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(2.) "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt, (which My covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord;) but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jerem. 31:31-34). Upon this passage, I mark:
(a.) It was to become due, or the time when its fulfillment might be claimed and expected, was at the advent of Christ. This is unequivocally settled in Heb 8:8-12, where this passage is quoted at length, as being applicable to the gospel day.
(b.) This is undeniably a promise of entire sanctification. It is a promise that the "law shall be written in the heart." It means that the very temper and spirit required by the law shall be begotten in the soul. Now, if the law requires entire sanctification or perfect holiness, this is certainly a promise of it; for it is a promise of all that the law requires. To say that this is not a promise of entire sanctification, is the same absurdity as to say, that perfect obedience to the law is not entire sanctification; and this last is the same absurdity as to say, that something more is our duty than what the law requires: and this again is to say, that the law is imperfect and unjust.
(c.) A permanent state or entire sanctification is plainly implied in this promise. The reason for setting aside the first covenant was, that it was broken: "Which My covenant they brake." One grand design of the new covenant is, that it shall not be broken, for then it would be no better than the first. Permanency is implied in the fact, that it is to be engraved in the heart. Permanency is plainly implied in the assertion, that God will remember their sin no more. In Jerem. 32:39, 40, where the same promise is in substance repeated, you will find it expressly stated, that the covenant is to be "everlasting," and that He will so "put His fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Him." Here permanency is as expressly promised as it can be.
Suppose the language of this promise to be thrown into the form of a command. Suppose God to say, "Let My law be within your hearts, and let it be in your inward parts, and let My fear be so within your hearts, that you shall not depart from Me. Let your covenant with Me be everlasting." If this language were found in a command, would any man in his senses doubt that it meant to require perfect and permanent sanctification? If not, by what rule of sober interpretation does he make it mean anything else, when found in a promise? It appears to be profane trifling, when such language is found in a promise, to make it mean less than it does when found in a command.
This promise as it respects the church, at some period of its history, is unconditional, and its fulfillment certain. But in respect to any particular individuals or generation of the church, its fulfillment is necessarily conditionated upon their faith. The church, as a body, have certainly never received this new covenant. Yet, doubtless, multitudes in every age of the Christian dispensation have received it. And God will hasten the time when it shall be so fully accomplished, that there shall be no need for one man to say to his brother, "Know the Lord, for all shall know Him from the least to the greatest" ( Heb. 8:11).
It should be understood, that this promise was made to the Christian church, and not at all to the Jewish church. The saints under the old dispensation had no reason to expect the fulfillment of this and kindred promises to themselves, because their fulfillment was expressly deferred until the commencement of the Christian dispensation.
It has been said, that nothing more is here promised than regeneration. But were not the Old Testament saints regenerated? Yet it is expressly said, that they received not the promises. "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb. 11:13, 39, 40). Here we see that these promises were not received by the Old Testament saints. Yet they were regenerated.
It has also been said, that the promise implies no more than the final perseverance of the saints. But I would inquire, did not the Old Testament saints persevere? And yet we have just seen, that the Old Testament saints did not receive these promises in their fulfillment.
(3.) I will next examine the promise in: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments and do them" (Ezek. 36:25-17). Upon this I remark:
(b.) It seems to be admitted, nor can it be denied, that this is a promise of entire sanctification. The language is very definite and full. "Then," referring to some future time, when it should become due, "will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean." Mark, the first promise, "ye shall be clean." If to be "clean" does not mean entire sanctification, what does it mean?
The third promise is, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you an heart of flesh." If to have a "clean heart," a "new heart," a "heart of flesh," in opposition to a "heart of stone," be not entire sanctification, what is?
The fourth promise is, "I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them."
(c.) Let us turn the language of these promises into that of command, and understand God as saying, "Make you a clean heart, a new heart, and a new spirit; put away all your iniquities, all your filthiness, and all your idols; walk in My statutes, and keep My judgments, and do them." Now what man, in the sober exercise of his reason, would doubt whether God meant to require a state of entire sanctification in such commands as these? The rules of legitimate interpretation would demand that we should so understand Him.
If this is so, what is the fair and proper construction of this language, when found in a promise? I do not hesitate to say, that to me it is amazing, that any doubt should be left on the mind of any man whether, in these promises, God means as much as in His commands, couched in the same language: for example, see: "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed and make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek. 18:30-31). Now, that the language in the promise under consideration, should mean as much as the language of this command, is demanded by every sober rule of interpretation. And who ever dreamed, that when God required His people to put away all their iniquities, He only meant that they should put away a part of them.
