Are you a Christian?
ADAM CLARKE’S TREATISE ON ENTIRE SANTIFICATION, PART 1
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The word “sanctify” has two meanings.
2. It signifies to make holy or pure.
Many talk much, and indeed well, of what Christ has done for us: but how little is spoken of what he is to do in us! and yet all that he has done for us is in reference to what he is to do in us. He was incarnated, suffered, died, and rose again from the dead; ascended to heaven, and there appears in the presence of God for us. These were all saving, atoning, and mediating acts for us; that he might reconcile us to God; that he might blot out our sin; that he might purge our consciences from dead works; that he might bind the strong man armed —take away the armor in which he trusted, wash the polluted heart, destroy every foul and abominable desire, all tormenting and unholy tempers; that he might make the heart his throne, fill the soul with his light, power, and life; and, in a word, “destroy the works of the devil.” These are done in us; without which we cannot be saved unto eternal lie. But these acts done in us are consequent on the acts done for us: for had he not been incarnated, suffered, and died in our stead, we could not receive either pardon or holiness; and did he not cleanse and purify our hearts, we could not enter into the place where all is purity: for the beatific vision is given to them only who are purified from all unrighteousness: for it is written, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Nothing is purified by death;—nothing in the grave; nothing in heaven. The living stones of the temple, like those of that at Jerusalem, are hewn, squared, and cut here, in the church militant, to prepare them to enter into the composition of the church triumphant.
This perfection is the restoration of man to the state of holiness from which he fell, by creating him anew in Christ Jesus, and restoring to him that image and likeness of God which he has lost. A higher meaning than this it cannot have; a lower meaning it must not have. God made man in that degree of perfection which was pleasing to his own infinite wisdom and goodness. Sin defaced this divine image; Jesus came to restore it. Sin must have no triumph; and the Redeemer of mankind must have his glory.
But if man be not perfectly saved from all sin, sin does triumph, and Satan exult, because they have done a mischief that Christ either cannot or will not remove. To say he cannot, would be shocking blasphemy against the infinite power and dignity of the great Creator; to say he will not, would be equally such against the infinite benevolence and holiness of his nature.
All sin, whether in power, guilt, or defilement is the work of the devil; and he, Jesus, came to destroy the work of the devil; and as all unrighteousness is sin, so his blood cleanseth from all sin, because it cleanseth from all unrighteousness.
Many stagger at the term perfection in Christianity; because they think that what is implied in it is inconsistent with a state of probation, and savors of pride and presumption: but we must take good heed how we stagger at any word of God; and much more how we deny or fritter away the meaning of any of His sayings, lest he reprove us, and we be found liars before him. But it may be that the term is rejected because it is not understood. Let us examine its import.
The word “perfection,” in reference to any person or thing signifies that such person or thing is complete or finished; that it has nothing redundant, and is in nothing defective. And hence that observation of a learned civilian is at once both correct and illustrative, namely, “We count those things perfect which want nothing requisite for the end whereto they were instituted.” And to be perfect often signifies “to be blameless, clear, irreproachable;” and according to the above definition of Hooker, a man may be said to be perfect who answers the end for which God made him; and as God requires every man to love him with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself; then he is a perfect man that does so; he answers the end for which God made him; and this is more evident from the nature of that love which fills his heart: for as love is the principle of obedience, so he that loves his God with all his powers, will obey him with all his powers; and he who loves his neighbor as himself will not only do no injury to him, but, on the contrary, labor to promote his best interests. Why the doctrine which enjoins such a state of perfection as this, should be dreaded, ridiculed, or despised, is a most strange thing; and the opposition to it can only be from that carnal mind that is enmity to God; “That is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” And had I no other proof that man is fallen from God, his opposition to Christian holiness would be to me sufficient.
