God’s Ways and Man’s Methods
of Becoming Holy, Contrasted
“I Expect to Grow into It.”
This is a favorite theory of many people. It is to be noted that it contradicts the two methods already spoken of, for if people expect “to grow into it,” it is a plain confession that they neither received it by being “born so,” or at their “conversion.” It is hardly worthwhile to take space here to show the large percent of professed Christians who hold to this theory, when they can be met almost anywhere, if one commences talking about full salvation. Properly speaking, this theory should be defined as gradualism.
1. We Object to This Method in that It Does Away with the Specific Feature of the Gospel as a Means of Salvation.
Salvation is something God does for us. Growth is something I do. It is not action that makes us holy; it is a holy heart that gives the key to all sanctified action. Sanctification is a question of being cleansed from the remains of sin. If sin can be grown out of after conversion, why not before conversion? And if it can be grown out at all, why do we need someone to “bear our sins for us,” or the blood to “cleanse us.” If we understand the matter, salvation is “not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” John 1:13. Neither is it of “works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy” (not growth) “He saved us, by the washing of regeneration” (neither rainwater nor growth) “and the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” Titus 3:5. If we search from the beginning to the end of the Bible, in no place do we find God recommending this way of getting rid of sin, or sinfulness, or any man being successful in its pursuit. Indeed, it is the old cry of the moralist who professes to reform himself out of it. Bible salvation is by “birth,” and without this birth no man can enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), neither by growth, nor any other method. There is no question on this point. Sin cannot be grown out. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). The carnal mind is sin. Entire sanctification has special reference to the carnal mind, and it is therefore a question pertaining to the getting rid of that which is sinful, and that which is sinful cannot be gotten rid of under the gospel plan by growth.
2. Growth Has Reference to the Increase of that Which Already Is.
Peter’s phrase, “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18), strictly read, is “increase in grace.” Usually the persons who expect to grow into holiness are the very persons who declare they are not holy, so there is no chance to increase in that which they do not have. Nothing produces nothing, not something! You can grow or increase only what you have. In the case in hand, the one expecting to “grow into holiness” can only increase what he has. The word says, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). But this one expecting holiness by this method confesses sin in his heart, so his growth will grow that which is within. And his sin, or sinfulness will grow also; and instead of growing out of sin, he will grow in it, and his approach to holiness will suffer a continued late frostbite from indwelling sin.
3. This Method Only “Expects” or “Hopes for” Holiness.
This theory of “growing into holiness” puts the matter out of God’s order, which is “Now.” “Be holy,” is a command binding the present moment; God’s commands are all present. He cannot make them binding in the future unless He guarantees us future time; but this He does not do. “Be holy,” therefore, is and must be a command to be holy now. So any method of becoming holy which puts the attainment in some indefinite and uncertain time is a perversion of God’s moral order, and therefore wrong.
Further, the gospel is by faith. Its measure, its balance weight, its quart cup, its tape line are all on the faith admeasurement. “According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29). But faith is an act, not a state, and as such it must be something present. Faith has a nowness in it, which never belongs to hope or expectation, and this the gradualist must leave out. If he at any time goes definitely at the work of seeking to be sanctified by the “very God of peace” (Paul’s way, 1 Thessalonians 5:23), he has abandoned his gradualism. A sad feature of this method of becoming holy is, it keeps a man from definitely setting about the work. It is the fearful doctrine of “perseverance” in procrastination.
4. This Method Rests for Its Support on Human Presumption.
God gives no lease of life beyond the present. He makes salvation a present duty. Being holy is the same. God means for me to be holy now. He says, “Be ye also ready, for the Son of man cometh in an hour ye think not” (Matthew 24:44). The man that “expects to grow into it,” merely presumes he will have time. He knows not that he will. He has no assurance that beyond the present moment he will ever draw a breath, and hence has nothing but human presumption to build his expectation of being holy upon.
5. This Method Is Contrary to the Nature of the Case.
In entire sanctification the heart is cleansed. The heart is the subject wrought upon. It is not the agent. Divinity is the power at work. The soul is therefore passive, and cannot speak of itself “growing” that which divine power is effecting. If the work of sanctification belongs to the “very God of peace” as Paul taught, consisting of a divine “washing” till “whiter than snow,” as David taught, or a “cleansing from all unrighteousness” as John taught, how can the clay consistently say to the Potter, “I do it. I grow into it”? How?
6. This Method Confuses Purity with Maturity.
Growth appertains to that which one has in possession. That which is a matter of expectation only, not being in possession, can neither be increased nor matured. If you do not have holiness, you cannot “perfect” it. The maturing or increasing of that which is not yet pure, is maturing and increasing of that which is impure. The method of “growing into holiness” is based on the fact of existing indwelling impurity. Growing this indwelling impurity “can never make the comer thereunto perfect” (Hebrews 10:1), neither can the maturing of this mixed state ever mature any soul into Christian perfection. No one wants to be matured while there is impurity, for it matures him into a state unfit for heaven. Purity must come before maturity. “First pure.” So purity and maturity are distinct. Being made pure is one thing, and then maturing in that state is another thing. We seek the first in order to attain the second. In the one something is to be removed; in the other something is taken away. Purity is instantaneous. Maturity is gradual. “Purity respects quality; maturity respects quantity.”2 Growth and maturity belong to quantity, and succeed the circumstances which produced the quality. Maturity and cleansing—being made holy — are therefore two distinct questions.
7. The Method Is Impractical.
No passengers seem to get in on this line. The Bible biography does not give us samples. The records of the Church fail to report them. The present believers in this theory are unable to present us those who have actually obtained holiness by “growing into it.” Personally, we tested it for seventeen years and were compelled to abandon it. We know what we say, when we declare it an unsafe method of seeking to become fully saved.
- The text itself is public domain. The original booklet, God's Ways and Man's Methods of Becoming Holy, Contrasted, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2010 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's God's Ways and Man's Methods of Becoming Holy, Contrasted. ↩
- This is a quote from William McDonald’s book Scriptural Way of Holiness, page 6. The copy at the editor’s disposal is an 1883 edition printed in London. However, since Reid wrote his book in 1880, he must have had an earlier American version. ↩