Holiness: A Possible Experience
Is holiness attainable? Does it lie within the limits of real, practical life? Or is it a state for which we may sigh and struggle, but can never realize? Is it simply an ideal to excite our longings and provoke progress, but ever eluding us, ever drawing us, but ever maintaining its distance from us? Or can it be an experience, a state reached and lived?
What is holiness? It is freedom from sin and consecration to God. The enslaving power of sin is broken, its dominion is ended, its stains are effaced, its poison is purged. The service of God has man’s devotion, it engages his talents and his time, and yields the richest joys of his life. He is ‘dead unto sin, and alive unto God.’ Sin is not practiced, it is not enjoyed, it is not desired. These are impossible in death. If there be a practice in, an enjoyment of, or a desire for what is sinful, then holiness is not possessed. With this death there is the highest and truest life—a life in God, a life to God. The nature of this life is divine, its purpose is God’s glory. ‘Christ liveth in me.’ ‘Do all to the glory of God.’ ‘Whether we live, we live unto the Lord: and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.’ Holiness is not a mere negative state, not a mere freedom from sin, but a life consecrated in all its capacities and activities to the highest purposes to which man can live. Blessed freedom! Sublime devotion! ‘Freed from sin, servants to God, fruits unto holiness.’ Unfettered by evil, abhorring it, superior to it, the holy man is possessed by God’s love, and has the forces of thought, affection, and energy centred in Him. There is no state so high, no life so intensely to be desired. And this is possible. This state of freedom and devotion can be experienced. This life can be more than an illusory ideal; it can be a real, conscious, joyous attainment.
There is in our nature a capacity for holiness. Power to effect it is not ours, but a capacity to receive it is in us. No force of will, no high, full resolve, no earnest struggling alone can secure it, but we can be the subjects of it. We cannot produce it, but can possess it. Our capacity for holiness is original and inherent. Sin has alienated us from God and reigned over us, but our receptivity of holiness it has not destroyed. Our mind is carnal, but it can be renewed.
Our nature is depraved, but it can be sanctified—possessed by the Spirit of holiness. Our will has a wrong bent, and our love a wrong centre, but the will can be rectified and the objects of love and hate can be reversed.
There is provision made by the Lord for effecting holiness in us. Any provision to secure this holiness must include the removal of our guilt, the purification of our nature, and the communication of new life. Sin is more than an infirmity, more than an imperfection in moral force. Weakness results from sin, but is not its cause. Were sin only an infirmity of our nature, or the certain result of the inadequacy of our moral power to the circumstances and demands of our life, there would be no guilt, no anguish pang to rend the heart, no condemnation to oppress the soul. But sin has its positive qualities. There is in it the voluntary action—the free resolve of the will. It is what need not have been, and for its being man is responsible. Thus there is guilt. The consciousness of wrong, of a willful separation from God, of exposure to the dread penalty of violated law, fills the soul with gloom and fear. With this guilt abiding, holiness is impossible. It chills the nobler aspirations of the spirit, and oppresses and fetters man. It prevents any communion with God—produces a recoiling from Him by whose presence holiness is wrought. Needing God, wretched, disconsolate, lost without Him, man, through guilt, is afraid to approach Him, shrinks from Him. This guilt must be removed for man to become holy.
Sin has not only incurred guilt, but has corrupted our nature. The springs of our life are poisoned. The heart is desperately wicked—is the source of all impurities. In strongest language the Scriptures declare our sinfulness, and those assertions have been confirmed by the experience of earnest souls in every age and every land. Sin is not an outward foe with which man might hopefully contend—not a power distinct from himself with which he might wrestle and vanquish by the effort of his strength; nay, it is in him, in his thought, affection, will, and consciousness. He himself is sinful. A radical change—a change in man’s inmost being, is essential to holiness. The uncleanness in the heart, the poison possessing the nature and giving a diseased bias to the affections and volitions must be purged out, not only kept under control, but destroyed. The hidden germs of evil must be dislodged, the nature cleansed and perfectly freed.
With the forgiveness of sin and our purification from sinfulness, there must be the communication of a new life. As holiness in man is not a mere passive or negative condition, but one of truest and highest activity, not a state of simple quiescence, but one of positive power and real work, new vital forces must be engendered. There must be the realization of a power that energizes him against all the varied forces of evil, impels him to the conquest of sin, and makes him certain victor over all unrighteousness.
These absolute essentials to holiness are provided for us. Through the atonement of Jesus Christ the guilt of sin is removed. The dread thunders of condemnation are hushed, Calvary responds to Sinai. The heart of an infinite love receives the burning sword of wrath. ‘Mercy and truth have met’ in the cross; ‘righteousness and peace have kissed.’ ‘By Jesus all that believe are justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.’ ‘God is just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.’ ‘He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’ The dread of God yields to love. The Divine face is radiant with smile, and fills the soul with joy. Exultingly the spirit sings, ‘O Lord, I will praise Thee: though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortedst me.’ The sin in man is also destroyed. The conscience is purged from dead works. The spirit of the mind is renewed. Man is ‘born again,’ and ‘the new man is after God created in righteousness and true holiness.’ ‘He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ No stain of sin mars the beauty of the soul, no impurity poisons its life, no power of evil stifles its nobler aspirations. The very God of peace sanctifies wholly. The Holy Ghost is given. Lost by sin, He is restored to us through the redemption of Jesus. In Him all the forces of a new life are found. Walking in the Spirit man does not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. He is superior to them. The body is the temple of the Holy Ghost The life is spiritual in tone and in work.
This provision proves the intensity of God’s desire for our holiness. His will is our sanctification. That will has found expression in the sacrifice of Christ. Do we determine the force of any resolve, the energy of any desire by what is done or sacrificed to secure the object? Then we discover God’s hatred of sin and His purpose to take it away in the shame and anguish of the cross. To accomplish His will He spared not His only Son. He was manifested to take away our sin. If such was the purpose of an infinite wisdom and love, shall its realization be impossible? Shall such means fail to effect the Divine will? No; holiness is possible. Our life can be fully sanctified. The purity of God can possess the heart and its lustre radiate the character.
This holiness is realized through faith in Jesus Christ. The closest possible union can exist between Christ and the human soul. This union is dependent on conditions in man himself. Christ gives Himself to man just in proportion as man believes. There is a faith that appropriates Him in all the fullness of His grace, life, and joy; and that is an all-surrendering faith in Him. The more the soul commits itself to Jesus, the more He will reveal and communicate Himself to it. A full surrender becomes a full possession of Him and all that is in Him. By this true holiness is realized and enjoyed. ‘But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.’
This holiness can be enjoyed through life. Christ in the soul is an unfailing power. Weak in themselves Christians are made mighty and triumphant in His strength. ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.’ The world is conquered. ‘This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.’ Temptations, the subtlest and most potent, are baffled. The forces of sin are under the victor’s feet. The life is hid with Christ in God. ‘The whole spirit and soul and body can be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’—From the Primitive Methodist, pp. 20-21