Letter On Mr. J.P.S.’S “Holiness Through Faith”

My Dear——,

The greater part of what is here, even to its terminology, is borrowed from so-called “Brethren,” such as resurrection-life, etc. I do not mean by this, that it is not sincere or real, for I have no such thought, but that it is what you have known and received for years. You must be aware that the teaching that Romans 7 is not the Christian state, but that chapter 8 is, has been taught, as I have myself earnestly insisted on it now near fifty years, only I trust with increasing clearness. But what is added to it is not sound teaching, and lowers the standard which scripture presents to us, and tends to put estimate of self instead of thoughts of Christ.

Mr. S. does see liberty before God and from sin which is by faith, though not scriptural on this point either, as we shall see; but he compares a Christian state with those who are under the bondage of the law, or Romans 8, instead of comparing it with Christ glorified or down here, and hence falsifies that state as well as lowers the standard. Being free from the law of sin and death, filled with the Spirit, dead to sin, are to be pressed as the only right state of the Christian.

The question of the justness of the statement of this book does not he there. It confounds this with a supposed state of purity, which is not the scriptural apprehension of the Christian’s condition when free.

I find in the very outset a mis-statement which affects the whole book. It is said (p. 12), “If we give rein to our yearnings, asking of God whatsoever things we desire, what would be our first instinctive cry? That we might be holy and pure, and conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.” Now while this sounds very well, and the desire after holiness is an essential part of the new man, yet this statement’ is not scriptural, and falsifies the whole truth on the subject.

Conformity to the image of Jesus Christ is in glory. We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He may be the firstborn among many brethren. We have borne the image of the earthly, and we shall bear the image of the heavenly. The only positive object of the Christian is conformity to Christ in glory. And we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

And now mark the difference of the consequence. For Mr. P.S. it is to be holy and pure, etc. For scriptural conformity to Christ is in glory, and the consequence is, “He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself as he is pure.” The standard is Christ in glory, and it is not said pure, but “purifieth.” This is always the scriptural estimate. “Beholding with unveiled face [looking fully into] the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Hence Paul, in his fullest energy, seeks to win Christ, and along with this that he may attain unto the resurrection from among the dead. His object is the prize of the high calling, his calling is up above (ano). No state here is the object of the Christian.

Now this alters the whole character of Christian state and attainment. For this Christ’s state down here is never presented as a model of attainment, for He was wholly without sin, and we are not in nature. Scripture says “he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk as he walked.” Because we ought never to walk after the flesh, though the flesh be there.

No one desires that any should live in sin, or even sin at all. We have no excuse for a single idle thought, for Christ’s grace is sufficient for us, and God is faithful not to suffer us to be tempted above that we are able. But in Romans 6 it is not Christ’s walk down here or state which is presented, but His being raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, and our consequent walking in newness of life^ Here Mr. S. makes it the point of his argument (p. 15) that we are not to serve sin. Of course we are not. But his argument here is all fallacious. What is stated is urged as the only normal Christian state. But the ground of the argument is that we (believers) were crucified with Christ: that is, when He was crucified, we were. Now it is of course faith that realizes this through grace, and if we do we are free: but the thing realized is, that we were crucified with Him when He was crucified. And it is so taken as the Christian state that the introduction to Christianity (baptism) is the introduction to that as its proper force; being baptized to Christ is being baptized to His death; and this, not the question of guilt and sins put away (that subject is treated to the end of verse n, chapter 5), but our state and our relationship to God by Adam’s sin, to which state we have died, and so are clear from it and out of it, Christ having actually died for us to this as well as borne our sins.

Hence also we are dead to law, for law has power over a man as long as he lives, and we have died away from under it in Christ, and are to another—Christ raised from the dead, and this is deliverance, not justification. It is thus we pass from Romans 7 to 8, the power and means described in chapter 8:2, 3, and the deliverance continued on to verse 11. How much state, and not Christ, is the object of Mr. S.’s mind is evident from pages 16-19.

