My Dear Brother,
I fully recognise a deliverance, and have for fifty years, having then got it—a deliverance which the evangelical world denies; and Pearsall Smith admitted in his last tract that all he meant by the “better life,” was passing from Romans 7 into chaps. 6 and 8; which is what I insisted on. My tract on cleansing with water goes into this. It is the passing from being under law, or the reference of acceptance to our state by redemption wrought in Christ, and experimentally known by the sealing of the Spirit, into the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free; indeed it is one special ministry in which I have been blessed, and on that deliverance I should insist.
Further, it is a subject to be treated delicately, lest any should comfort themselves with the thought that you are content they should stay in the state spoken of in Romans 7, a supposition I should earnestly oppose. I do not think it is a Christian state at all: it is a man born again, but under the law, the state under the first husband. The deliverance is found in chapter 8, or more exactly the state of one delivered. But my objection to the Wesleyan system, is, that it falsifies the whole Christian state as presented in Scripture; and, as to Dr. C, there is scarcely one definition or position right or scriptural, and all so loose and incoherent, that it is difficult to deal with.
Perfection is simply, as used in respect of man, being of full growth, neither more nor less in Greek. It is the word used in Hebrews 5, “them that are of full age,” and referred to in Hebrews 6:1. The question is, what is the perfection held out to us in the New Testament?
All our blessings are in connection with the second Man, not with the first. “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” We are predestinated “to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren”; and the effect of this, as to our present state and hopes, is seen in 1 John 3, “Beloved, now are we sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know 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.” Hence a thought of perfection down here is foreign to the whole thought and scope of Christianity; lowers its standard, and, note—it is not makes “mistakes in judgment,”11 etc., but “purifieth himself even as he is pure.”
Reference to innocence, or the first Adam as innocent, is a ruinous mistake as to the whole nature of Christianity. That wholly refers to the second Man. Innocence has gone for ever with the entrance of the knowledge of good and evil. Holiness is the character of the new man, likeness to Christ, as He is the object set out before us: and this only, and being with Him, the object we run after. This “one thing I do “j it is that, and that only, goal, that is before us, never fully attained till He has changed our vile body, and fashioned it like His glorious body. The apostle denies all other object in his race; this “one thing I do”; and mark, this was his calling; first, that he might win Christ, not as life and station— that he had—but Himself; next, that he might attain to the resurrection from among the dead. He pressed towards the hope of his “calling (not “high,” which is vague) above, of God in Christ Jesus”: hence the apostle does not leave the subject without bringing in the changing the vile body. This object, sole object and goal of progress, leaves us always with the only end we aim at unattained here: we are always, not correcting “mistakes,” but” purifying ourselves as he is pure.”
The perfect, or full-grown, Christian is one who in faith is in the place that is ours in the purpose of God, one not merely knowing that Jesus is the Christ, and that his sins are forgiven him, but that he is in Christ before God, dead and risen with Him. Forgiveness refers to the works of the old man, to sins committed: perfection, to the new place into which we are entered in the second Man, to the actual possession of which we press forward, to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of us. This is the teaching of Philippians 3. Christ is our life; He has laid hold of us for that, and we are pressing forward towards it: there is no other object before us.
Romans 1 to 5:11 treats of forgiveness and justification as regards our sins and guilt; chapter 5:12 to the end of chap. 8, our new place in Christ; and though it does not speak of our resurrection with Him, makes Christ our life, and we in Him, and He in us. The last is deliverance; the ground in chapter 6; the state in chapter 8; the bearing of the law on a soul renewed, not yet possessing the deliverance, is described in chapter 7. The full-grown Christian, one who has apprehended his place as such in Christ, has his conversation (all his living associations) in heaven as a new creature, and presses forward for the possession of it, only must wait for the changing of this poor vile body, but can have no other goal.
