Imperfect sanctification — The spiritual warfare.

IT may be difficult to account for the fact that — when the power of God was as sufficient to make the sinner perfect in the new creation as to implant a principle of spiritual life he should have left the work imperfect; and that this imperfection, according to our views of Scripture and of the fact as made known by experience, should continue through the whole period of human life, to whatever extent it may be protracted. Some, indeed, seem to suppose that the remainders of sin in believers are seated in the body, and therefore as long as this sinful body continues this inbred corruption will manifest itself more or less. This opinion seems to have been imbibed at a very early period of the history of the Church, and was probably derived from the Platonic philosophy, which considers matter to be the origin of evil. From this view of the seat of indwelling sin, men in all ages who entertained it have been led to lay great [[@Page:261]] stress on fasting and other bodily austerities by which the body was enfeebled and emaciated. But the principle assumed being false, all that is built upon it must be false likewise. The body, though infected with the pollution of sin through its connection with the soul, is not and cannot be the source of iniquity. Mere matter, however curiously organised and animated, is, apart from the soul, no moral agent, and therefore not susceptible of moral qualities. Sin must have its origin and seat in the free rational soul; and the appetites and passions, which have their seat in the body, partake of the nature of sin by their excess and irregularity, and by their cravings often influence the will to choose that which is not good or is not the best. Still, however, the body is a great clog to the soul; and the appetites and passions which are seated in the body, being very urgent in their cravings for gratification, greatly disturb the exercises of piety, and sometimes prevail against the higher principles which by grace have been implanted. As the body is also subject to various diseases, these, on account of the close connection between the soul and body, mightily affect the mind, and often create a great hindrance to devotion and the exercises of piety.

[[@Page:262]] Where two opposite principles exist in the same soul there must be a perpetual conflict between them until “the weaker dies.” But as the “old man,” though crucified, never becomes extinct in this life, this warfare between the flesh and the spirit never ceases until death. As these opposite moral principles operate through the same natural faculties and affections, it is a matter of course that as the one gains strength the other must be proportionably weakened; and experience teaches that the most effectual way to subdue the power of sin is to cherish and exercise the principle of holiness. But if the love of God grows cold or declines in vigour, then the motions of sin become more lively, and the stirring of inbred corruption is sensibly experienced. Just then in the same proportion will the principle of evil be diminished as the principle of grace is strengthened.

Every victory over any particular lust weakens its power, and by a steady growth in grace such advantage is obtained over inbred sin that the advanced Christian maintains the mastery over it, and is not subject to those violent struggles which were undergone when this warfare commenced.

Young Christians, however, are often greatly deceived by the appearance of the death of sin, when [[@Page:263]] it only sleeps or deceitfully hides itself, waiting for a more favourable opportunity to exert itself anew. When such a one experiences, in some favoured moment, the love of God shed abroad in his heart, sin appears to be dead, and those lusts which warred against the soul to be extinguished; but when these lively feelings have passed away and carnal objects begin again to entice, the latent principle of iniquity shows itself; and often that Christian who had fondly hoped that the enemy was slain and the victory won, and in consequence ceased to watch and pray, is suddenly assailed and overcome by the deceitfulness of sin. Christians are more injured in this warfare by the insidious and secret influence of their enemies lulling them into the sleep of carnal security than by all their open and violent assaults. No duty is more necessary, in maintaining this conflict, than watchfulness. Unceasing vigilance is indispensable. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation;” “And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.”

Lawful pursuits are more frequently a snare than those which are manifestly sinful. It is a duty “to provide things honest in the sight of all men;” but while this object is industriously pursued, the love of the world gradually gains ground.