The whole design of God was to restore man to his image, and raise him from the ruins of his fall; in a word, to make him perfect; to blot out all his sins, purify his soul, and fill him with holiness; so that no unholy temper, evil desire, or impure affection or passion shall either lodge or have any being within him; this and this only is true religion or Christian perfection; and a less salvation than this would be dishonorable to the sacrifice of Christ, and the operation of the Holy Ghost; and would be as unworthy of the appellation of Christianity,” as it would be of that of “holiness or perfection.” They who ridicule this are scoffers at the word of God; many of them totally irreligious men, sitting in the seat of the scornful. They who deny it, deny the whole scope and design of divine revelation and the mission of Jesus Christ. And they who preach the opposite doctrine are either speculative Antinomians, or pleaders for Baal.
When St. Paul says he “warns every man, and teaches every man in all wisdom, that he may present every manPERFECT in Christ Jesus,” he must mean something. What then is this something? It must mean “that holiness without which none shall see the Lord.” Call it by what name we please, it must imply the pardon of all transgression, and the removal of the whole body of sin and death; for this must take place before we can be like him, and see him as he is, in the effulgence of his own glory. This fitness, then, to appear before God, and thorough preparation for eternal glory, is what I plead for, pray for, and heartily recommend to all true believer, under the name of Christian perfection. Had I a better name, one more energetic, one with a greater plenitude of meaning, one more worthy of the efficacy of the blood that bought our peace, and cleanseth from all unrighteousness, I would gladly adopt and use it. Even the word “perfection” has, in some relations, so many qualifications and abatements that cannot comport with that full and glorious salvation recommended in the gospel, and bought and sealed by the blood of the cross, that I would gladly lay it by, and employ a word more positive and unequivocal in its meaning, and more worthy of the merit of the infinite atonement of Christ, and of the energy of his almighty Spirit; but there is none in our language; which I deplore as an inconvenience and a loss.
Why then are there so many, even among sincere and godly ministers and people, who are so much opposed to the term, and so much alarmed at the profession? I answer, Because they think no man can be fully saved from sin in this life. I ask, where is this in unequivocal words, written in the New Testament? Where, in that book is it intimated that sin is not wholly destroyed till death takes place, and the soul and the body are separated?
Nowhere. In the popish baseless doctrine of purgatory, this doctrine, not with more rational consequences, is held: this doctrine allows that, so inveterate is sin, it cannot be wholly destroyed even in death; and that a penal fire, in a middle state between heaven and hell, is necessary to atone for that which the blood of Christ had not cancelled; and to purge from that which the energy of the almighty Spirit had not cleansed before death.
Even papists could not see that a moral evil was detained in the soul through its physical connection with the body; and that it required the dissolution of this physical connection before the moral contagion could be removed. Protestants, who profess, and most certainly possess, a better faith, are they alone that maintain the deathbed purgatory; and how positively do they hold out death as the complete deliverer from all corruption, and the final destroyer of sin, as if it were revealed in every page of the Bible! Whereas, there is not one passage in the sacred volume that says any such thing. Were this true, then death, far from being the last enemy, would be the last and best friend, and the greatest of all deliverers: for if the last remains of all the indwelling sin of all believers is to be destroyed by death, (and a fearful mass this will make,) then death, that removes it, must be the highest benefactor of mankind. The truth is, he is neither the cause nor the means of its destruction. It is the blood of Jesus alone that cleanseth from all unrighteousness.
It is supposed that indwelling sin is useful even to true believers, because it humbles them and keeps them low in their own estimation. A little examination will show that this is contrary to the fact. It is generally, if not universally allowed that pride is of the essence of sin, if not its very essence; and the root whence all moral obliquity flows. How then can pride humble us? Is not this absurd? Where is there a sincere Christian, be his creed what it may, that does not deplore his proud, rebellious, and unsubdued heart and will, as the cause of all his wretchedness; the thing that mars his best sacrifices, and prevents his communion with God? How often do such people say or sing, both in their public and private devotions,— “But pride, that busy sin, Spoils all that I perform!” Were there no pride, there would be no sin; and the heart from which it is cast out has the humility, meekness, and gentleness of Christ implanted in its stead.