But all this betrays too a failing apprehension of the existence of the flesh. “The whole nature is body, soul and spirit, it is a readjustment of it,” not Christ my life giving me the consciousness I am to be like Him, as He is. With this comes temptation more fierce than ever. What does this mean? “Temptation is not sin, for my Lord was tempted” (p. 19). What does he mean by “temptation”? Satan came and tried Christ in the path of perfect obedience. But what has this to do with purity of heart? All this is exceedingly immature and uncertain, and a strange confusion of the question of purity and assaults by Satan upon us. Nor do I find consistency of doctrine with himself or with scripture. “We receive the purification from all iniquity by faith, and that now, and that is from all iniquity” (p. 21). But in page 55, “If he then walks in the light or in Jesus, it shines through and through him, revealing hourly the things contrary to God and holiness, and as they are revealed by the light, they are cleansed by the blood. To walk in the light always leads to the blood of purifying.” Now sanctifying is not used in the passage of Hebrews in the sense he does; but the whole doctrine of that part of the epistle is different from Mr. S.’s. The statement there is that the worshippers once purged should have no more conscience of sins. And when he speaks of receiving the blood as cleansing the fountain, the very source of evil thoughts, murders; etc. (p. 55), is not the flesh the fountain of them? Is the flesh cleansed? Why had Paul a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, if the very source of evil was cleansed? Nor is “inwardly “in the text, nor is Jesus here spoken of as the light. It is “If we walk in the light, as he [God] is in the light, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin,” and it is clearly as set in the light, brought so, that the light shews we are as white as snow (p. 26). You see how he takes the low condition of evangelical Christendom as his point of comparison: “If sinning be the inevitable, constant, condition of the Christian.” Of course it is not.

Again, I find (in page 20) the false principle of conformity to Christ here, which, as stated by him, is not in scripture. “He knows no sin,” but this book tells me the light always leads to the blood of purifying. Was this true of Christ? If not, there is not conformity to Him as down here. To what He is up there clearly no one is yet conformed. But it is of this scripture speaks: the effect is to make us purify ourselves. Had Christ to do this? So “victory over sin” is not conformity to Christ (p. 30). Victory there ought always to be, and indeed I should go a great deal farther. But this vague use of conformity to Christ is really very mischievous. We are called to walk as He walked, never to be what He was. I do not admit that “whatever the Holy Spirit makes us to yearn for, Christ came to give “in this life (p. 31). I yearn for a state, and so did Paul in Philippians 3 and in 2 Corinthians 5, which he could not have in this world by any possibility.

The same excessive vagueness and neglect of the force of scripture which we have already found is repeated in page 37, “These things prepared by God are not all postponed to a future scene, but are even now spiritually discerned.” Now whatever is prepared is revealed, and may be all spiritually discerned, and this no doubt should act so as to make us live in these things, have our conversation in heaven, look on not the things that are seen but the things that are not seen—as those out of Romans 7 and alive from the dead. I have no wish, far from it, to weaken this. The flesh never should be allowed to act, even in our thoughts, but be held for dead, and Christ’s grace is sufficient for it. But this is not “some things not being postponed to a future state,” but the action of all heavenly things on a soul set free by being dead and risen with Christ; Col. 3. But here the things are above, and the essence of the teaching is that they are above. Our calling is above (ano), whatever we realize of it here.

Nor does Ephesians 3 (page 41) speak of our love to God required by the law, but of a much more blessed thing. We are rooted and grounded in love—not our love as man to God surely. It is Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, and our knowing Christ’s love which passes knowledge (and therefore “as far as I was conscious”) so as to be filled up to (eis) all the fulness of God. It is a mischievous thing to make this our love to God according to the requirements of the law, and false interpretation, and shews how this system (not freedom from Rom. 7) lowers the true standard of blessing and holy privilege. If the system only affirmed what is stated in page 43, I should not have a word to say against it. “He simply is placed where he by faith receives from God power to act day by day up to the given measure of light upon his duty. It is the power of overcoming all descended evil that is bestowed.” Now scripture is perfectly clear as to this: sin shall not have dominion over us. Christ’s grace is sufficient for us. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. All are not in Romans 7. But this is not the principle on which this freedom is based here. Mr. P.S. talks of conformity to Christ here, of being pure, etc. Now had Christ simply the power of overcoming discerned evil, and is overcoming discerned evil purity? The system is all false. Deliverance from the state of Romans 7 and being in Romans 8 and always so, is not false, but very important; but the principles on which this is based in the book are quite false.