There is another point which makes all this system false. There is no communication of a new life, which Adam innocent had not, did not need. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Of this Wesleyanism knows nothing; the man is changed by the operation of the Holy Ghost. But what Scripture says is, “He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life.” “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear.” Both these things, the new life, and the only true calling, are left out in the system and in the tract, and change the whole form and system of Christianity. I do not call a person in Romans 7 properly a Christian; he is born of God, under the law, like the prodigal before he met his father.
But I turn to the definitions. All is wrong: conviction and repentance come before faith. Now if the Word had not reached the conscience, how was he convicted, and how did he repent? Nor is even conviction, that (save in the vaguest way) of “his undone condition,” but of his guilt, and so danger of judgment. His state is a distinct thing, and a deeper lesson. One refers to what we have in Romans 1 to chap. 5:11—all the world guilty by their own sins; the other to man’s state by Adam’s disobedience, as to which I discover that in me there is no good thing, and that the flesh cannot be subject to the will of God.
In repentance there is a change of mind, but there is no firm resolve to take any steps at all:12 that is a sign of its being untrue or superficial, though it may follow. Repentance is the self-judgment we pass upon ourselves in view of God’s goodness, and refers to what we have done, not to what we shall do. As to his account of faith,13 it is so muddled, that it is hard to say anything of it. It is not the acceptance of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus: it is, “He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.” It is the word of God brought home to the soul by the power of the Holy Ghost: it is then mixed with faith in those that hear it. Whenever what God presents to us in the Word is believed (as when Christ personally present here on earth was believed in as God’s revelation of Himself and His mind to the soul), the testimony of God is received, “not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God,” which works effectually in them that believe. Peter’s sermon told the Jews what they had done, and God had done, to Christ, and then, on their being pricked in heart, so that they believed God’s testimony as to that, he announced forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.
The particular subject of faith is not faith itself, nor is it the acceptance of anything, but believing the testimony, and here in a divine way by the word. All the rest is without any authority of the Word, or indeed any sense. “The grace of faith or power of believing! “What is that when nothing is yet believed, for the act of faith comes afterwards? Yet he contradicts even his own distinction, for we are accountable for the faith which He has given to us, and this is so in the case when it is he that believeth not. That man is accountable, as in John 5, on adequate evidence from God, I fully own; but all this statement is an utter muddle.
Next, right and necessary as repentance is, justification is never referred to it.14 The end of the sentence may have a right use, which I therefore accept; but “his sins” leave it vague whose. The next is all confusion and error.15 What is his whole spiritual nature before its renovation? “The mind of the flesh is enmity against God,” “is not subject to the law of God,” cannot be; lusts against the Spirit when we have it; requires a thorn, a messenger of Satan, to keep it down, if a man has been in the third heaven. Does what is renewed and revolutionised require buffeting by Satan’s messenger to keep it down?
I must ask, too, was repentance a mere change of mind, and conversion a change of heart, and a distinct thing? Is all this before, what he calls, regeneration—a word he does not explain? Does he really mean a new life, something he had not before, a new man contrasted with the old, something born of the Spirit which is spirit? Is there renovation without being born again? Is this being born again a new spiritual life he had not before, or a mere change? Is the eternal life that Christ is (as come down from heaven, i John i) and gives, a mere change, or a new thing conferred? All turns on this. The eternal life which I receive was with the Father; is that a mere change?
His explanation of adoption16 is not correct, but not such as needs large remark. We are waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of the body, but we are sons by faith of Jesus Christ, and receive therefore the spirit of adoption. All this comes from their not seeing that our only place in result is association with Christ in glory, though we here wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
It is worthy of remark, that though the atonement is mentioned in an early part of the series as ground for experience, the blood of Christ, in its efficacy with God, is never mentioned: it is a sinner experiences this and that. Nor is there a hint of our being in Christ, or the righteousness of God in Him; nor indeed of God’s love to the sinner when he was in his sins.
