I. THE FORMAL SENSE
1. In the Old Testament
2. In the New Testament
II. THE ETHICAL SENSE
1. Transformation of Formal to Ethical Idea
2. Our Relation to God as Personal: New Testament Idea
3. Sanctification as God's Gift
4. Questions of Time and Method
5. An Element in All Christian Life
6. Follows from Fellowship with God
7. Is It Instantaneous and Entire?
8. Sanctification as Man's Task
The root is found in the Old Testament in the Hebrew verb qadhash, in the New Testament in the Greek verb hagoazo. The noun "sanctification" (hagiasmos) does not occur in the Old Testament and is found but 10 times in the New Testament, but the roots noted above appear in a group of important words which are of very frequent occurrence. These words are "holy," "hallow," "hallowed," "holiness," "consecrate," "saint," "sanctify," "sanctification." It must be borne in mind that these words are all translations of the same root, and that therefore no one of them can be treated adequately without reference to the others. All have undergone a certain development. Broadly stated, this has been from the formal, or ritual, to the ethical, and these different meanings must be carefully distinguished.
⇒Topical Bible outline for "Sanctification."
I. The Formal Sense.
By sanctification is ordinarily meant that hallowing of the Christian believer by which he is freed from sin and enabled to realize the will of God in his life. This is not, however, the first or common meaning in the Scriptures. To sanctify means commonly to make holy, that is, to separate from the world and consecrate to God.
⇒See a list of verses on SANCTIFICATION in the Bible.
1. In the Old Testament:
To understand this primary meaning we must go back to the word "holy" in the Old Testament. That is holy which belongs to Yahweh. There is nothing implied here as to moral character. It may refer to days and seasons, to places, to objects used for worship, or to persons. Exactly the same usage is shown with the word "sanctify." To sanctify anything is to declare it as belonging to God. "Sanctify unto me all the first-born .... it is mine" (Ex 13:2; compare Nu 3:13; 8:17). It applies thus to all that is connected with worship, to the Levites (Nu 3:12), the priests and the tent of meeting (Ex 29:44), the altar and all that touches it (Ex 29:36 f), and the offering (Ex 29:27; compare 2 Macc 2:18; Ec 7:29). The feast and holy days are to be sanctified, that is, set apart from ordinary business as belonging to Yahweh (the Sabbath, Ne 13:19-22; a fast, Joe 1:14). So the nation as a whole is sanctified when Yahweh acknowledges it and receives it as His own, "a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Ex 19:5-6). A man may thus sanctify his house or his field (Le 27:14,16), but not the firstling of the flock, for this is already Yahweh's (Le 27:26).
⇒See the definition of sanctification in the KJV Dictionary
It is this formal usage without moral implication that explains such a passage as Ge 38:21. The word translated "prostitute" here is from the same root qadhash, meaning literally,, as elsewhere, the sanctified or consecrated one (qedheshah; see margin and compare De 23:18; 1Ki 14:24; Ho 4:14). It is the hierodule, the familiar figure of the old pagan temple, the sacred slave consecrated to the temple and the deity for immoral purposes. The practice is protested against in Israel (De 23:17 f), but the use of the term illustrates clearly the absence of anything essentially ethical in its primary meaning (compare also 2Ki 10:20, "And Jehu said, Sanctify a solemn assembly for Baal. And they proclaimed it"; compare Joe 1:14).
