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Written by R. A. Biggs   

The Gospel Messenger--August 1887

    As there is unusual attention directed at this time to the work of God in the hearts of his people, and as many are crying perfect personal holiness, a few thoughts on the subject might not be amiss. The doctrine of perfect personal holiness--absolutely sinless personal perfection--is revived in forms and from quarters that would make John Wesley blush were he alive. Scripture is quoted, and some of the Lord's people are being led astray by false teachers who know nothing of the infallible word of God. Now, we know from the experience of God's people recorded in the past, that they are not satisfied with their present attainments in the divine life. His blood-bought church has always mourned over her low estate; and from the hearts of the Lord's people is now and has been going up the earnest prayer for more complete conformation to the divine will. It is evident to every thoughtful person, that man needs a fitness for heaven no less than a title. With capacities and qualities unfitted for heaven, and with a heart unprepared, the most valid title to enter and abide there would be no blessing, but rather to the contrary. Eternal life is a gift of God to us, but it is the personal property of every believer, for he has eternal life. This life produces spiritual appetites and desires; it is holy, and is the personal fitness of every saint for heaven, given him through the blood and righteousness of Christ. The title deed is signed and sealed with the precious blood of the Lamb of God, and will stand the tests of time and the issues of eternity. On this the believer may rest. But purity always accompanies pardon; the justified believer is sanctified. When the Lord gives the blood-bought title, he works in the accepted son or daughter the personal fitness for his heavenly home. For salvation in all its parts is one; it is the application of the one grace of the one God to sinful man; the links are many, but the chain is one. To make this clear to our finite mind, the Holy Ghost speaks of the various parts of our salvation. The believer is said to be justified, adopted, regenerated, sanctified, glorified, but the work is one, and Christ Jesus is the author and finisher. "Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren; moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified;" in order of thought some of these precede and some follow. Justification is tile act of God wherein he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous; it is his act, not our work, but God's act as Judge sitting upon the throne, seeking after sin and settling the destiny of the sinner. It is judicial, instantaneous and complete, and never to be repeated. Adoption is also the act of God, the Father, wherein he admits us among his children, thus making us equal members of his heavenly family. The act of adoption, like justification, is a thing done, completed and finished, never to be repeated or annulled. Regeneration is the implantation of spiritual life in the soul and surely is instantaneous. There was a moment ago the sinner was dead in sin, the next moment he is alive.

    We now come to what we wanted to Write about--sanctification. Sanctification, if we correctly understand the Bible, is the work of the Holy Spirit working in us the personal fitness for that heaven to which we have a solid title. It is progressive, in the sense that the Spirit continues to work until we are made perfect in personal holiness, when we will at once pass into glory. "We all, with unveiled face, behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord; are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord." Sanctification is not justification, for it is wrought in one who is already justified; it is not adoption, for it is the work of the spirit in the heart of one of his children; it is not regeneration, for it is the development of spiritual light that has been implanted in the soul. Let us now look at the different significations of the word as used in the Bible.

    First, the word "sanctify" is used by the inspired writer in Exodus xiii. 2; the Lord to Moses says: Sanctify unto me all the first born of whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is mine. It is evident here that personal holiness is not intended; no allusion to holiness is made here. To sanctify, then, here means to set apart, to consecrate to God. Jehovah claimed the first born as his; "It is mine." In Ex. xix., the word is used again: "The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai and commanded the priests to sanctify themselves." When the children of Israel were about to cross Jordan, Joshua commanded them to "sanctify" themselves. In those quotations, no reference is had to personal holiness, but the word is used in the sense to set apart, to consecrate. In the New Testament we find a number of instances where the word is used in the same sense. In the Lord's Prayer, as recorded by John, Jesus says: "And for their sakes I sanctify myself that they also might be sanctified through the truth." Here, Jesus Christ, as High Priest of his people, consecrates himself go God--devotes himself as a sacrifice. This is his own priestly act of devoting himself to God in his sacrificial work. The other clause in the verse points to the work of the spirit in all believers: Again in Hebrews the apostle says: "By one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified;" them that are sanctified are those who have been set apart, or consecrated to God by the priestly act of our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle addresses the church at Corinth as those who are sanctified. The apostle surely did not mean that they were sanctified in the sense of personal holiness; the phrase, "Them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus," must mean those who have been set apart, consecrated to God by their great High Priest, Jesus. Again, "Such were some of you; but ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God," It is claimed by some that this passage proves that believers are as completely and perfectly sanctified as they are justified, and that the sanctification here means personal holiness; but I would call attention to the fact that this was spoken of all believers at Corinth, and any careful reader of this epistle will note the fact that those Corinthians were anything else but in a state of sinless perfection. The mistake is often made by confounding sanctification as here used, in the sense of the continuous work of the Holy Spirit. If we understand the words "Ye are sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus," as applicable to the great act of consecration performed for them by the Lord Jesus, as High Priest, under the covenant of grace, then we can understand that this act of consecration was just as complete and final as the act of God in pronouncing them justified; both sanctification and justification were alike complete and perfect. This view harmonizes with all other portions of this epistle; but if understood in the sense of personal holiness, it is in direct conflict with the entire epistle. Understanding the word in the sense of consecration, there are no degrees; all who are thus consecrated by the Great High Priest, Christ Jesus, are completely consecrated--one as munch as another--and none more so than another In Christ all believers are justified, and all of them are sanctified; many passages might be cited here, but we forbear.