But still it is alleged, as an indubitable fact, that “a man is humbled under a sense of indwelling sin.” I grant that they who see and feel, and deplore their indwelling sin, are humbled: but is it the sin that humbles? No. It is the grace of God, that shows and condemns the sin that humbles us.
How true is that saying, and of how many is it the language! “Proud I am my wants to see, Proud of my humility.” And to conceal his working, even Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light! It appears then that we attribute this boasted humiliation to a wrong cause. We never are humbled under a sense of indwelling sin till the Spirit of God drags it to the light, and shows us, not only its horrid deformity, but its hostility to God; and he manifests it, that he may take it away: but a false opinion causes men to hug the monster, and to contemplate their chains with complacency!
It has been objected to this perfection, this perfect work of God in the soul, that “the greater sense we have of our own sinfulness, the more will Christ be exalted in the eye of the soul: for, if the thing were possible that a man might be cleansed from all sin in this life, he would feel no need of a Savior; Christ would be undervalued by him as no longer needing his saving power.” This objection mistakes the whole state of the case. How is Christ exalted in the view of the soul? How is it that he becomes precious to us? Is it not from a sense of what he has done for us, and what he has done in us? Did any man ever love God till he had felt that God loved him? Do we not “love him because he first loved us?” Is it the name\parJESUS that is precious to us? orJESUS the Savior saving us from our sins?
Is all our confidence placed in him because of some one saving act? or, because of his continual operation as the Savior? Can any effect subsist without its cause? Must not the cause continue to operate in order to maintain the effect? Do we value a good cause more for the instantaneous production of a good and important effect, than we do for its continual energy, exerted to maintain that good and important effect? All these questions can be answered by a child. What is it that cleanseth the soul and destroys sin? Is it not the mighty power of the grace of God? What is it that keeps the soul clean? Is it not the same power dwelling in us? No more can an effect subsist without its cause, than a sanctified soul abide in holiness without the indwelling Sanctifier. When Christ casts out the strong-armed man, he takes away that armor in which he trusted, he spoils his goods, he cleanses and enters into the house, so that the heart becomes the habitation of God through the Spirit. Can then a man undervalue that Christ who not only blotted out his iniquity, but cleansed his soul from all sin; and whose presence and inward mighty working constitute all his holiness and all his happiness? Impossible! Jesus was never so highly valued, so intensely loved, so affectionately obeyed, as now. The great Savior has not his highest glory from his atoning and redeeming acts, but from the manifestation of his saving power. “But the persons who profess to have been made thus perfect are proud and supercilious, and their whole conduct says to their neighbor, ‘Stand by, I am holier than thou.’” No person that acts so has ever received this grace. He is either a hypocrite or a self-deceiver. Those who have received it are full of meekness, gentleness, and long-suffering: they love God with all their hearts—they love even their enemies; love the whole human family, and are servants of all. They know they have nothing but what they have received. In the splendor of God’s holiness they feel themselves absorbed. They have neither light, power, love, nor happiness, but from their indwelling Savior. Their holiness, though it fills the soul, yet is only a drop from the infinite ocean. The flame of their love, though it penetrate their whole being, is only a spark from the incomprehensible Sun of righteousness. In a spirit and in a way which none but themselves can fully comprehend and feel, they can say or sing,— “I loathe myself when God I see, And into nothing fall: Content that Christ exalted be; And God is all in all.”
It has been no small mercy to me, that, in the course of my religious life, I have met with many persons who professed that the blood of Christ had saved them from all sin, and whose profession was maintained by an immaculate life; but I never knew one of them that was not of the spirit above described. They were men of the strongest faith, the purest love, the holiest affections, the most obedient lives, and the most useful in society. I have seen such walking with God for many years: and as I had the privilege of observing their walk in life, so have I been privileged with their testimony at death, when their sun appeared to grow broader and brighter at its setting; and, though they came through great tribulation, they found that their robes were washed and made white through the blood of the Lamb. They fully witnessed the grand effects which in this life flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification; namely, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance in the same to the end of their lives. O God! let my death be like that of these righteous I and let my end be like theirs! Amen.
