n the closing paragraphs of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul charges the custodians of that letter to read it unto “all the holy brethren” (1 Thessalonians 5:27). From the same epistle we have from the author himself his own gauge of the meaning of the word “holy.” In chapter 3:13, he prays that the church in general may be established “unblamable in holiness before God.” In 4:3, Paul declares that their sanctification “is the will of God.” In 5:23, his prayer is that “the very God of peace sanctify you wholly,” and that this sanctification reach to “body, soul and spirit.” So then, we understand that sanctification was for this life, and that some of the Thessalonian church were “holy.” But how came they to be so? Various answers are given; let us note them in order.
First Theory: We are born so, say some. This old theory, that we are born sanctified, would be scarce worthwhile mentioning did it not reappear in some of the common objections made to sanctification acquired by God’s faith method.
On the question of moral evil, it was once held that matter was evil in itself. The soul, being a spark from the Deity, was not in itself sinful; hence death, since it liberated the soul from its connection to the sinful, material body, was a savior, and religion for the most part consisted in torture of the poor flesh which somehow must be charged with a kind of personality distinct from the soul. 1 So “sanctification” with people of this class “was sought physically rather than ethically, and was thought to consist in resisting matter and abstaining from material enjoyments” (History of the Christian Church—100-323 A.D. by Dr. Kurtz, vol. 1. p. 97.) 2
We mention this because of the following:
- We find some who, rather than admit a salvation which in this life sanctifies, will deny the revealed, conscious, and historic fact of human depravity. If depravity exists prior to years of moral judgment and responsibility, and also after conversion, as the “up and down,” “crooked path” testimony indicates, and if conversion does not thus reach the case, then there must be some remedy, or salvation is a failure.
Sanctification is the biblical remedy, and if it be denied, then some human method must be devised; so some deny the corruption of human nature and hence the need for sanctification. We need not be surprised, then, to find that the deep-sounding of the preaching of sanctification, as it brings to the front the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, will waken Sabellian 3 and Arian 4 opposition. 5 As proof of this, only lately a Father in the church told me that some preachers in his denomination were preaching rank Arianism.
- We also mention this method because of its radical relation to the untenable theory of death sanctification, 6 and also to the mythical idea of sanctification (that is, that sanctification is imputed to us without being imparted, or the “double nature” fallacy). At a glance can be seen the mud-line of the old semi-heathen idea of the sin being in the body, or sinful matter.
A system of sanctification so contradictory to the facts of history, so opposed to the work of God, and utterly void of fruit may well be abandoned. We cannot get round by that pass. Sin lies in the soul. Proneness to sin—depravity—is coetaneouscoetaneous:
of the same age, duration, or period 7 with our birth. Pardon is for actual transgressions, while sanctification takes away that within us which acts as a hot-bed, a warm and fertile place where the seeds sown by the devil in temptation sprout up into life and action. Sanctification is to remedy depravity. This sanctification is God’s work, and He teaches us that it is needful for us to be sanctified as to body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23), which effectually settles the question of birth-sanctification. “Out of the heart,” not out of the body, “proceed evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19).
Endnotes for Chapter 2—First Theory: “I Was Born So”—
from God’s Ways and Man’s Methods
of Becoming Holy, Contrasted
1 This whole description is a very brief overview of the heresy known as Gnosticism.
2 This book went through numerous English translations, and the titles varied slightly. For instance, the 1888 English translation of the “Seventh German Edition” was called Text-Book [sic] of Church History by John Henry Kurtz [i.e., Johann Heinrich Kurtz]. It is important to note that the quote comes from Kurtz’s section on Gnosticism, pages 95-97.
3 Sabellius was an early heretic who taught that God, rather than existing as Three Persons in one substance, was one Person who manifested Himself in different modes—as the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit.
4 Arianism was the heresy which taught that Jesus was not of the same substance as God the Father, and therefore not deity. Instead, Arianism taught that Jesus was only the highest of all created beings.
5 The implication of Reid’s statement is this: The preaching of sanctification focuses on a key biblical doctrine of fallen man’s bondage to Sin, that is, his state of depravity. From saying that there is no indwelling Sin (“I was born holy”), and, therefore, no need of a Savior from Sin, it is only short steps to other heresies, including those like Arianism (which denies Christ’s full deity), Sabellianism (which denies that Jesus Christ exists as a separate and distinct Person from God the Father), and Gnosticism (which, because of its belief that created matter is essentially evil, denies that Jesus could have come in the flesh, as a human being).
6 “Death sanctification,” as Reid calls it, is his description of the the mistaken notion that Death, because it does away with our “sinful body,” is the only remedy which can free us from our sin nature.
7 Coetaneous: of the same age, duration, or period.
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