As regards perfection, which is often a difficulty, the ground has been taken that, while the flesh never changes, which is perfectly true so far, yet supposing we sin, by referring to the blood of Christ, inasmuch as it cleanses, we are constantly thus perfectly clear. Blood has to cleanse because we are not clean. But this does not at all meet the point. What is wanted is not so much cleansing as power.
Now Christ’s blood, though the ground of all blessing, connects itself directly with the conscience, with imputation, not with power; and to bring in the blood at once raises the question of the state of my conscience, and the consciousness that I am unclean. They tell me there is power sufficient to put you in relationship with God, and then that you are there pure. Now it requires earnest and honest attention to make the difference between deliverance from the power of sin and purity. Because, till we are delivered through a just sense of redemption, the sense of the presence of sin and of want of perfect purity connects itself with conscience and acceptance with God. Take Christians in general; and you will find they have a kind of feeling, though they would not like to say it, that they must sin. And quite true it is that, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; and that, in fact, in many things we all offend.
But you will notice in 1 John 1, when it comes to sinning, the apostle puts this in the past tense, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Speaking of sin, it is the present tense, “we have no sin”; but of sinning, in the past tense, “we have not sinned,” not “if we say we are not sinning”; and there is no such consequence to be drawn as that we must sin. “My grace,” said Christ, “is sufficient for thee, and my strength is made perfect in weakness”; and “God is faithful not to suffer us to be tempted above that we are able.” “I can do all things through him that strengtheneth me.”
Nor does the existence of the flesh give a bad conscience: else I should never have a good one, because the flesh is always there. Neither is it a question with me whether God can impute a sin to me as a believer, for Christ has borne them all; nor is it a question of past sins or future sins, inasmuch as for Christians now Christ never bore any but future sins, though past sins are necessarily what affect the conscience. But the question is, whether that kind of power comes in by which I am brought into a condition where sin is not operative. I never could say that it must operate. For God is faithful not to suffer us to be tempted above that we are able; and, if I bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, only His life will work in me. So that if an idle thought is in my mind, I cannot excuse myself. Grace still acts in the advocacy of Christ; but I never can excuse myself for having ever allowed the flesh to act. Had I been faithful in closeness to Christ, the flesh would not have acted. Had I been occupied with Him, the evil would not have found place in my mind.
Here is a mother; she is told that her child has been run over at the railway. She is off directly. Does she think of the things in the street as she passes? Not she; on she runs. All those things which might have been an attraction to her if she had been unoccupied—a fine dress hung out, or a pretty picture—they none of them arrest her attention now; she does not see them. And so ninety-nine out of a hundred temptations never would be such to you if Christ were in your mind. If we were full of Him, there would be no room for the idle thoughts with which Satan seeks to distract us by the world around us, if he cannot occupy us with them as an object.
And if we do fail, this is no question of putting away sin, and of blood; but it is a question of water, when Christ is an advocate pleading for us to restore our souls. In John 13 He did not put blood into the basin, but water. Now, if my feet did not pick up the dirt—and they ought not to do it—then I should not need that action in John 13; but they do, and the Spirit of God brings the water of the word to my conscience, and this is the value of the passage. I have defiled my feet, and then I get water, and not blood. Water, as a figure, signifies always the application of the word by the power of the Holy Ghost. Christ has entitled us to heaven, but for our restoration He works in us by the word when it is needed, though it ought not to be.
The existence of the flesh does not stop communion, but the allowance of it does. In 1 John 1 fellowship or communion is the same word; and it is stopped by an idle thought; for the moment it is totally interrupted. God evidently cannot have communion with such.