All believers are said to be sanctified—sanctification as all the rest of the blessings, being through faith. I do not only recognise, but insist on, the gift of a holy nature (but I do not see hinted at, Christ being our life); a nature which hates sin; and I see progress and growth taught and insisted on in the word of God, but I find no such statement as is here made. Where is “holiness” taught to be “sanctification in perpetuity”? Holiness as a quality is heart purity, not implies it, but it is according to the divine nature: He chastens us that we may be partakers of His holiness.
‘Freedom from sin’ is an ambiguous term in English, and this ambiguity is used here. A captive is set free: a horse is free from vice, that is, has none. Now in the last sense we are never said to be free from sin: set free, not from sin, but from the law of sin and death, with a real, true deliverance, we are said to be. It will be said: Is it not written, “He that is dead is freed from sin”? Now the word is really “justified from sin” as you may see in the margin.
But I turn directly to the statement: who is freed from sin? He that is dead, no one else: death of the old man alone frees me. Are we to wait, then, till we are actually dead, that there should be no sin in us? If you mean that there should be death in the nature of the old man— “sin in the flesh”—I say certainly; but to be dead, we must die. But that is not the doctrine here, save quite in the abstract. We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin, as having been crucified with Christ, yet living, but not we, but Christ living in us. Before this, we are captive to the law of sin in our members—not the full, true Christian state: now, as having by faith reckoned ourselves dead to sin, and alive unto God, we are not in Adam, but in Christ Jesus our Lord. Then, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death”; not free from sin, so that there is no sin in the flesh, but made free from its law. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”; but it is now no law to us. Romans 8:2 answers, as deliverance from it, to chapter 7:23; the way of it is in chapter 8:4.
I totally deny17 the utterly false definition of sin given in this paragraph. Paul made a great fuss about nothing in Romans 7, if that be what sin is. It certainly was not voluntary, for the point insisted on (is), that he was doing what he would not, and hated. He was not delivered, but to will was present with him, but he could not perform; he was a captive. Besides, it is written, “Until the law sin was in the world,” it became exceedingly sinful by it; and they that have sinned without law, perish without law. All this is false theology, not scripture.
But the new man being denied as a distinct thing, he makes it a mere state of the heart; whereas Scripture speaks of sin in the flesh, a mind which cannot be subject to the law of God; and the lusts of the flesh, sin working lust in us, flesh lusting against the Spirit, a thing which ceases by death, only actually by actual death, as to its present power, by reckoning ourselves dead, and always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus; death working in us, and that, that the fife of Jesus might be manifested in our bodies. Why death working in us, if there was nothing to be kept down? We are not under the law of sin; not only have we a new life in power, but sin in the flesh is condemned (not forgiven) in the cross, and we have died with Christ for faith there; but to make this good, we must carry about the dying; death must work in us.
Further, Christ’s grace is sufficient for us. His strength is made perfect in weakness; and God, as to our walk, is faithful not to suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able, so that we have no excuse when we do fail, and can walk, as far as sufficiency of grace goes, in growing joy in God. Further, holiness has nothing to do with freedom from guilt; that is, by the blood of Christ. To have part in this, a man must be born again, but holiness does not efface guilt. The deliverance we get does deliver us from its dominion, but not from the existence of the flesh; hence the standard of holiness is always lowered by those who pretend to it.
I do not deny walking in constant communion with God. I do not believe Romans 7 the true state of a Christian at all; but to say sin is not in the flesh, is not opposed to the Spirit, is wholly anti-scriptural. There is a sealing and anointing with the Holy Ghost, which delivers from the dominion of sin, but does not alter the nature of the flesh. I deny Adam was created in a state of holiness: Scripture never says so. He was innocent, and had not the knowledge of evil: there was a tendency to sin.
Scripture says, “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light, having no part dark.” The tract says we are liable to false perceptions, etc., because of imperfect physical organisation.18 Does want of a single eye come physically from the body? All this lowers the idea of holiness. They deny that in many things we all offend, and what Christ ascribes to want of a single eye they excuse, and make compatible with the original condition of moral purity in which unfallen man was: growing conformity to Christ in glory, by purifying ourselves as He is pure, doing this one thing, never enters their mind.