Perfect (pages 43, 44) in Philippians 3 refers to the recognition of a calling above, having the conversation in heaven and this giving a motive for looking always onward; it knows no standard but resurrection, and not conformity to Christ here. I might say the perfection Philippians 3 speaks of is the denial of Mr. P.S.’s perfection, for it knows none but likeness to Christ in glory acting on motives now. Here again the standard is lowered, and a state here which is only a passing and imperfect effect of it called perfection. Perfection in Philippians 3 is not the walk. The perfect are exhorted to have this mind and walk and conversation. It is our heavenly standing as contrasted with forgiveness and morality. Enoch walked with God or pleased Him (this is only the LXX translation of “walking with”) and God took him away out of the world. That was what satisfied his heart, not his walk, though he had the knowledge that he pleased God, a most true and blessed privilege. Note too here (p. 46) he identifies “sinning and under sense of condemnation” —things essentially different. It is clear that he has no distinct sense of justification and acceptance in Christ, as his reference to the application of blood to purify on each failure also distinctly shews. The doctrine of no more conscience of sins is unknown to him. I admit that knowledge is a poor equivalent for taking Jesus for all and present victory (p. 46), but it is not the question.

We have again false doctrine (in page 47), “God’s Spirit cannot dwell with sin, or even with the love of the world.” Had he said that it is not being filled with the Spirit, I should have heartily agreed. But I ask, did the Holy Spirit dwell in Peter, or had He left him when he used dissimulation, or how do I grieve the Spirit if sin and the Spirit cannot be there together? If a man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. Do we cease to be Christ’s if anything of worldliness gets into the mind, most sad as it is to see it? I have no desire to weaken the force of the solemn texts he quotes, but to apply them earnestly to conscience; but his use of them is wrong. We are not in the flesh but the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in us. It is a state, not a walking up to that state, all important as this is. We have natural men, carnal Christians, and spiritual Christians, in 1 Corinthians. But it is a serious thing to say a man is none of Christ’s, because he fails to live up to the power which works in him, though he has no excuse for not doing it, and is judged by the perfect law of liberty.

The body dead because of sin is the practical conclusion the apostle draws as to the Christian state. In 2 Corinthians 4 always bearing about Christ’s dying is the practical realization of it. But I reckon myself dead by faith. All this is confounded, and false doctrine the consequence.

The use of the Epistle to the Hebrews (p. 51) I believe to be wholly false. Sanctification by blood is not the same thing as sanctification by the Spirit; and here I remark that the use of the symbol of water, of which scripture is full, is wholly ignored in this book. Christ washes the disciples’ feet with water, He sanctifies and cleanses the church with the washing of water by the word, the disciples were clean by the word spoken, and out of His pierced side water came as well as blood.

Hence in this chapter Mr. S. purifies Christians by blood again if they fail, and (as we have seen) sinning and a sense of condemnation go together for him; and so of course repurifying has to be wrought by blood. In the doctrine of the Hebrews, which treats of the blood and work of Christ, it is when He had by Himself purged our sins, that He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. And the worshippers once purged have no more conscience of sins, and by one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

As to water and feet-washing this is not so. So if (1 John 2) any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins. Here communion is in question, and this for the time is wholly destroyed by sin. On the other hand, righteousness is not in question before God, because Christ is our righteousness. It is not the sense of condemnation, but horror of sin and judging ourselves, not the thought of being condemned for it. The whole doctrine of the chapter is error. Further, the passage in 1 John 1 does not speak of a Christian’s sinning (chap. 2 does this), but of the Christian position abstractedly, walking in the light as God is in the light, not of our sinning in the light, and then being cleansed. Perfect light, communion (not surely with God here, but) with one another, and perfect cleansing by blood, is the Christian’s place.

And if (p. 57) the body or root of sinning within us be kept in the place of death, as it ought to be, there is no need for cleansing, nor is the conscience bad. The existence of flesh does not make the conscience bad, the allowance of its activity for a moment does. All this is confusion. Bearing about Christ’s dying is not cleansing, but prevention, and this ought to be; but it is always bearing about, not a thing jumped into by an act of faith (whereas liberty is by faith, of which hereafter). It is when we fail in this that we have need (not again of blood, but, founded on that) of having our feet washed, or of the ashes of the red heifer in running water; Num. 19.

Further (in page 59) we have “the remedy applied to the very sources of the spring itself and the waters flow out sweet.” Now this is false doctrine. The flesh is not changed. Keep it dead; all well, but this is not a remedy. Sin in the flesh when we are set free is condemned, not remedied, or the flesh purged. Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, was not healing a source, but putting down by a constant thorn what remained evil. Paul’s mind was thus kept from the evil, but the source remained unhealed. That our value for the blood may hinder from sinning is all true (p. 60); but how cleansing by blood is to prevent sinning I am at a loss to conceive. Scripture never so speaks; it does of purifying our hearts by faith. Death only clears from sin. For even water flowed from the side of a dead Christ. And (p. 62) the Holy Spirit as power in life is consequent on the blood of sprinkling. There was no such thought as putting the blood after the anointing too. So (p. 63) sweet water and bitter do not come out of the same fountain; but it is not a mistake at all. Where a man is not set free according to Romans 8, the desires of the heart are right, but the waters that come out are bitter because the man is not free. Where he is free, and there is power as well as desire, there is no excuse if there be anything but sweet. They that are Christ’s have crucified; but then the flesh is to be always reckoned dead, not to be purified. Why reckon it dead if it can be purified? All this, however well meant, is unscriptural error. It is at this point that the system touches Wesleyan perfection, though there be much more light.