Very suggestive is the transitive use of the word in the phrase, "to sanctify Yahweh." To understand this we must note the use of the word "holy" as applied to Yahweh in the Old Testament. Its meaning is not primarily ethical. Yahweh's holiness is His supremacy, His sovereignty, His glory, His essential being as God. To say the Holy One is simply to say God. Yahweh's holiness is seen in His might, His manifested glory; it is that before which peoples tremble, which makes the nations dread (Ex 15:11-18; compare 1Sa 6:20; Ps 68:35; 89:7; 99:2-3). Significant is the way in which "jealous" and "holy" are almost identified (Jos 24:19; Eze 38:23). It is God asserting His supremacy, His unique claim. To sanctify Yahweh, therefore, to make Him holy, is to assert or acknowledge or bring forth His being as God, His supreme power and glory, His sovereign claim. Ezekiel brings this out most clearly. Yahweh has been profaned in the eyes of the nations through Israel's defeat and captivity. True, it was because of Israel's sins, but the nations thought it was because of Yahweh's weakness. The ethical is not wanting in these passages. The people are to be separated from their sins and given a new heart (Eze 36:25-26,33). But the word "sanctify" is not used for this. It is applied to Yahweh, and it means the assertion of Yahweh's power in Israel's triumph and the conquest of her foes (Eze 20:41; 28:25; 36:23; 38:16; 39:27). The sanctification of Yahweh is thus the assertion of His being and power as God, just as the sanctification of a person or object is the assertion of Yahweh's right and claim in the same.
⇒See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.
The story of the waters of Meribah illustrates the same meaning. Moses' failure to sanctify Yahweh is his failure to declare Yahweh's glory and power in the miracle of the waters (Nu 20:12-13; 27:14; De 32:51). The story of Nadab and Abihu points the same way. Here "I will be sanctified" is the same as "I will be glorified" (Le 10:1-3). Not essentially different is the usage in Isa 5:16: "Yahweh of hosts is exalted in justice, and God the Holy One is sanctified in righteousness." Holiness again is the exaltedhess of God, His supremacy, which is seen here in the judgment (justice, righteousness) meted out to the disobedient people (compare the recurrent refrain of Isa 5:25; 9:12,17,21; 10:4; see JUSTICE). Isa 8:13; 29:23 suggest the same idea by the way in which they relate "sanctify" to fear and awe. One New Testament passage brings us the same meaning (1Pe 3:15): "Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord," that is, exalt Him as supreme.
2. In the New Testament:
In a few New Testament passages the Old Testament ritual sense reappears, as when Jesus speaks of the temple sanctifying the gold, and the altar the gift (Mt 23:17,19; compare also Heb 9:13; 1Ti 4:5). The prevailing meaning is that which we found in the Old Testament. To sanctify is to consecrate or set apart. We may first take the few passages in the Fourth Gospel. As applied to Jesus in Joh 10:36; 17:19, sanctify cannot mean to make holy in the ethical sense. As the whole context shows, it means to consecrate for His mission in the world. The reference to the disciples, "that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth," has both meanings: that they may be set apart, (for Jesus sends them, as the Father sends Him), and that they may be made holy in truth.
This same meaning of consecration, or separation, appears when we study the word saint, which is the same as "sanctified one." Aside from its use in the Psalms, the word is found mainly in the New Testament. Outside the Gospels, where the term "disciples" is used, it is the common word to designate the followers of Jesus, occurring some 56 times. By "saint" is not meant the morally perfect, but the one who belongs to Christ, just as the sanctified priest or offering belonged to Yahweh. Thus Paul can salute the disciples at Corinth as saints and a little later rebuke them as carnal and babes, as those among whom are jealousy and strife, who walk after the manner of men (1Co 1:2; 3:1-3). In the same way the phrase "the sanctified" or "those that are sanctified" is used to designate the believers. By "the inheritance among all them that are sanctified" is meant the heritage of the Christian believer (Ac 20:32; 26:18; compare 1Co 1:2; 6:11; Eph 1:18; Col 1:12). This is the meaning in Hebrews, which speaks of the believer as being sanctified by the blood of Christ. In 10:29 the writer speaks of one who has fallen away, who "hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing." Evidently it is not the inner and personal holiness of this apostate that is referred to, especially in view of the tense, but that he had been separated unto God by this sacrificial blood and had then counted the holy offering a common thing. The contrast is between sacred and common, not between moral perfection and sin (compare 10:10; 13:12). The formal meaning appears again in 1Co 7:12-14, where the unbelieving husband is said to be sanctified by the wife, and vice versa. It is not moral character that is meant here, but a certain separation from the profane and unclean and a certain relation to God. This is made plain by the reference to the children: "Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." The formal sense is less certain in other instances where we have the thought of sanctification in or by the Holy Spirit or in Christ; as in Ro 15:16, "being sanctified by the Holy Spirit"; 1Co 1:2, to "them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus"; 1Pe 1:2, "in sanctification of the Spirit." Paul's doctrine of the Spirit as the new life in us seems to enter in here, and yet the reference to 1 Corinthians suggests that the primary meaning is still that of setting apart, the relating to God.