It is false to say He will not reign in a divided heart: Christ’s statement is totally different, and indeed contradicts this. He does not reign at all there.19 “The will of God, even your sanctification,” is an abuse of the passage (1Thess. 4:3); the end of it is left out, which totally alters the sense. Peter says, “holy in all manner of conversation.”
The blood of Christ cleansing from all sin is also an abuse of the passage. John is speaking of sins and righteousness in a passage which declares, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” It is a question of our standing before God in the light, while we cannot say we have no sin. I am sanctified and cleansed j though I fully insist on walking by grace up to the place I am in—but not in lowering God’s holiness and my thought of what sin is, by pretending to be as pure as Adam, and talking about physical organisation when I fail. Had Adam any lusts?
I fully recognise the power of the Spirit of God to keep us in peaceful communion with God in love, but will not lower the standard of holiness to excuse what is of the flesh. It is not without meaning that the author quotes only the Old Testament for his promises, where we know the way into the holiest was not yet made manifest, and the question of purity is quite different. One has only to consult the passages to see they have nothing to do with it. It is the removal of evil men and wickedness by judgment, in Isaiah 1:25. In Ezekiel 36:25, it is the cleansing of Israel from filthiness and idols when they are restored, and making them walk in His ways, with no word of absolute internal purity of soul. The Lord’s allusion to it with Nicodemus is not a state of perfection, but being born again.
If the Spirit be distinctly the sanctifier (p. 10), as distinguished from the blood-cleansing, why did he use before the latter for meaning sanctification? ‘Convicted for sanctification,’ I find nothing of in Scripture; I deny the very state they speak of (which is a mere ignorant confusion with the deliverance of Romans 8), as being what the Christian is running after. He has Christ glorified for his standard, and is changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord, and judges as sin what they excuse.
The whole system naturally takes them out of grace: they must be absorbed by the idea of attainment, and the consecrating act is our own. That we should yield ourselves to God, as those alive to God, is blessedly scriptural, and have fruit unto holiness with the end—not a state of holiness, but everlasting life; but it is the peaceful consciousness of a delivered soul who feels the claim of infinite love, and that it is not its own, but bought with a price. Here we are ‘to do all we can,’ even when dead in sins, whereas Scripture says, then we are quickened, created in Christ Jesus. We are, when dead, to ‘surrender ourselves to be saved,’ a thing never said in scripture; we are to submit to God’s righteousness. And now mark the phrase, ‘measurably quickened.’ Are they born of God, or not? Have they life, eternal life? ‘There is some life in them.’ Those to whom Paul writes are viewed as having the old man crucified with Christ, and alive in Him; and what they are called to is, not to dream there is no sin in them, when there is, and call lusts no sin unless the will consents, but not to let sin reign in their mortal body, to fulfil it in its lusts. For sin should not have dominion over them, because they were not under law, but under grace, and, as alive and set free withal from the law of sin, given the blessed privilege, as being so, to yield themselves to God. It is a lovely passage, but exactly the contrary of what is stated in the tract. It is a freed man blessedly giving himself to God; not a man wanting to be free, able to do something, as having some life, to get free in another sense, altogether free from sin, a sense not in Scripture at all. It is Christ, not his own faith, nor repentance, nor prayer, that justifies the sinner; albeit the repentance, the faith, the prayer, are all necessary to the bestowment of the pardon. He puts this on wholly wrong ground, but I do not dwell on it.
The whole position of Adamic purity is false, never found again here; and not the object, which is the state of the last Adam, not of the first. But what has, “I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty,” to do with perfect holiness? The apostle is speaking of an unequal yoke, and the manifested acceptance of faithful Christians in the position of sons. He talks of self-consecration, of being accepted of God; he does not know what it means, nor the liberty in which a Christian serves. We are Christ’s. He tells us, “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you,” is the baptism by the Holy Ghost. Now Christ is careful to tell His own they were already clean by the word, when they had not yet received the Holy Ghost at all, of which He goes on to speak to them as of something to come. The constant abuse of scripture is really deplorable.