To the general statement of the beginning of chapter 6 I have no objection: only cleansing, holiness, is substituted for deliverance. It is deliverance from a power to which I was captive, not cleansing. This falsifies all, and shews the confusion into which the writer has been led by mingling his thoughts with scripture.

Further, he will have a heart consciously cleansed, that is, a heart which reflects on its own state. Now a soul really delivered does not think of itself. What characterizes it, when it comes sensibly into God’s presence is, that it has not to think of itself, but can think of God and the Lord Jesus. Coming into the light, if the flesh has been allowed to act, forces the soul to think of itself, yet not of conscious holiness, but of the evil allowed, which is not according to the light, to purge it. All this again practically lowers Christian privilege, and fills with self. The mischief arising from taking consciousness, not the word, for a guide is found in page 71.

There is no such uncertainty in scripture. Having been in the third heaven only awakened pride in the flesh, and called for a messenger of Satan to buffet it—not, remark, to put it down or to cleanse it when arisen, but to prevent its arising. It was there in the flesh ready to rise. This mistake, I doubt not, was the origin of Wesleyan perfection. The writer seeks to avoid it, but by pleading scripture is speaking generally to consciousness, not searching what it says on the matter. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and these are contrary one to the other.”

As regards the incidents (mentioned in pages 74, etc.), it is only uniformly overcoming the world. Against overcoming and uniformly overcoming I have not a word. The second (p. 77) is only victory.

On chapter 7 I have no remark save its connection with others as its groundwork. I quite agree that we should not expect to sin again. The illustration cases (chapters 1 and 2) prove nothing but that there is deliverance from captivity to sin by being dead to it, according to Romans 8, Galatians 2— a point I should earnestly insist on. The third case is professedly deliverance according to Romans 8, which is not the doctrine of cleansing but of being made free. Nor do the others give further light on the point.

But it is right I should speak of my positive estimate of the truth, and not merely comment on another. There is a deliverance, a liberty wherewith Christ makes us free, which is other than forgiveness and the joy that may accompany it, and which is often felt to be experimentally a mightier change than the first discovery of mercy and conversion to God. The Epistle to the Romans treats distinctly of these two things. First, propitiation and forgiveness of sins—justification from all the first Adam produces—through Christ’s being delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification, and the blessed grace which has thus given us a portion with God, and given us to joy in Him. This closes with chapter 5:11.

Then comes the state of the sinner by one man’s disobedience, what we are and where we are, not guilt from what we have done. We are in the flesh. The quickening power of God does not deliver. It works the desire of holiness and shews us the necessity of it; but the flesh works still. To this the law which requires righteousness from us directly applies. The remedy for this is not the same as for guilt and sins, though it be still Christ’s death. There it was Christ bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, making propitiation, purging us from them before God. But the remedy for the power of sin in us, our state as in the flesh before God, is taking us out of it, our having been crucified with Christ. We have part in righteousness by having part in death. If we have part in death, we shall not live on. We are, by the Holy Ghost given to us, in Christ, not in the flesh. It is a new state and place, not the forgiveness of the sins of the old; as Israel not only escaped judgment by the blood on their doorposts, when God was a judge, but were wholly out of Egypt at the Red Sea, where God was a deliverer. So we are not only secured from judgment, but out of the flesh, sin, and the world when through the work of Christ we have received the Spirit through faith. We are not only born again, but have put off the old man, have been crucified with Christ, are dead; our life is hid with Christ in God. The Christ who has become my life, the new I—which lives to God and to Him only—has died, and I reckon myself dead. It is a mistake to say, when we are emptied of self, we can thus live. It is as alive from the dead that we yield ourselves to God as truly free.