II. The Ethical Sense.
We have been considering so far what has been called the formal meaning of the word; but the chief interest of Christian thought lies in the ethical idea, sanctification considered as the active deed or process by which the life is made holy.
1. Transformation of Formal to Ethical Idea:
Our first question is, How does the idea of belonging to God become the idea of transformation of life and character? The change is, indeed, nothing less than a part of the whole movement for which the entire Scriptures stand as a monument. The ethical is not wanting at the beginning, but the supremacy of the moral and spiritual over against the formal, the ritual, the ceremonial, the national, is the clear direction in which the movement as a whole tends. Now the pivot of this movement is the conception of God. As the thought of God grows more ethical, more spiritual, it molds and changes all other conceptions. Thus what it means to belong to God (holiness, sanctification) depends upon the nature of the God to whom man belongs. The hierodules of Corinth are women of shame because of the nature of the goddess to whose temple they belong. The prophets caught a vision of Yahweh, not jealous for His prerogative, not craving the honor of punctilious and proper ceremonial, but with a gracious love for His people and a passion for righteousness. Their great message is: This now is Yahweh; hear what it means to belong to such a God and to serve Him. "What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? .... Wash you, make you clean; .... seek justice, relieve the oppressed" (Isa 1:11,16-17). "When Israel was a child, then I loved him. .... I desire goodness, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than bunt-offerings" (Ho 11:1; 6:6).
In this way the formal idea that we have been considering becomes charged with moral meaning. To belong to God, to be His servant, His son, is no mere external matter. Jesus' teaching as to sonship is in point here. The word "sanctification" does not occur in the Synoptic Gospels at all, but "sonship" with the Jews expressed this same relation of belonging. For them it meant a certain obedience on the one hand, a privilege on the other. Jesus declares that belonging to God means likeness to Him, sonship is sharing His spirit of loving good will (Mt 5:43-48). Brother and sister for Jesus are those who do God's will (Mr 3:35). Paul takes up the same thought, but joins it definitely to the words "saint" and "sanctify." The religious means the ethical, those "that are sanctified" are "called to be saints" (1Co 1:2). The significant latter phrase is the same as in Ro 1:1, "Paul .... called to be an apostle." In this light we read Eph 4:1, "Walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called." Compare 1 Thess 2:12; Php 1:27. And the end of this calling is that we are "foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Ro 8:29). We must not limit ourselves to the words "saint" or "sanctify" to get this teaching with Paul. It is his constant and compelling moral appeal: You belong to Christ; live with Him, live unto Him (Col 3:1-4; 1Th 5:10). It is no formal belonging, no external surrender. It is the yielding of the life in its passions and purposes, in its deepest affections and highest powers, to be ruled by a new spirit (Eph 4:13,10,23-24,32; compare Ro 12:1).
2. Our Relation to God as Personal: New Testament Idea:
But we do not get the full meaning of this thought of sanctification as consecration, or belonging, until we grasp the New Testament thought of our relation to God as personal. The danger has always been that this consecration should be thought of in a negative or passive way. Now the Christian's surrender is not to an outer authority but to an inner, living fellowship. The sanctified life is thus a life of personal fellowship lived out with the Father in the spirit of Christ in loving trust and obedient service. This positive and vital meaning of sanctification dominates Paul's thought. He speaks of living unto God, of living to the Lord, and most expressively of all, of being alive unto Golf (Ro 14:8; compare Ro 6:13; Ga 2:19). So completely is his life filled by this fellowship that he can say, "It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me" (Ga 2:20). But there is no quietism here. It is a very rich and active life, this life of fellowship to which we are surrendered. It is a life of sonship in trust and love, with the spirit that enables us to say "Abba, Father" (Ro 8:15; Ga 4:6). It is a life of unconquerable kindness and good will (Mt 5:43-48). It is a life of "faith working through love" (Ga 5:6), it is having the mind of Christ (Php 2:5). The sanctified life, then, is the life so fully surrendered to fellowship with Christ day by day that inner spirit and outward expression are ruled by His spirit.
