God’s Ways and Man’s Methods
of Becoming Holy, Contrasted
By Repressing of Indwelling Sin
Logically, the theory which equates holiness with the repression of indwelling sin is but a variety of the method of seeking holiness by growth, and yet there is distinction of features sufficient to be treated under a separate head. The fact of sin in believers, or indwelling sin, is generally admitted.
- Says Rev. Henry Darling in his book called The Closer Walk, published by the Presbyterian Board, “Not yet again, could the believer’s life be a battle — a constant struggle with sin — if his regeneration was so complete as to leave within him no remnants of depravity.”2
- Says Dr. Dick, a Presbyterian minister, and an honored Professor of Theology in Scotland: “Although in regeneration, holy principles are infused into the soul, yet the change produced is only partial. No Christian grace is wanting in the regenerated man, and no sin or sinful inclination retains its sovereign power; but the graces are imperfect, and remaining depravity continues to operate, and sometimes prevails.”3
- Says Dr. Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3. p. 260, “By a consent almost universal, the word regeneration is now used to designate, not the whole work of sanctification… but the instantaneous change from spiritual death to spiritual life. …According to the Scriptures, and the undeniable evidence of history, regeneration does not remove all sin.”4 Presbytery, note that the first three sources he quotes in this argument are all Presbyterian!]
- Dr. Alvah Hovey, of the Newton Theological School, (Baptist), says in his work on The Higher Christian Life, pp. 11, 12, “The experience of Christians, immediately after conversion, is not the highest they should expect in life… The work of renewal is only begun, not finished by regeneration.”5
- Dr. Helffenstein, of the German Reformed Church, says in his work on theology, “Sanctification is that act of God’s free grace, whereby believers are gradually cleansed from the remains of sin and indwelling corruption, and renewed after the image of God.”
- Rev. Richard Watson of the M[ethodist]. E[piscopal]. Church says: “That a distinction exists between a regenerate state and a state of entire and perfect holiness, will be generally allowed.”6
- Bishop Foster of the same church, says: “Believers are not by virtue of the new birth entirely free from sin, either as it respects the inward taint or outward occasional act.”7
- Rev. W. McDonald, of the same church says: “Regeneration and entire sanctification are not received at one and the same time, except, perhaps, in a few extraordinary cases, if, indeed the case ever occurs.”8
With these statements agree almost all the so-called theologies and leading theological writers. Indeed the problematic issues come later in the process of salvation than this. The trouble lies in getting rid of the remaining depravity. And we now have a word to say concerning the method of becoming clear of it (to be holy) by repression.9
1. We object, that it is contrary to God’s plan.
According to Matthew 1:21, Jesus came “to save His people from their sins.” Holiness by repression would be salvation in their sins, or in their condition of sinfulness. If I am saved in my sins, then I am not saved from them. Sin in action is but a result of sin indwelling, which breaks through and makes the soul sinful — a sinner in the sight of God. He is therefore a sinner. And a salvation which does not reach and cleanse the heart out of which are the issues of life,10 is not one which “saves from sin.”
2. This method makes holiness the work of man.
Repression is something I do. Sanctification is something which the “very God of peace” does. Repression thus puts upon humanity that which it can never accomplish. It is a more difficult work than reformation. A man may reform, that is, he can stop the act, but he cannot remove the “want to” of sinful desire. Men can form habits, but cannot unform them. This method puts the impossible into hands unable to perform the task. Besides this, remaining depravity — the carnal mind — “cannot be subject to the law of God.” No combination of powers can make it. And this method puts the finite man at the work which only Divinity can accomplish.
But suppose the man could hold down the snake’s head for ten, fifteen, or fifty years, what then? It was sin when he began, and it is sin still. It inhered in his very soul when he first came in contact with it, and it still holds the fort. Though the body die, it will not relieve the man. Will he carry the repressed serpent into heaven with him? Can he? Shall he make death a sanctifier? No, for death is an enemy and is in partnership with depravity. We believe there is no logical way out of this condition, only the purgatory of the Romish church. For “without holiness no man shall see the Lord” [Hebrews 12:14], and this man has not got it.
3. It is a lifelong refusal of the proffered agency to accomplish the work.
The same One who commands us to “Be holy,” provides the means for being so. These instrumentalities are:
- God the Father — 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:21;
- The Son — Ephesians 5:25,26; Titus 2:14;
- The Holy Ghost — 1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; and,
- The truth — John 17:17.