[[@Page:264]] The possession of wealth is viewed as important. Eternal things are out of view or viewed as at a great distance, and the impression from them is faint. Worldly entanglements and embarrassments are experienced; the spiritual life is weakened. A sickly state commences and a sad declension ensues. Alas for the Christian now! Where is the burning zeal with which he commenced his course? Where now are the comforts of religion, with which he was so entirely satisfied that the world was viewed as an empty bauble? Where now is his spirit of prayer which made this duty his delight? Where his love of the Bible, which drew him aside often from worldly business to peruse its sacred instructions? Oh what a change! Header, it is, perhaps, thy own case. “Thou art the man” who hast thus fallen and left thy first love. “Repent, therefore, and do the first works,” lest some heavy judgment fall upon thee. God holds a rod for his own children, and when the warnings and exhortations of the Word and the secret whispers of the Spirit are neglected, some painful providence is sent — some calamity, which has so much natural connection with the sin as to indicate that it is intended as a chastisement for it. These strokes are often very cutting and severe, [[@Page:265]] but they must be so to render them effectual. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous. Nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Our heavenly Father afflicteth not willingly, but “for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.”

The followers of Dr. Hawker, in England, who are ultra Calvinists, entertain the opinion that “the law in our members” is not in the least affected or weakened by our regeneration or sanctification, but that through life it remains the very same, nohow weakened in its strength by any progress in the divine life which the Christian may make. But this is contrary to the word of God, which speaks of “dying daily unto sin,” of “mortifying the deeds of the body,” “crucifying the flesh,” etc. The same opinion, or one near akin to it, was held by Mr. William Walker, of Dublin, which he brings to view in his able “Address to the Wesleyan Methodists.” His opinion, however, I think, was that there is no such thing as a progressive work of sanctification, which word properly means a consecration to God.

In a former chapter I mentioned the different views of different denominations of Christians [[@Page:266]] respecting the nature of the soul’s exercises in conversion, but this difference is far more considerable as it relates to the spiritual conflict and sanctification. It is far from the wish of the writer to give offence to any body of Christians, much less to provoke controversy. This is no proper field for controversy. In the midst of this militant state there ought to be one peaceful ground where all true followers of Jesus might sit down together and compare their experiences of the loving-kindness and faithful dealings of their Lord and Master. But surely it ought not to be offensive to any body of Christians simply to state what their views are in regard to experimental religion, and how far they agree or differ from those of other Christians. If there be mistakes or erroneous views on any side, they should be considered and corrected. And the writer of these essays will be thankful to any one who will kindly point out any mistakes in regard to matters of fact into which he may happen to fall.

There has long been a difference of opinion respecting the true interpretation of the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, in regard to Paul’s description of the spiritual conflict — whether he describes the exercises of a convinced sinner [[@Page:267]] whom he personates, or whether he does not express honestly the feelings of his own heart, and describe the painful conflict between the powers of sin and holiness which was going on in his own bosom. The latter, undoubtedly, is the obvious meaning, for the apostle speaks in the first person and gives no notice of introducing a person of another character; and some of the expressions here employed are as strongly descriptive of a regenerate heart as any in the Bible. Who but a regenerate man can say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man?” And the closing words show clearly enough that the apostle was detailing the exercises of his own soul, for he gives thanks to God for giving him the victory in this severe conflict, but still intimates that the two irreconcilable principles continued, according to their respective natures, to operate within him. “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, then, with the mind I MYSELF serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

Arminius began his career of departure from the commonly-received opinions of the Reformed churches by writing a book in exposition of the seventh chapter of the Romans; and it is a remarkable coincidence that Faustus Socinus in [[@Page:268]] Poland was engaged at the same time in writing a book on the same subject and to support the same views. This subject is excellently treated in one of President Dickinson’s Letters; and more largely by Frazer “On Sanctification.” The same subject is also treated accurately and judiciously by Dr. Hodge in his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. It is understood that the followers of Mr. John Wesley hold, in conformity with his recorded opinion, that SANCTIFICATION is not a gradual and progressive work, which remains imperfect in the best in this life, but that like regeneration it is instantaneous, and that the result is a complete deliverance from indwelling sin; so that from that moment they are perfectly holy and sin no more — unless they fall from this high state of grace — in thought, word, or deed. Here, then, there can be no similarity between the religious experience of an Arminian who has attained sanctification, and a Calvinist who is seeking to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one is conscious of no sin, inward or outward, of nature or of act, and must have perpetual joy — a heaven on earth; while the other is groaning under a deep sense of inherent depravity, which works powerfully against his will and [[@Page:269]] continually interrupts and retards his progress. His frequent language is “Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Here, indeed, we have a wide difference in the religious experience of professing Christians; and it must be acknowledged that if the experience of the Arminian is in accordance with the word of God, he has greatly the advantage over the contrite, broken-hearted penitent whose complaints are so great that they often cause him to wet his couch with tears. How to reconcile these widely-different views of our condition as sanctified sinners I know not. There must be a grand mistake somewhere; and I sincerely pray to God that if my views on this subject are erroneous they may be corrected.