3. Sanctification as God's Gift:
We come now to that aspect which is central for Christian interest, sanctification as the making holy of life, not by our act, but by God's deed and by God's gift. If holiness represents the state of heart and life in conformity with God's will, then sanctification is the deed or process by which that state is wrought. And this deed we are to consider now as the work of God. Jesus prays that the Father may sanctify His disciples in truth (Joh 17:17). So Paul prays for the Thessalonians (1Th 5:23), and declares that Christ is to sanctify His church (compare Ro 6:22; 2Th 2:13; 2Ti 2:21; 1Pe 1:2). Here sanctification means to make clean or holy in the ethical sense, though the idea of consecration is not necessarily lacking. But aside from special passages, we must take into account the whole New Testament teaching, according to which every part of the Christian life is the gift of God and wrought by His Spirit. "It is God that worketh in you both to will and to work" (Php 2:13; compare Ro 8:2-4,9,14,16-26; Ga 5:22 f). Significant is the use of the words "creature" ("creation," see margin) and "workmanship" with Paul (2Co 5:17; Ga 6:15; Eph 2:10; 4:24). The new life is God's second work of creation.
4. Questions of Time and Method:
When we ask, however, when and how this work is wrought, there is no such clear answer. What we have is on the one hand uncompromising ideal and demand, and on the other absolute confidence in God. By adding to these two the evident fact that the Christian believers seen in the New Testament are far from the attainment of such Christian perfection, some writers have assumed to have the foundation here for the doctrine that the state of complete holiness of life is a special experience in the Christian life wrought in a definite moment of time. It is well to realize that no New Testament passages give a specific answer to these questions of time and method, and that our conclusions must be drawn from the general teaching of the New Testament as to the Christian life.
5. An Element in All Christian Life:
First, it must be noted that in the New Testament view sanctification in the ethical sense is an essential element and inevitable result of all Christian life and experience. Looked at from the religious point of view, it follows from the doctrine of regeneration. Regeneration is the implanting of a new life in man. So far as that is a new life from God it is ipso facto holy. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit teaches the same (see HOLY SPIRIT). There is no Christian life from the very beginning that is not the work of the Spirit. "No man can (even) say, Jesus is Lord, but in the .... Spirit" (1Co 12:3). But this Spirit is the Holy Spirit, whether with Paul we say Spirit of Christ or Spirit of God (Ro 8:9). His presence, therefore, in so far forth means holiness of life. From the ethical standpoint the same thing is constantly declared. Jesus builds here upon the prophets: no religion without righteousness; clean hands, pure hearts, deeds of mercy are not mere conditions of worship, but joined to humble hearts are themselves the worship that God desires (Am 5:21-25; Mic 6:6-8). Jesus deepened the conception, but did not, change it, and Paul was true to this succession. "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ is in you, .... the spirit is life because of righteousness" (Ro 8:9-10). There is nothing in Paul's teaching to suggest that sanctification is the special event of a unique experience, or that there are two kinds or qualities of sanctification. All Christian living meant for him clean, pure, right living, and that was sanctification. The simple, practical way in which he attacks the bane of sexual impurity in his pagan congregations shows this. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honor. For God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification" (1Th 4:3-4,7). The strength of Paul's teaching, indeed, lies here in this combination of moral earnestness with absolute dependence upon God.