It is scarcely worth mentioning another objection that has been started by the ignorant, the worthless, and the wicked. “The people that profess this, leave Christ out of the question; they either think that they have purified their own hearts, or that they have gained their pretended perfection by their own merits.” Nothing can be more false than this calumny. I know that people well in whose creed the doctrine of “salvation from all sin in this life “ is a prominent article. But that people hold most conscientiously that all our salvation, from the first dawn of light in the soul to its entry into the kingdom of glory, is all by and through Christ. He alone convinces the soul of sin, justifies the ungodly, sanctifies the unholy, preserves in this state of salvation, and brings to everlasting blessedness.
No soul ever was or can be saved but through his agony and bloody sweat, his cross and passion, his death and burial, his glorious resurrection and ascension, and continued intercession at the right hand of God.
If men would but spend as much time in fervently calling upon God to cleanse by the blood that which He has not cleansed, as they spend in decrying this doctrine, what a glorious state of the church should we soon witness! Instead of compounding with iniquity, and tormenting their minds to find out with how little grace they may be saved, they would renounce the devil and all his works, and be determined never to rest till they had found that He had bruised him under their feet, and that the blood of Christ had cleansed them from all unrighteousness. Why is it that men will not try how far God will save them? nor leave off praying and believing for more and more, till they find that God has held his hand?
When they find that their agonizing faith and prayer receive no farther answer, then, and not till then, they may conclude that God will be no farther gracious, and that He will not save to the uttermost them who come to him through Christ Jesus.
But it is farther objected, that even St. Paul himself denies this doctrine of perfection, disclaiming it in reference to himself: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after,” Philippians 3:12. This place is mistaken: the apostle is not speaking of his restoration to the image of God; but to completing his ministerial course, and receiving the crown of martyrdom; as I have fully shown on my notes on this place, and to which I must beg to refer the reader. There is another point that has been produced, at least indirectly, in the form of an objection to this doctrine: “Where are those adult, those perfect Christians? We know none such; but we have heard that some persons professing those extraordinary degrees of holiness have become scandalous in their lives.”
When a question of this kind is asked by one who fears God, and earnestly desires his salvation, and only wishes to have full evidence that the thing is attainable, that he may shake himself from the dust and arise and go out, and possess the good land—it deserves to be seriously answered. To such I would say, There may be several, even in the circle of your own religious acquaintance, whose evil tempers and unholy affections God has destroyed; and having filled them with is own holiness, they are enabled to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves. But such make no public professions: their conduct, their spirit, the whole tenor of their life, is their testimony. Again: there may be none such among your religious acquaintance, because they do not know their privilege, or they unfortunately sit under a ministry where the doctrine is decried; and in such congregations and churches holiness never abounds; men are too apt to be slothful, and unfaithful to the grace they have received; they need not their minister’s exhortations to beware of looking for or expecting a heart purified from all unrighteousness; striving or agonizing to “enter in at the strait gate” is not pleasant work to flesh and blood; and they are glad to have anything to countenance their spiritual indolence; and such ministers have always a powerful coadjutor; the father of lies, and the spirit of error will work in the unrenewed heart, filling it with darkness, and prejudice, and unbelief. No wonder, then, that in such places, and under such a ministry there is no man that can be “presented perfect in Christ Jesus.” But wherever the trumpet gives a certain sound, and the people go forth to battle, headed by the Captain of their salvation, there the foe is routed, and the genuine believers brought into the liberty of the children of God.