The Christian is a soldier, and must expect to encounter enemies and to engage in many a severe conflict. The young convert may well be likened to a raw recruit just enlisted. He feels joyous and strong, full of hope and full of courage. When the veteran Christian warns him of coming dangers and formidable enemies, and endeavours to impress on his mind a sense of his weakness and helplessness without divine aid, he does not understand what he says. He apprehends no dangers or [[@Page:270]] enemies which he is not ready to face, and is ready to think that the aged disciples with whom he converses have been deficient in courage and skill, or have met with obstacles which are now removed out of the way. He views the contests of which they speak as the young soldier does the field of battle at a distance, while he is enjoying his bounty-money and marches about with a conscious exultation on account of his military insignia and animated with martial music. The young Christian is commonly treated by his Lord with peculiar tenderness. He is like the babe dandled on the knee and exposed to no hardships. His frames are lively and often joyous, and he lives too much upon them. His love to the Saviour and to the saints is fresh and fervent, and his religious zeal, though not well regulated by knowledge, is ardent. He often puts older disciples to the blush by the warmth of his affections and his alacrity in the service of the Redeemer; and it is well if he does not sometimes indulge a censorious spirit in judging those who have been long exercised in the spiritual life. This is indeed the season of his “first love,” which began to flow in the day of his espousals • and though occasionally dark clouds intercept his views, these are soon forgotten when [[@Page:271]] the clear sunshine breaks forth to cheer him on his way. During this period he delights in social exercises, especially in communion with those of his own age; and in prayer, and in praise, and spiritual conversation his heart is lifted up to heaven, and he longs for the time when he may join the songs of the upper temple.

But ere long the scene changes. Gradually the glow of fervent affection subsides. Worldly pursuits, even the most lawful and necessary, steal away the heart, and various perplexing entanglements beset the inexperienced traveller. He begins to see that there were many things faulty in his early course. He blames his own weakness or enthusiasm; and in avoiding one extreme he easily falls into the opposite, to which human nature has a strong bias. He enters into more intercourse with the world, and of course imbibes insensibly some portion of its spirit. This has a deadening effect on his religious feelings; and his devotions are less fervent and less punctual, and far more interrupted with vain, wandering thoughts than before; and he is apt to fall into a hasty or formal attendance on the daily duties of the closet, and a little matter will sometimes lead him to neglect these precious seasons of grace. A strange [[@Page:272]] forgetfulness of the presence of God, and of his accountableness for every thought, word and action, seizes upon him. Close self-examination becomes painful, and when attempted is unsuccessful. New evils begin to appear springing up in the heart. The imagination before he is aware is filled with sensual imagery, which affording carnal pleasure, the train of his thoughts is with difficulty changed. A want of prompt resolution is often the occasion of much guilt and much unhappiness. Pride is sure to lift its head when God is out of view; and it is wonderful how this and kindred evils will get possession and grow so as to be visible to others, while the person himself is not aware of the disease. Anger, impatience, fretfulness, envy, undue indulgence of the appetites, love of riches, fondness for dress and show, the love of ease, aversion to spiritual duties, with numerous similar and nameless evils, are now bred in the heart and come forth to annoy and retard the Christian in his course. His pride makes him unwilling to open his ear to friendly and fraternal reproof; such words fall heavily on him and wound his morbid sensibility, so that a conflict takes place between a sense of duty and un-mortified pride. He inwardly feels that the rebuke of a brother is just, and [[@Page:273]] should be improved to the amendment of the evil pointed out; but pride cannot brook the thought of being exposed and humbled, and he tries to find something in the manner or circumstances which can be censured, or suspicion will ascribe it to a bad motive. If in this spiritual conflict pride should gain the victory, alas how much sin follows in its train! — resentment toward a kind brother, hypocrisy in concealing the real dictates of conscience and approbation of the inner man, and a neglect of all efforts at improvement.

