the weeds he would cause the vegetables to cease growing: — rather, they would grow the more rapidly.
A tree pruned, and all worms and insects cleansed from it, will not cease to grow, but will grow all the faster. A healthy child will grow in stature and strength more rapidly and beautifully, than one sickly or possessed of some constitutional disease. All disease or deformity obstructs growth, while health is its most essential condition. Thus when the carnal mind is destroyed, with all its miserable lusts — every root of bitterness exterminated, and all spiritual disease “healed,” the soul will grow with increasing thriftiness and uniformity.
If our capacity is obstructed, is partially occupied with an opposing principle — inbred sin; then our love must be defective, nor do we love God with all our heart.
The nature and process of growth and maturity are set forth by the Saviour, and illustrated by the advancing harvest, “First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear;” and by the grain of mustard seed, which grew until it became a tree and the fowls of the air lodged in it. These figures indicate growth, and an advancing maturity necessary to accomplish the processes of its existence; and without which the laws of their existence would be violated.
The Apostle expresses it as follows: “Till we all come … unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” St. John, having regard to the stages of growth and development, recognizes “little children,” “young men,” and “fathers” as the result of a growth of all the parts, members, and graces constituting “a babe in Christ.” A little child has all the parts and lineaments of a man. The “babe in Christ” has all the essential elements of the new spiritual life. He has them, not merely in infancy, but in connection with inbred sin — in a nature “yet carnal.”
Bishop Foster says, — “Though in regeneration all the elements of holiness are imparted, all the rudiments of inbred sin are not destroyed, and hence, again, the absence of complete sanctification, which, when it occurs, expels all sin.” — Christian Purity, p. 109.
The necessity and importance of religious growth no one will question. In the spiritual world, the great law of life is growth. The Christian cannot cease to grow without danger. To keep any religion at all we must grow in grace.
The Christian who does not grow becomes peevish, fretful and unhappy, like a child that has ceased to grow. Is this not the reason why so many professors of religion have become weak, uneasy and dissatisfied? In nature, when growth ceases, decay and death are at hand. When a child ceases to grow, it starts for the grave. Not to progress is to regress, and regression is destruction.
In regeneration, spiritual growth is like the slow progress of wheat choked and made sickly by the intermingling tares. The growing wheat may represent the graces of religion, and the tares our remaining corruptions. While these remain they are always in the way of the former. Entire sanctification removes them — roots them out of the heart, and leaves it a pure moral soil. It is then that the graces of the Spirit have a luxuriant growth, and bear the fruits of righteousness to the praise and glory of God.
When the heart is thus cleansed, it is freed from all obstacles to the Holy Spirit’s most gracious workings. Then it is prepared to progress as never before, and every breath of divine inspiration, every ray of divine light, and every act of religious duty tends to strengthen and establish it — in a life of holiness.
If the soul loved God with all its power, Bishop Foster says, — “It would not henceforth remain stationary, but rather quickened with a deeper life, its growth would become more rapid.”
“It is only when all sin is cleansed from the heart, (says Dr. F. G. Hibbard), when the whole desire centres on God, and the whole consent of the will embraces each and every command of God that the virtues of Christ or the graces of the Spirit can grow with unimpeded progress.” — N. C. Advocate.
Maturity can be predicated only of age, time, growth, and an advanced spiritual life. Careful, constant faithfulness to God, is the only way in this world to a well-balanced, symmetrical, mature Christian. Purity affords a growth unobstructed in every direction within the soul. Though the soul may have to maintain the assaults of enemies without — a defensive warfare, which is often quite difficult and aggressive; all is peaceful and friendly within.
It ought to be clear to every child of God, that after the Holy Ghost has cleansed the soul — accomplished the negative part of salvation — He can carry forward his positive work of enlightenment and enrichment, adornment and endowment with love and power, more easily and with less obstruction than ever before, — the death of sin giving free scope to the life of righteousness.
In the purified soul, the volume of love is more deep, strong and steady than is possible in a mixed moral state. Then it burns a flame, diffusing itself through the entire man, illuminating and sweetening the spirit, giving energy to the will, and refreshing and blessing the soul at every step in the path of duty. In this condition the soul will love and glow, expand and mature amid all the crosses and fluctuations of life. “When the embarrassments are thus removed out of the soul itself, (says Dr. Luther Lee), progress will be more rapid, every virtue may increase in strength and brightness.” — Lee’s Theology, p. 25.
The regenerate and the fully sanctified grow in grace exactly alike: they gather strength, increase in knowledge, and develop and mature in the graces of the new man in Christ, received in regeneration. In the merely regenerate state this growth is greatly hindered, and is much less steady and healthy; while in the purified heart, all obstructions having been removed, all spiritual disease healed, there is more ample space for the Christian graces to grow and flourish. Thus it is that after purification, growth is less impeded, and more rapid, uniform and solid.
By the cleansing power of Christ, and sanctified habit, all the tendency of our nature becomes as steadily and strongly to virtue, obedience and piety, as it formerly was towards sin.
Furthermore, experience has shown that the elements of holiness planted in the regenerate soul, cannot be fully developed without purifying grace, excluding all impurity. Faith, hope, love, patience, meekness, gentleness and the like can neither increase unobstructedly, nor be perfect in quality, without the cleansing blood washing all impurity from the soul.
As we have stated, spiritual life emanating from the Holy Ghost, in its progressive power has no bounds, limits or dimensions, and the soul of man, the seat of this life, is endowed with powers and capacities capable of endless improvement and unlimited expansion. These powers and capabilities of the entirely sanctified increase or expand more rapidly than those of the unsanctified, as sin degenerates, cripples and enervates; while holiness quickens, invigorates, and secures the best possible foundation for the development of all our powers and faculties.