6. Follows from Fellowship with God:
The second general conclusion that we draw from the New Testament teaching as to the Christian life is this: the sanctification which is a part of all Christian living follows from the very nature of that life as fellowship with God. Fundamental here is the fact that the Christian life is personal, that nothing belongs in it which cannot be stated in personal terms. It is a life with God in which He graciously gives Himself to us, and which we live out with Him and with our brothers in the spirit of Christ, which is His Spirit. The two great facts as to this fellowship are, that it is God's gift, and that its fruit is holiness. First, it is God's gift. What God gives us is nothing less than Himself. The gift is not primarily forgiveness, nor victory over sin, nor peace of soul, nor hope of heaven. It is fellowship with Him, which includes all of these and without which none of these can be. Secondly, the fruit of this fellowship is holiness. The real hallowing of our life can come in no other way. For Christian holiness is personal, not something formal or ritual, and its source and power can be nothing lower than the personal. Such is the fellowship into which God graciously lifts the believer. Whatever its mystical aspects, that fellowship is not magical or sacramental. It is ethical through and through. Its condition on our side is ethical. For Christian faith is the moral surrender of our life to Him in whom truth and right come to us with authority to command. The meaning of that surrender is ethical; it is opening the life to definite moral realities and powers, to love, meekness, gentleness, humility, reverence, purity, the passion for righteousness, to that which words cannot analyze but which we know as the Spirit of Christ. Such a fellowship is the supreme moral force for the molding of life. An intimate human fellowship is an analogue of this, and we know with what power it works on life and character. It cannot, however, set forth either the intimacy or the power of this supreme and final relation where our Friend is not another but is our real self. So much we know: this fellowship means a new spirit in us, a renewed and daily renewing life.
It is noteworthy that Paul has no hard-and-fast forms for this life. The reality was too rich and great, and his example should teach us caution in the insistence upon theological forms which may serve to compress the truth instead of expressing it. Here are some of his expressions for this life in us: to "have the mind of Christ" (1Co 2:16; Php 2:5), "the Spirit of Christ" (Ro 8:9), "Christ is in you" (Ro 8:10), "the spirit which is from God" (1Co 2:12), "the Spirit of God" (1Co 3:16), "the Holy Spirit" (1Co 6:19), "the Spirit of the Lord" (2Co 3:17), "the Lord the Spirit" (2Co 3:18). But in all this one fact stands out, this life is personal, a new spirit in us, and that spirit is one that we have in personal fellowship with God; it is His Spirit. Especially significant is the way in which Paul relates this new life to Christ. We have already noted that Paul uses indifferently "Spirit of God" and "Spirit of Christ," and that in the same passage (Ro 8:9). Paul's great contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit lies here. As he states it in 2Co 3:17: "Now the Lord is the Spirit." With that the whole conception of the Spirit gains moral content and personal character. The Spirit is personal, not some thing, nor some strange and magical power. The Spirit is ethical; there is a definite moral quality which is expressed when we say Christ. He has the Spirit who has the qualities of Christ. Thus the presence of the Spirit is not evidenced in the unusual, the miraculous, the ecstatic utterance of the enthusiast, or some strange deed of power, but in the workaday qualities of kindness, goodness, love, loyalty, patience, self-restraint (Ga 5:22 f). With this identification of the Spirit and the Christ in mind, we can better understand the passages in which Paul brings out the relation of Christ to the sanctification of the believer. He is the goal (Ro 8:29). We are to grow up in Him (Eph 4:15). He is to be formed in us (Ga 4:19). We are to behold Him and be changed into His image (2Co 3:17 f). This deepens into Paul's thought of the mystical relation with Christ. The Christian dies to sin with Him that he may live with Him a new life. Christ is now his real life. He dwells in Christ, Christ dwells in him. He has Christ's thoughts, His mind. See Ro 6:3-11; 8:9-10; 1Co 2:16; 15:22; Ga 2:20.