The person thus circumstanced is instinctively led to endeavour to persuade himself that he has done right. Still, however, the language of his better part is that of self-condemnation. But he hushes it up and assumes an air of innocence and boldness, and thus the Spirit is grieved. Who can describe the train of evils which ensue on one defeat of this kind? The mind becomes dark and desolate; communion with God is interrupted, and a course of backsliding commences which sometimes goes on for years, and then the wanderer is not arrested and brought back without severe chastisement. In such cases the judgments of God against his own straying children are fearful; and if any experience them not who have thus [[@Page:274]] declined, it is because they are not children; “for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?”

Worldly prosperity has ever been found an unfavourable soil for the growth of piety. It blinds the mind to spiritual and eternal things, dries up the spirit of prayer, fosters pride and ambition, furnishes the appropriate food to covetousness and leads to a sinful conformity to the spirit, maxims and fashions of the world. Some few have been enabled to pass this ordeal without serious injury, and have come forth like the three children from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, without the smell of fire on their garments; but this could not have been unless the Son of man had been with them. Such persons use all their health, influence and wealth in promoting the kingdom of Christ, but generally God in mercy refuses to give worldly prosperity to his children. He “bath chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith;” that is, he hath commonly chosen poverty as the safest condition for his children. His are “an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.”

But the poor have their conflicts and temptations as well as the rich. They are continually tempted to discontent, to envy at the prosperity of the rich, [[@Page:275]] and sometimes to use unlawful means to satisfy their craving wants. On account of the dangers of both these conditions, Agur prayed, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” But in whatever state Providence has placed us, we should therewith be content. Certainly, when Christians make haste to be rich they are not governed by the wisdom which cometh from above. No wonder that they pierce themselves through with many sorrows and are often in danger of eternal perdition. If we sought wealth from no other motive but to use it for God’s glory, it would do us no harm, for this principle would regulate the pursuit so that it would not be detrimental to the kingdom of God within us.

The enemies of the Christian have been commonly divided into three classes — the world, the flesh and the devil; but though these may be conceived of and spoken of separately, they resist the Christian soldier by their combined powers. The devil is the agent, the world furnishes the bait or the object of temptation, and the flesh, or our own corrupt nature, is the subject on which the [[@Page:276]] temptation operates. Sometimes, indeed, Satan injects his fiery darts, enkindled in hell, to frighten the timid soul and drive it to despair, but in this he often overshoots his mark and drives the poor trembling soul nearer to his Captain, whose broad shield affords ample protection. And we are not to suppose that we are not often led astray by the enticements of sin within us without the aid of Satan. But we need not be afraid of charging too much evil upon this arch adversary. He is ever on the alert and is exceedingly cautious in his approaches. Long experience has doubtless greatly increased his power and subtlety, unless he should be more restrained than formerly. Some people make a mock of Satan’s temptations, as though they were the dreams of superstitious souls. Not so Paul and Peter and John; not so Luther and Calvin and Zuingle; not so any who understand the nature of the spiritual warfare. It is to the great injury of many professors that they are not constantly on the watch against the wiles of the devil. If you wish to know where he will be likely to meet you, I would say, in your closet, in the church, on your bed and in your daily intercourse with men. A single thought which suddenly starts up in your mind will show that the enemy [[@Page:277]] is near, and is suggesting such thoughts as, without his agency, never can be accounted for. “Watch, therefore;” “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”