Then he tells us that by the baptism of the Holy Ghost the soul is freed from the dominion of sin. Now this I fully admit, but free from dominion of sin, and freed from sin, so as to be pure as Adam, are two different things. “Victory” is anything but the absence of an enemy. The life of a Christian is a life of faith, moment by moment, but his being purged from his sins by Christ’s blood is once and for ever, if Scripture be true. He did not sit down on the throne on high till “he had by himself purged our sins,” or, as it is said in Hebrews 9, “must he often have suffered”; but, as to the conscience, “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” so that “the worshippers once purged “should, as to imputation, “have no more conscience of sins,” but “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” Then let the believer, knowing that his old man has been crucified with Christ, seek to grow up to Him who is the Head in all things, and walk as Christ walked, “changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The evil one cannot touch him, if he walks with Christ in lowliness and diligence of heart, “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”
I would press his believing in deliverance, if he has not found it, but not excuse evil, and the workings of the flesh within, to maintain a fancied purity and absence of sin, instead of judging himself for not having been enough with Christ to prevent it stirring, and purifying himself, as Scripture tells him to do, as Christ is pure, because he knows he is going to be like Him.
The other tract—though I doubt not the sincerity of either— is more mature, and goes further; but with more light, the root of bitterness still there. I agree with it that the only normal state of Christians is what they call perfection, but this is merely the deliverance of Romans 6 and 8; falsified by calling it perfection, with which it has nothing to do, and thereby most mischievously lowering the estimation of sin. It tries to ground this by distinguishing in the same passage perfected and perfect, and giving the latter a sense it never has in Scripture.20
Paul was doing only one thing, seeking to be perfected, but not being so, nor having yet attained, doing only that; yet he is made to affirm some other perfection, of which there is not one idea or thought in the chapter, which is wholly occupied with the first kind of perfection, ending with changing his body, which he has not apprehended or laid hold of, and which alone occupies him. The winning Christ is not what the author says. Paul was now seeking to win Christ: “do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” The statement falsifies the whole passage. ‘Now his one ambition’21 hence is false; it is, “if by any means he might attain to the resurrection from among the dead.” No doubt he sought to know Him better here, but it was all one thing, and Christ had been always everything to him from the beginning (v. 7, 8), and he had been running the same course, and was all through; his conversation was in heaven, and he had been, and was always, looking to win, and be conformed to Christ in glory.
The sense given to “perfect” is not given in the chapter, and is wholly excluded by it. Yet, after all, “perfection “is only spiritual infancy, the foundation of a healthy growth.22 Deliverance, the normal Christian condition, is. But, after all, though we are in moral purity, like Adam before the fall, it is such a state (p. 10) that we ‘could not stand for a moment before God, if tried by the law.’ Was this Adam’s state? And why not? Then we get the abominable doctrine, that ‘temptation is not sin.’ Temptations from without are not sin: Christ went through everything that could try a holy being, but this is not the point. (See James i:2, 14.) They are suggestions, and he talks of supposing our hearts to be impure. Had Adam these impure suggestions? And they are ‘vile suggestions,’ only our ‘will rises up in opposition to them,’ ‘we are in heaviness through them’ (this applies to the other kind of temptations, trials which it is our joy to fall into). Had Christ any of these vile suggestions? Did Satan ever succeed in putting them into His mind? Mr. E. avoids the point; but are lusts not sin? James is quoted to prove it; but James speaks of effects, and Paul tells us that sin produced all manner of lusts—goes to the root, the evil nature. It is the ignoring this which is one grand evil of this system.