But, further, in connection with this, Christ dying for our sins is quite distinct from our dying with Christ; it is a different thing entirely. We are called upon to recognize this, and live in the power of it. If we are dead with Christ, then “reckon yourselves” so; only I add that this is not finding out that I have died at a particular moment, and am brought by faith into this state (though every truth is learned by faith), but the truth learned here is that I died in Christ’s death. It is my Christian profession. Being baptized unto Christ, I am baptized unto His death, and when the apostle bears about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, it is clearly not his own dying, but, as it states, the dying of Jesus. The thing I say is, Christ was the one who bore my sins, and so I get pardon; but I find no pardon for the evil nature. “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” But when God did that, what happened? Christ died; them I am dead. If it had been myself personally under law, I should have had condemnation as well as death; but being crucified with Christ, condemnation is gone, and the death has come. If I apply it practically, and honestly say I am dead, how can Satan tempt a dead man? And how can you say a dead man has lusts and a bad will? It is not true. Yet this doctrine of purity in yourselves attained by faith, and that without the self-knowledge gained by exercise of heart under law, as taught in Romans 7, is very rife around us; and it is winning honest and sincere persons through the craving for a deliverance they have not got.
It is stated that there is a purifying that makes us now like Christ here. But this is unscriptural. It is asked, “Did you not when converted desire to be conformed to Christ?” But this is misleading people’s souls; for I desire it now too. But what is taught in scripture is that, “when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure.” This is a very different story. If I am already purified, I do not want to purify myself. The conformity to Christ proposed in scripture is in glory. He was absolutely without sin here; if I say I have none, I deceive myself. I ought to walk as He walked, not allowing sin to stir in me; but it is there in the flesh.
The effect of the whole thought is to lower the standard of the Christian altogether. I want to be like Christ in glory, and I shall be; and, meanwhile, though the flesh is here, this in itself would not interrupt my communion; and I recognize fully that as a Christian I ought, not grieving the Holy Spirit of God, to live constantly in the unclouded sense of God’s favour.
I dare say there may be Christians who never have really comprehended what it is to be dead and risen with Christ. They cannot, as to their own souls, take this up. It is what the scripture calls being “perfect”; that is, not merely being forgiven the sins of the first Adam, but having our place in the Second, and that in the power of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. We shall be actually perfect when like Him in glory; never before, because this is our standard. But if I have realized that I am in Him, dead and risen with Him, as He is, so am I in this world—first, as to judgment, and then as to the power of life and state before God, recognizing the deadness of the old man for faith through Christ’s death on the cross.
But the view I have referred to supposes that a person can by faith slip into a state of purity; just as by faith he knows his justification. Now such are deceiving themselves, and that for this reason—you do not know yourselves yet, and you must. I repeat, what I have said elsewhere, that you do not get out of Romans 7 in some shape, till you have got into it, and know not merely guilt, not merely that you have an evil flesh, but, what is harder to learn, and more thoroughly humbling, that you have no power.
Suppose a person owed money, and I tell him it is all paid. If he believes I am a man of my word, no experience is needed; he is at ease, and very glad to hear it. But suppose I say, You are dead to sin. This is not the payment of a debt, it is an absolute statement of your condition. The man might say, “What is the good of telling me that? Why, I was in a passion this morning.” His experience contradicts me. Nor can you get out of the difficulty until you have come to the personal consciousness, the self-knowledge, which finds out that you cannot get the victory over sin. It is a terrible thing to see; but it is learning this, that I have no power, and not merely that I am guilty. “To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not”; and until you are brought to the conscience of “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” I cannot succeed; sin is too strong for me; I am not brought to the point, where alone the deliverance is got. I may or may not have the knowledge of forgiveness. This modifies the form, but not the substance, of the experience. It is always essentially under law, that is, a claim upon us to be in a given state. But you say “I must try.” “Very well,” I say, “Try away, try away.” Why? Because then he will learn that he cannot, and presently he will say, not “How shall I do better? “but, “Who shall deliver me?” He is then in such a condition that another must take him out of it. He finds he is not only ungodly, but without strength; he has learned what he is, not merely what he has done; and then he sees Christ there in power, and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes him free from the law of sin and death. This is not a question of non-imputation, nor of cleansing, but of making free. Then I find it settled in seeing the truth and ground of it in the cross of Christ, and not in my personally obtaining of purity at a given moment.
Another thing I would just add. I ask, Are you content to have died then, and not to have the least atom of will of your own, nor wish, nor desire? Is there nothing in your heart that you would like to hold back against God? This tests us. Have we so learned what the principle of will is, or do we want to keep a little bit of it? Our state ought always to be one of unhindered communion in the power of the Holy Ghost without a cloud upon our spirits. But this is not really the state of things, and so it is power we want.