This vital and positive conception of the sanctification of the believer must be asserted against some popular interpretations. The symbols of fire and water, as suggesting cleansing, have sometimes been made the basis for a whole superstructure of doctrine. (For the former, note Isa 6:6 f; Lu 3:16; Ac 2:3; for the latter, Ac 2:38; 22:16; 1Co 6:11; Eph 5:26; Tit 3:5; Heb 10:22; Re 1:5; 7:14.) There is a two-fold danger here, from which these writers have not escaped. The symbols suggest cleansing, and their over-emphasis has meant first a negative and narrow idea of sanctification as primarily separation from sin or defilement. This is a falling back to certain Old Testament levels. Secondly, these material symbols have been literalized, and the result has been a sort of mechanical or magical conception of the work of the Spirit. But the soul is not a substance for mechanical action, however sublimated. It is personal life that is to be hallowed, thought, affections, motives, desires, will, and only a personal agent through personal fellowship can work this end.
7. Is It Instantaneous and Entire?:
The clear recognition of the personal and vital character of sanctification will help us with another problem. If the holy life be God's requirement and at the same time His deed, why should not this sanctification be instantaneous and entire? And does not Paul imply this, not merely in his demands but in his prayer for the Thessalonians, that God may establish their hearts in holiness, that He may sanctify them wholly and preserve spirit and soul and body entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1Th 3:13; 5:23)?
In answer to this we must first discriminate between the ideal and the empirical with Paul. Like John (1Jo 1:6; 3:9), Paul insists that the life of Christ and the life of sin cannot go on together, and he knows no qualified obedience, no graduated standard. He brings the highest Christian demand to the poorest of his pagan converts. Nor have we any finer proof of his faith than this uncompromising idealism. On the other hand, how could he ask less than this? God cannot require less than the highest, but it is another question how the ideal is to be achieved. In the realm of the ideal it is always either .... or. In the realm of life there is another category. The question is not simply, Is this man sinner or saint? It is rather, What is he becoming? This matter of becoming is the really vital issue. Is this man turned the right way with all his power? Is his life wholly open to the divine fellowship? Not the degree of achievement, but the right attitude toward the ideal, is decisive. Paul does not stop to resolve paradoxes, but practically he reckons with this idea. Side by side with his prayer for the Thessalonians are his admonitions to growth and progress (1Th 3:12; 5:14). Neither the absolute demand or the promise of grace gives us the right to conclude how the consummation shall take place.
8. Sanctification as Man's Task:
That conclusion we can reach only as we go back again to the fundamental principle of the personal character of the Christian life and the relation thus given between the ethical and the religious. All Christian life is gift and task alike. "Work out your own salvation .... for it is God who worketh in you" (Php 2:12 f). All is from God; we can only live what God gives. But there is a converse to this: only as we live it out can God give to us the life. This appears in Paul's teaching as to sanctification. It is not only God's gift, but our task. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1Th 4:3). "Having therefore these promises .... let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness (hagiosune) in the fear of God" (2Co 7:1). Significant is Paul's use of the word "walk." We are to "walk in newness of life," "by (or in) the Spirit," "in love," and "in Christ Jesus the Lord" (Ro 6:4; Ga 5:16; Eph 5:2; Col 2:6). The gift in each case becomes the task, and indeed becomes real and effective only in this activity. It is only as we walk by the Spirit that this becomes powerful in overcoming the lusts of the flesh (Ga 5:16; compare Ga 5:25). But the ethical is the task that ends only with life. If God gives only as we live, then He cannot give all at once. Sanctification is then the matter of a life and not of a moment. The life may be consecrated in a moment, the right relation to God assumed and the man stand in saving fellowship with Him. The life is thus made holy in principle. But the real making holy is co-extensive with the whole life of man. It is nothing less than the constant in-forming of the life of the inner spirit and outer deed with the Spirit of Christ until we, "speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into him, who is the head" (Eph 4:15). (Read also Ro 6:1-23; that the Christian is dead to sin is not some fixed static fact, but is true only as he refuses the lower and yields his members to a higher obedience. Note that in 1Co 5:7 Paul in the same verse declares "ye are unleavened," and then exhorts "Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump"; compare also 1Th 5:5-10.)