Now, if we were humble and faithful, I believe that Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, these evil suggestions, these impure thoughts, would not arise; but in this false perfection they are allowed, instead of the heart being judged for having them, to keep up the credit of fancied perfection. I asked a perfect person once, and I believe a sincere, good person, whether, if the devil suggested to her to eat a handful of mud, she would do, or desire it. She owned she would not. There was something more than a suggestion, there was the sinful nature—the lust, that met it where it was. There are fiery darts, temptations to blasphemies, yet even these, if Christ dwells in us, if really delivered, do not come; but that is from the evil, sinful nature, and is to be judged, as shewing the sin that dwells in us. Satan has nothing for the life of Christ; if we do not keep the dying of Jesus on the flesh, he has for that. The dangers of it are justly depicted by the author: I have seen plenty of it.
My objection to it is not that, but that it connects a vital Christian truth, the passage from Romans 7 to 8 with false doctrine; denying sin in the flesh, and the communication of a wholly new life—Christ our life (“he that hath the Son, hath life “); denies lust to be sin, consequently, which betrays this nature, and mischievously lowers the standard of Christian hohness, palliating what a true soul knows to be evil, and falsifies the race and object of a Christian. That Mr. E. presses it in a true love of holiness and self-consecration, I do not doubt, and in this I should sympathise wholly with him; and he has got on a good step when he says it is the normal Christian: with that I fully agree, only that he is tied up by his doctrinal system to a false presentation of it all. His separating perfected and perfect is a poor attempt to put it straight, I mean to reconcile his sincere desires and his old doctrine. I have written in haste, being excessively occupied, which has also caused delay.
Ever affectionately yours in the Lord,
J. N. D.
10 A Letter on “Christ and Sanctification,” by Dowgan Clark, M.D. (1879), and “Perfect, but not Perfected; or, Entire Sanctification,” etc., by the Rev. G. O. Eldridge.
11 “Mistakes in judgment will lead to mistakes in practice, even in the most holy person; and thus we conclude that, while it is the privilege and duty of the Christian to expect… a restoration unto man’s original condition, so far as moral purity is concerned; yet, in the present state of being, he must ever be subject to weakness, infirmities, and mistakes.”
12 “Repentance is change of mind, a firm resolve to take the necessary steps for securing salvation.”
13 “Faith is the acceptance of God’s mercy and grace in Christ Jesus. The grace of faith, or the power of believing, is the gift of God; the act of faith, or actual believing, is the exercise of that power. When God presents His truth to us … He holds us accountable for the exercise of the faith He has given us.”
14 “By repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the sinner experiences justification… By the atonement … the guilt of his sins is taken away, their legal penalties remitted, and his indebtedness cancelled.”
15 “He experiences conversion. This implies a change of heart; a renovation and revolution of the whole spiritual nature.”
16 “He experiences adoption—God takes him into His family for Christ’s sake, and he becomes a son.”
17 “The term, sin, is used in the Bible, either in the sense of sin committed—an actual transgression in thought, word, or deed; or sin indwelling—that depravity of heart which leads to all sinful acts… In the one sense, sin is a voluntary violation of the divine law, in the other, it is an involuntary state of the heart! … Now our definition of holiness is intended to apply to sin in both these aspects. It is freedom from the guilt of sin,” etc.
18 “There are, doubtless, differences, which need not detain us, between the perfection of Adam before the fall, and the Christian perfection which is the object of this essay. The differences arise chiefly from the diseased and imperfect physical organisation which now appertains to our race, and which did not appertain to Adam; in consequence of which, the mind, through its connection with such a body, is liable to false perceptions and erroneous judgments.”
19 The new Jerusalem is not down here.
20 “In this verse (Phil. 3:15) he claims perfection for himself and some others; though, in verse 12, he acknowledges that he has not been perfected.”
21 “Now his one ambition was to know Christ more fully, etc., that he might attain in the resurrection complete likeness to his Lord.”
22 “Entire sanctification is a healthy spiritual infancy, which leads on to Christian maturity.”