    The second sense in which the word is used, is to express or set forth the work of the Spirit in the hearts of believers, enabling them more and more to die unto sin and live unto holiness and unto God. The first use of the word designates the act of our Lord Jesus Christ in his office as High Priest; the second use of the word is to express the continued work of the Spirit in the hearts of the believers. An illustration of the use of the word in this last sense is found in John: "Sanctify them through the truth; thy word is truth." The same idea is repeated again, thus: "That they might be sanctified through the truth." Surely a process of personal holiness or purification is here spoken of a work of sanctification is being wrought in them. In Eph. it is said "That Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it that he might 'sanctify' and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." The apostle prayed that God might sanctify the "Thessalonians" wholly. These examples are sufficient to show the progressive work of God, the Holy Spirit--a work in believers transforming them, day by day, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. The apostle was "Confident that he who had began this work in believers, would perform At until the day of Christ Jesus." This work of sanctification is like unto the "leaven" hid in the three measures of meal until the whole was leavened. The reader will not understand that we are here contending for perfection in the flesh, far from it; but we are to understand that a work is going on in us that will eventually perfect us in glory. When we awake in the likeness of our blessed Lord, then we will have attained unto this blessed state, and not until then. Nothing less than absolute purity and perfection, at all times, and under all circumstances, is thought, word and deed, will satisfy the demands of the law as a rule of duty.

    The believer is bound to seek in all that he does and says, the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is Bible holiness; this is sinless perfection; this is perfect sanctification; but, alas! who of all God's people have attained unto this? We look over the lives of the saints in the past; we may look at the lives of the saints now living in the flesh, we may examine our own hearts in the light of this law, and we can no where find perfect conformity of heart and life to God's will as revealed in his law. In the scriptures we have the lives of many saints spread out before us; we have their experience, left upon record by the Holy Spirit who will not deceive us, and their experience in this matter of sanctification is of great value to all who are willing to be taught of God. We surely cannot go very far wrong in testing this subject by their lives; the lives of those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, and who upon the testimony of God himself, have entered into rest. Abraham, the father of the faithful, and friend of God, long after his regeneration and call, not only felt in his soul the struggle between the flesh and spirit, but was guilty of sin--even falsehood. Jacob represents us with almost ceaseless conflict between his old and new nature; between his own selfishness and the love of Christ in his heart, and while this was his experience, yet there was a steady progress in his life towards God and holiness, and in the end the grace of God triumphs most gloriously. Moses, even, the meekest of men, who spoke face to face with God; who was honored in his burial as no other ever was; who was faithful in all his house; even this man late in life, and near the land, so sinned that he was not permitted to go over Jordan into the goodly land. David, the sweet stinger, the man after God's own heart, whose feelings as expressed in the Psalms have cheered the hearts of many saints for thousands of years, this man so beloved of God, was guilty of adultery and murder--sins for which he was punished in his own family. Peter, an apostle of Christ Jesus, long after his conversion and call to be an apostle, in the presence of enemies of his Lord and after the most solemn warning, even denied his Saviour, adding oaths to his denial; and then again, long after his restoration; he betrayed for a time the gospel of Christ at Antioch for fear of some Judaizing teachers who came down from Jerusalem to spy out the liberties of these Gentile believers. Transgression of the Divine law is sin; want of conformity to that law is sin; and all these saints knew in their sad experience that, tested by that perfect standard, by that law which was holy, just and good, they had not attained unto perfect personal holiness; unto what many now claim to have, and call sinless perfection. The Apostle Paul, in Romans vii., details at length his own Christian experience, his own personal conflict with evil. In this conflict, a true picture of every Christian's spiritual warfare is set forth. Every soldier of the cross must have and take a part in this struggle, in which the Holy Spirit will, ere long, bring victory and perfect personal holiness to every one who has been thus called. This is the experience of one who has been born again; of one who is a child God. The unrenewed sinner knows nothing of this conflict and struggle with sin in our members. The reader is requested to read the seventh chapter of Romans. The description and picture set forth are the experience of one that has passed from death unto life. The natural man never has such an experience; he cannot say or feel these things; no one who has not felt in his soul the terrible conflict here described, its fierceness and bitterness, could cry: "Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" These words do clearly describe the spiritual conflict going on in every renewed soul--in every Christian's heart, this is his or her sad experience; the child of God knows that this is in substance his experience. They know that as a steward, they are and have been unfaithful, as a servant they have been unprofitable, as a child of God they have been disobedient. Daily do they mourn over their failures, infirmities and sins; daily go they to their Father in heaven for peace and pardon, knowing that if they confess their sins, God is faithful to forgive and cleanse them from all their sins and unrighteousness.

    In his own heart and life the believer finds, from day to day, that good and evil are mixed--wheat and tares are growing side by side in the same field. The more he knows of the deceitfulness of the heart, the more he knows of the spirituality of the law, and then the more ready is he to say with Paul: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." Brethren, I count not myself to have yet apprehended.

 In love to all lovers of truth,
 Selden, Texas. R.A. BIGGS.

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