We may sum up as follows: The word "sanctify" is used with two broad meanings: (1) The first is to devote, to consecrate to God, to recognize as holy, that is, as belonging to God. This is the regular Old Testament usage and is most common in the New Testament. The prophets showed that this belonging to Yahweh demanded righteousness. The New Testament deepens this into a whole-hearted surrender to the fellowship of God and to the rule of His Spirit. (2) Though the word itself appears in but few passages with this sense, the New Testament is full of the thought of the making holy of the Christian's life by the Spirit of God in that fellowship into which God lifts us by His grace and in which He gives Himself to us. This sanctifying, or hallowing, is not mechanical or magical. It is wrought out by God's Spirit in a daily fellowship to which man gives himself in aspiration and trust and obedience, receiving with open heart, living out in obedient life. It is not negative, the mere separation from sin, but the progressive hallowing of a life that grows constantly in capacity, as in character, into the stature of full manhood as it is in Christ. And from this its very nature it is not momentary, but the deed and the privilege of a whole life.
See also HOLY SPIRIT and the following article.
The popular and special works are usually too undiscriminating and unhistorical to be of value for the Biblical study. An exception is Beet, Holiness Symbolic and Real. Full Biblical material in Cremer, Biblical Theol. Lexicon, but treated from special points of view. See Systematic Theologies, Old Testament Theologies (compare especially Smend), and New Testament Theologies (compare especially Holtzmann).
Harris Franklin Rall
1. Doctrine Stated
2. Objections Answered
3. Required for the Highest Success of the Preacher
5. Its Glorious Results
6. Wesley's Personal Testimony
1. Doctrine Stated:
Christian perfection, through entire sanctification, by faith, here and now, was one of the doctrines by which John Wesley gave great offense to his clerical brethren in the Anglican church. From the beginning of his work in 1739, till 1760, he was formulating this doctrine. At the last date there suddenly arose a large number of witnesses among his followers. Many of these he questioned with Baconian skill, the result being a confirmation of his theories on various points.
In public address he used the terms "Christian Perfection," "Perfect Love," and "Holiness," as synonymous, though there are differences between them when examined critically. With Paul he taught that all regenerate persons are saints, i.e. holy ones, as the word "saint," from Latin sanctus, through the Norman-Fr, signifies (1Co 1:2; 2Co 1:1). His theory is that in the normal Christian the principle of holiness, beginning with the new birth, gradually expands and strengthens as the believer grows in grace and in the knowledge of the truth, till, by a final, all-surrendering act of faith in Christ, it reaches an instantaneous completion through the act of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier: 2Co 7:1 "perfecting holiness," etc.; Eph 4:13, the King James Version "Till we all come .... unto a perfect man," etc. Thus sanctification is gradual, but entire sanctification is instantaneous (Ro 6:6, "our old man was crucified," etc., a sudden death; Ga 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live"). In 1 Thess 5:23, the word "sanctify" is a Greek aorist tense, signifying an act and not a process, as also in Joh 17:19, "that they .... may be sanctified in truth," or truly. (See Meyer's note.) Many Christians experience this change on their deathbeds. If death suddenly ends the life of a growing Christian before he is wholly sanctified, the Holy Spirit perfects the work. Wesley's advice to the preachers of this evangelical perfection was to draw and not to drive, and never to quote any threatenings of God's word against God's children. The declaration, "Without sanctification no man shall see the Lord" (Heb 12:14), does not apply to the saints, "the holy ones."
Wesley's perfection of love is not perfection of degree, but of kind. Pure love is perfect love. The gradual growth toward perfect purity of love is beautifully expressed in Monod's hymn,
"O the bitter shame and sorrow!"
The first response to the Saviour's call is,
"All of self, and none of Thee."
But after a view of Christ on the cross. the answer is faintly,
"Some of self, and some of Thee."
Then, after a period of growing love, the cry is,
"Less of self, and more of Thee."
After another period, the final cry is,
"None of self, and all of Thee!"
an aspiration for pure love, without any selfishness.