These, as we understand it, are freely offered us in the gospel, with all their combined effectiveness, means, and methods for the present accomplishment of our salvation, and meetness for glory. Therefore this is not a “something” which may be, by and by, but is not now; rather, it is that which has been and now is, namely our salvation. Our trying to gain the end by repressing remaining depravity being therefore at war with God’s plan to save men now, and thus keep them (1 Peter 1:5), it cannot be acceptable to God, and hence can never succeed. It had better be abandoned at once and forever.
4. This method is at war with man’s happiness.
Repression is the “O wretched man” condition of Romans 7, and overlooks the gateway out of this chapter seven into chapter eight. Again and again religion is declared to make one happy — “all her ways are pleasantness and all her paths are peace” [Proverbs 3:17].
5. This method is opposed to heart purity.
God proposes to cleanse the heart and thus make it a holy temple meet for the Master’s use. The advocate of this repression theory proposes to manage the matter by holding the “old man” down. God says, “Put him off”; the man says, “No, I will hold him down in.” So holding depravity at bay within, even if it were possible, is holding sin in, and there can be no profession of holiness. And there is none. It is a sickly dream of the Sweet By and By. The advocates of this theory, by their own premises, can neither profess nor possess holiness. Nor would it be at all surprising if from these people there should arise opposition to the present holiness movement and especially the experience. The dogmatics of their theory are a kind of military Drill Manual anyway. Depend on this, friends, if it is to be decided by your ability to cope with the “old man,” aided as he continually is by Satan and his legions, you will inevitably be beat. If you depend on the Lord to fight for you, “He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness” [Romans 9:28]. At once he will say, “Loose him and let him go” [John 11:44], “Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, lo, these many years, be loosed from this bond” [Luke 13:16]?
It will not do for the advocate of this theory to say, “I will ask Divine help, and with God to assist me; I shall succeed,” for God will not, yea, cannot, assist you to repress, and so keep, that which is His will and law to remove. “Be holy,” He says. He cannot consistently help against His commanded way of doing a thing. Should He grant your request, it would but be a Divine sanction for you to live in sin, for every person who simply represses his carnal mind merely restrains and holds in that which is “not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” [Romans 8:7]. A prayer to repress, or hold in, instead of a request for the removal of sin, is, logically, but to pray that God may allow you to continue “impure,” which is certainly at variance with the whole tenor of the Word of God, and the economy of the gospel.
Repressed sin is no less sin than before it was so repressed. Repressed carnality is still in its nature at war with God. Repressed murder, in God’s eye, is murder still. Repressed lust, unconceived in act, is no less lust, and is that heart adultery without which no such act would ever have been committed. Repressed evil but saves from further insurrection. The forces remain. Salvation up to the New Testament standard not only conquers, restrains, but puts out of existence the conquered foe. Extermination of the enemy and possession of its land, not simply authority over it, is the law of the spiritual Canaan.
- 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. ↩
- The Closer Walk or The Believer’s Sanctification, by Henry Darling, D.D., was published in 1862 (the first full year Reid attended seminary) by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia. The quote is from page 18. ↩
- Lectures on Theology, Vol. I, by Rev. John Dick, New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1878. The quote is from page 236. ↩
- Hodge was a famous Presbyterian theologian, and his Systematic Theology is still read with profit.
Keeping in mind that God’s Ways and Man’s Methods of Becoming Holy, Contrasted is Reid’s apologia prior to his pending ecclesiastical trial before the Waterloo [Iowa ↩
- The Doctrine of the Higher Christian Life Compared with the Teaching of the Holy Scriptures by Rev. Alvah Hovey; Boston: Henry A. Young & Co., 1876. The quote is taken from page 11. ↩
- Theological Institutes or A View of the Evidences, Doctrines, Morals, and Institutions of Christianity, Vol. III, by Richard Watson; London: John Mason, 1832; page 197. ↩
- Christian Purity or The Heritage of Faith by Bishop R. S. Foster. The copy available to the editor is an abridgement published in London by Hodder & Stoughton/The Wesleyan Conference Office, 1872. The quote is found on page 25. ↩
- The New Testament Standard of Piety or Our Love Made Perfect by Rev. W. McDonald. The copy available to the editor is a revised edition published in 1882 by The Christian Witness Co, both in Boston and Chicago. The quote is from page 44. ↩
- Repression, in this context, is man’s attempt to keep his sin nature “down” or repressed so that it can’t manifest itself in acts of sin. ↩
- The allusion is to Proverbs 4:23. ↩