(d.) This promise respects the church, and it cannot be pretended, that it has ever been fulfilled, according to its proper import, in any past age of the church.
(f.) It was manifestly designed to apply to Christians under the new dispensation, rather than to the Jews under the old dispensation. The sprinkling of clean water, and the outpouring of the Spirit, seems plainly to indicate, that the promise belonged more particularly to the Christian dispensation. It undeniably belongs to the same class of promises with that in Jerem. 26:31-34; Joel 2:28, and many others, that manifestly look forward to the gospel-day as the time when they shall become due. As these promises have never been fulfilled, in their extent and meaning, their complete fulfillment remains to be realized by the church as a body. And those individuals, and that generation, will take possession of the blessing, who understand, and believe, and appropriate them to their own case.
(4.) I will next examine the promise in: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it" (1 Thess. 5:23, 24). Upon this I remark:
(a.) It is admitted, that this is a prayer for, and a promise of, entire sanctification.
(b.) The very language shows, that both the prayer and the promise refer to this life, as it is a promise, yet for the sanctification of the body as well as the soul; also that they might be preserved, not after, but unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(e.) Now, if this promise, with those that have already been examined, does not, honestly interpreted, fully settle the question of the attainability of entire sanctification in this life, it is difficult to understand how anything can be settled by an appeal to scripture.
There are great multitudes of promises of the same import, to which I might refer you, and which, if examined in the light of the foregoing rules of interpretation, would be seen to heap up demonstration upon demonstration, that this is a doctrine of the Bible. Only examine them in the light of these plain, self-evident principles, and it seems to me, that they cannot fail to produce conviction.
Having examined a few of the promises in proof of the position that a state of entire sanctification is attainable in this life, I will now proceed to mention other considerations, in support of this doctrine.
3. The apostles evidently expected Christians to attain this state in this life. "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that we may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God" (Col. 3:12). Upon this passage I remark:
(2.) If this language does not describe a state of entire, in the sense of permanent, sanctification, I know of none that would. If "to be perfect and complete in all the will of God," be not Christian perfection, what is?
(3.) Paul knew that Epaphras was laboring to this end, and with this expectation; and he informed the church of it, in a manner that evidently showed his approval of the views and conduct of Epaphras.
That the apostles expected Christians to attain this state is further manifest, from: "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).
Now, does not the apostle speak in this passage, as if he really expected those to whom he wrote, "to perfect holiness in the fear of God?" Observe how strong and full the language is: "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit." If "to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh, and all filthiness of the spirit, and to perfect holiness," be not entire sanctification, what is? That he expected this to take place in this life, is evident from the fact, that he requires them to be cleansed from all filthiness of the flesh as well as of the spirit. This passage plainly contemplates a state as distinguished from an act of consecration or sanctification, that is, it evidently expresses the idea of entire, in the sense of continued, sanctification.
4. All the intermediate steps can be taken; therefore, the end can be reached. There is certainly no point in our progress towards entire sanctification, where it can be said we can go no further. To this it has been objected, that though all the intermediate steps can be taken, yet the goal can never be reached in this life, just as five may be divided by three ad infinitum, without exhausting the fraction. Now this illustration deceives the mind that uses it, as it may the minds of those who listen to it. It is true, that you can never exhaust the fraction in dividing five by three, for the plain reason, that the division may be carried on ad infinitum. There is no end. You cannot, in this case, take all the intermediate steps, because they are infinite. But in the case of entire sanctification, all the intermediate steps can be taken: for there is an end, or state of entire sanctification, and that too at a point infinitely short of infinite.
5. That this state may be attained in this life, I argue from the fact, that provision is made against all the occasions of sin. Men sin only when they are tempted, either by the world, the flesh, or the devil. And it is expressly asserted, that, in every temptation, provision is made for our escape. Certainly, if it is possible for us to escape without sin, under every temptation, then a state of entire and permanent sanctification is attainable.
(1.) The world "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith" (1 John 5:4). "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ" (1 John 5:5).
(2.) The flesh "If ye walk in the Spirit, ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16).
6. God is able to perform this work in and for us. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:14-19). Upon this passage I remark:
(1.) Paul evidently prays here for the entire sanctification of believers in this life. It is implied in our being "rooted and grounded in love," and being "filled with all the fullness of God," that we be as perfect in our measure and according to our capacity, as He is. If to be filled with the fullness of God, does not imply a state of entire sanctification, what does?