The attainment of this grace is certified by the total cessation of all Servile fear (1Jo 4:18). Wesley added to this the witness of the Spirit, for which his only proof-text is 1Co 2:12.
2. Objections Answered:
(1) Paul, in Php 3:12, declares that he is not "made perfect": (a) in Php 3:15, he declares that he is perfect; (b) "made perfect" is a term, borrowed from the ancient games, signifying a finished course. This is one of the meanings of teleioo, as seen also in Lu 13:32 margin, "The third day I end my course." Paul no more disclaims spiritual perfection in these words than does Christ before "the third day." Paul claims in Php 3:15, by the use of an adjective, that he is perfect. In 3:12 Paul claims that he is not perfect as a victor, because the race is not ended. In 3:15 he claims that he is perfect as a racer.
(2) Paul says (1Co 15:31), "I die daily." This does not refer to death to sin, as some say that it does, but to his daily danger of being killed for preaching Christ, as in Ro 8:36, "we are killed all the day long."
(3) 1Jo 1:8: "If we say that we have no sin," etc. (a) If this includes Christians, it contradicts John himself in the very next verse, and in 1Jo 3:9, sin," "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no and Joh 8:36, "If .... the Son shall make you free," etc., and in all those texts in the New Testament declaring sins forgiven.
(b) Bishop Westcott says that the expression, "to have sin," is distinguished from "to sin," as the sinful principle is distinguished from the sinful act in itself. It includes the idea of personal guilt. Westcott asserts that John refers to the Gnostics, who taught that moral evil exists only in matter, and never touches spirit, which is always holy; and, therefore, though guilty of all manner of vice, their spirits had no need of atonement, because they were untouched by sin, which existed only in their bodies, as it does in all matter. When told that this made the body of Christ sinful, they denied the reality of His body, saying that it was only a phantom. Hence, in the very first verse of this Epistle, John writes evidently against the Gnostic error, quoting three of the five senses to prove the reality of Chrtst's humanity. (By all means, see "The Epistles of John," Cambridge Bible for Schools, etc., 17-21.)
3. Required for the Highest Success of the Preacher:
The relation of this doctrine to the Methodist Episcopal church in the United States is seen in the following questions, which have been affirmatively answered in public by all its preachers on their admission to the Conferences: "Are you going on to perfection?"; "Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?"; "Are you earnestly striving after it?" The hymns of the Wesleys, still universally sung, are filled with this doctrine, in which occur such expressions as:
"Take away our bent to sinning," ....
"Let us find that second rest," ....
"Make and keep me pure within," ....
"'Tis done! Thou dost this moment save,
With full salvation bless." ....
5. Its Glorious Results:
To the preaching of Christian perfection Wesley ascribed the success of his work in the conversion, religious training and intellectual education of the masses of Great Britain. It furnished him a multitude of consecrated workers, many of them lay preachers, who labored in nearly every hamlet, and who carried the gospel into all the British colonies, including America. It is declared by secular historians that this great evangelical movement, in which the doctrine of entire sanctification was so prominent, saved England from a disastrous revolution, like that which drenched France with the blood of its royal family and its nobility, in the last decade of the 18th century. It is certain that the great Christian and humanitarian work of William Booth, originally a Methodist, was inspired by this doctrine which he constantly preached. This enabled his followers in the early years of the Salvation Army to endure the persecutions which befell them at that time.
6. Wesley's Personal Testimony:
On March 6, 1760, Wesley enters in his Journal the following testimony of one Elizabeth Longmore: "`I felt my soul was all love. I was so stayed on God as I never felt before, and knew that I loved Him with all my heart. .... And the witness that God had saved me from all my sins grew clearer every hour. .... I have never since found my heart wander from God.' Now this is what I always did, and do now, mean by perfection. And this I believe many have attained, on the same evidence that I believe many are justified."
We have Wesley's only recorded testimony to his own justification in these words (May 24, 1738): "I felt my heart strangely warmed .... and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins," etc.