As to some having professed to have received this salvation, and afterward become scandalous in their lives (though in all my long ministerial labors, and extensive religious acquaintance, I never found but one example), I would just observe that they might possibly have been deceived; thought they had what they had not; or they might have become unfaithful to that grace and lost it; and this is possible through the whole range of a state of probation. There have been angels who kept not their first estate; and we all know, to our cost, that he who was the head and fountain of the whole human family, who was made in the image and likeness of God, sinned against God, and fell from that state. And so may any of his descendants fall from any degree of the grace of God while in their state of probation; and any man and every man must fall, whenever he or they cease to watch unto prayer, and cease to be “workers together with God.” Faith must ever be kept in lively exercise, working by love; and that love is only safe when found exerting its energies in the path of obedience. An objection of this kind against the doctrine of Christian perfection will apply as forcibly against the whole revelation of God as it can do against one of the doctrines; because that revelation brings the account of the defection of angels and of the fall of man. The truth is, no doctrine of God stands upon the knowledge experience, faithfulness, or unfaithfulness of man; it stands on the veracity of God who gave it. If there were not a man to be found who was justified freely through the redemption that is by Jesus; yet the doctrine of “justification by faith” is true; for it is a doctrine that stands on the truth of God. And suppose not one could be found in all the churches of Christ whose heart was purified from all unrighteousness, and who loved God and man with all his regenerated powers, yet the doctrine of Christian perfection would still be true; for Christ was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil; and his blood cleanseth from all unrighteousness. And suppose every man be a liar, God is true.
This utterly bewilders the sense and confounds the understanding, by leading at once to consider the immensity of God, the infinitude of His attributes, and the absolute perfection of each! But there must be a sense in which even this wonderful petition was understood by the apostle, and may be comprehended by us. Most people, in quoting these words, endeavor to correct or explain the apostle by adding the word communicable. But this is as idle as it is useless and impertinent. Reason surely tells us that St. Paul would not pray that they should be filled with what could not be communicated. The apostle certainly meant what he said, and would be understood in his own meaning; and we may soon see what this meaning is.
By the “fullness of God,” we are to understand all the gifts and graces which he has promised to bestow on man in order to his full salvation here, and his being fully prepared for the enjoyment of glory hereafter. To be filled with all the fullness of God is to have the heart emptied of and cleansed from all sin and defilement, and filled with humility, meekness, gentleness, goodness, justice, holiness, mercy, and truth, and love to God and man. And that this implies a thorough emptying of the soul of every thing that is not of God, and leads not to him, is evident from this, that what God fills, neither sin nor Satan can fill, nor in any wise occupy; for, if a vessel be filled with one fluid or substance, not a drop or particle of any other kind can enter it, without displacing the same quantum of the original matter as that which is afterward introduced. God cannot be said to fill the whole soul while any place, part, passion, or faculty is filled, or less or more occupied, by sin or Satan: and as neither sin nor Satan can be where God fills and occupies the whole, so the terms of the prayer state that Satan shall neither have any dominion over that soul nor being in it. A fullness of humility precludes all pride; of meekness, precludes anger; of gentleness, all ferocity; of goodness, all evil; of justice, all injustice; of holiness, all sin; of mercy, all unkindness and revenge; of truth, all falsity and dissimulation; and where God is loved with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, there is no room for enmity or hatred to him, or to any thing connected with him; so, where a man loves his neighbor as himself, no ill shall be worked to that neighbor; but, on the contrary, every kind affection will exist toward him; and every kind action, so far as power and circumstances can permit, will be done to him.
Thus the being filled with God’s fullness will produce constant, pious, and affectionate obedience to him, and unvarying benevolence towards one’s neighbor; that is, any man, any and every human being. Such a man is saved from all sin; the law is fulfilled in him; and he ever possesses and acts under the influence of that love to God and man which is the fulfilling of the law. It is impossible, with any Scriptural or rational consistency, to understand these word in any lower sense; but how much more they imply, (and more they do imply,) who can tell?