The doctrine of this is in Romans 6; the practical process by which we arrive at it is in chapter 7, a humbling process, as it always is (though it may be modified by the knowledge of forgiveness), under law, the first husband, where a state is required, which we are not in. The flesh is not subject to the law of God, nor can be. We discover then our state, what the flesh is—not guilt. “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing “; next through divine teaching that it is “not I but sin that dwelleth in me”; but then that it is too strong for me, that I am captive to the law of sin in my members.

This is clearly not the Christian state at all, but a renewed soul under law. It does not say that the flesh is in me, but that I am captive to it, sold under sin. I am there, though it be not I, and cannot get out. But this is my state under the first husband, law. Death dissolves this bond. I have died in Christ, I have been crucified with Him, and power in the life of the risen Christ is now my portion, the flesh reckoned dead, and I alive to God in Christ. Consequently it is not when brought to be empty of self I am filled with the Spirit, but when brought to find self or flesh wholly evil and that I cannot get rid of it or get the victory over it. When I have learned that I have no strength as well as that I am ungodly (a point much harder to learn and more humbling), then I find I am delivered, having died in Christ to sin, and the flesh, and the law withal. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, Christ risen, hath made me free from the law of sin and death. I am not a slave or captive, but free. What the law could not do, being weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin (a sacrifice for sin), has condemned sin in the flesh—not forgiven it. But when it was condemned, death was; so that, while the condemnation has been carried out in Christ, it is for faith dead since He is; and now the power of life in Him risen is that in which I live, dead to sin and alive to God, not in Adam or flesh at all, but in Christ.

Now being wholly free I can yield myself to God as one alive from the dead. I reckon myself dead as regards the flesh and alive in Christ only. I am not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God, given on cleansing by the blood, dwell in me; and if Christ be in me, the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Thus there is not any reason for ever having even an evil thought. Sin has no dominion over me. I am not a debtor to the flesh; and, being set free in the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, I am able (for Christ’s power is there) to hold the flesh for dead. There is no reason why one single thought in my mind should come from the flesh, or from anything but the life of Christ, which is in me in the power of the Spirit. There is no excuse if such do arise.

There are two elements in this state: having put off the old man and put on the new, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness; and having the Holy Ghost dwelling in me. Hence God’s way of acting is my measure of good, Christ, God manifest in a man, being the expression and model of this. I have perfect liberty in divine favour, loved as Christ was loved, and knowing it; and I may and ought to be occupied with what is revealed in Him, my affections being engaged there, and I filled with the Spirit.

But as this is a state of dependence, diligent seeking of grace alone can keep us thus, and in fact in many things we all offend. But my normal state is not grieving the Spirit, and so in God’s presence, being able to think of Him and not of self. No state here is the object of the saint. He is not alive in the world, and he looks, having this life, to be conformed to Christ in glory, and if he thinks of himself at all, it is only to judge himself. But I believe—in complete deliverance from the law of sin which is in our members—that I am called to be filled with the Spirit, which would not allow thoughts from the flesh to arise in the mind, nor anything that would soil the conscience, but would make us live in the atmosphere of the divine presence. The practical realizing of this is by always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus; and thus God helps us by delivering us to death by trial that this may be fully made good; 2 Cor. 4.

I allow therefore no captivity to sin, no dominion of it. This, even when hopeless as to getting the victory, we find to be ours in Christ; and there all has to come from the Spirit, and all is fulness of joy with God. But this is carried out first by knowing, when hopeless as to victory over the flesh, that we have died in Christ, and then by always bearing about His dying, death still working in us, that the life only of Christ may be manifested.

“So that ye cannot do the things that ye would” is utterly false in Galatians 5. It should be “in order that ye may not do.”

But there is complete deliverance from the whole power of sin, we reckoning ourselves dead, and undistracted enjoyment of divine favour in the relationship in which Christ is. The only normal state of the Christian then is unclouded fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, and the uninterrupted manifestation of the life of Christ in his body, and (when in God’s presence) not having to think of sin in himself, but freedom to think of God and what He is. He is divinely free through and in Christ. But he has no thought of a present state of perfection or of purity (only the Spirit is ungrieved and has not to make him think of himself); for his only owned state is conformity to Christ in glory, God having wrought him for that selfsame thing, in virtue of which he purifies himself as He is pure; and if he does think of himself, he has the consciousness of his not being like Christ as he would, but is glad to have to think of Christ only. But purifying himself is not consciousness that he is pure. His conversation is in heaven, his motives there, and hence necessarily, if he thinks of himself, the consciousness of shortcoming, though he be not troubled by any present thought of sin, but is able to think of Christ. A return to think of himself is for him already failure.