God’s Ways and Man’s Methods
of Becoming Holy, Contrasted
“I Expect to Become So at Death.”
If you are expecting something so great and so essential to heaven itself, you ought to have good reasons for your expectation. And what are these reasons? Did you ever see any soul get sanctification at death? Is there any provision in the economy of grace which is only available at death’s door? These are some plain questions. But let us look at the matter a little more in detail.
1. Sanctification will be possible at death if the conditions are complied with.
But because that is so, owing to the mercy of God, is no more a valid reason for delaying the matter, than it is for a sinner to put off till the day of his death his compliance with the terms of salvation, simply because those terms may be complied with at that time.
2. Sanctification at death is evidently out of God’s order.
God commands holiness now, for He has made no command that is not binding now. “Be ye holy” (Leviticus 20:7; 1 Peter 1:15-16). In the present order of things He cannot do otherwise. The past cannot be returned, and He gives us no lease of the future; so He cannot say, “Do this tomorrow,” unless He secures a tomorrow to do it in. So, “Be ye holy” is a command binding the present moment. God’s order is to be holy now. Death may come with the next pulse beat, as quick as a flash of lightning, and God’s warning of this fact urges and commands us to be holy now.
God made us holy at the creation of the race. His plan was to have us so always. The grand design was that life should be like His in kind — a holy life. Holiness is no more needed to die by than to live by. It is no more pleasing to God in death than in life. If there be any difference, the favor is on the side of having it in life, so that your living may do so much more for God. God thinks we need holiness to live by, so He says, “Be ye holy.” And He makes it possible in His provisions of grace, and offers it freely to those needing it; and that which God offers now is evidently in God’s order a possible possession now.
In God’s order, sanctification is a timeless, present now; the order of death sanctification is an imaginary future “now,” based on one soul’s perception. Let us suppose that you are to get sanctification when you die — can no one obtain the blessing after you die? Is no one ever to have it after your death, and could none ever have it before? How is it that God is going to revolutionize matters so much just because you are to die? Unless you alone are to have it, then all men who do must die when you do, or else the change is only in you, in your “now,” and not in God at all. No, God’s order is His Now. If sanctification is possible for you when you die, then it is possible for others on the same terms, and some are dying now, and so it is possible now, so far as God and his provision are concerned. But you are liable to die this instant, so it is possible not only in God’s order, but in your own as well. If you expect to get sanctification at death, you must expect it now, for you know death is possible now. Dear reader, accept God’s terms and have it now.
3. But death separates me from this sinful body.
Ah! You believe in the theory of the sinfulness of matter then. But then a stone or a clod may be sinful, may they not? Where does God charge sin upon the body? Does He not represent the body as a home or temple of the soul? Does He not say, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7)? And that “every sin that a man does is without the body” (1 Corinthians 6:18)? Does He not make sin consist in thought, in the conception of wrong act? The sin is in the soul. The soul does not die, and physical death cannot remove sin; so death cannot make us holy. Such a means of becoming holy would make death your sanctifier. But how can this be, for death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). Again, death is “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), so that even as to character, that which is not holy cannot sanctify. But more, death is not a person at all, it is only an event; and the question falls back after all upon God and His provisions.
4. Holiness at death is too late to regain a wasted life.
The experience of thousands who have entered into this life of sanctification long years before death proves beyond a doubt that it is accompanied with a measure of working power heretofore unknown. Rev. A. P. Graves, the well-known successful evangelist,2 attributes his success in the work to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, received when he entered the experience of the Higher Christian Life. In the close of his chapter “Higher Christian Life” in his book From Earth to Heaven,3 he says, “Another thing I wish to mention, concerning the great need that every Christian has to enter this valley of blessing is, They cannot do work to win souls as they ought without it.”4
Rev. J. O. Peck, D.D.,5 of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in summing up the results of his experience of entire sanctification says:
I have had a greater love for my work; I always loved it intensely, but it has seemed to possess me. The salvation of dying men has been a passion. I love the work with glowing affection. Greater results have followed my ministry. More souls have been converted each year — two or three times more. I have had power to persuade sinners to come to Christ, which was unknown before. My intellectual work was at once vastly stimulated. I have studied twice as much each year. My thought has been clearer, and my love for patient thinking more ardent. I may have accomplished little, but I have worked harder and yet easier. — Divine Life.6
The justly celebrated life of Dr. Payson7 is in point here! He was indeed
a very powerful and polished shaft in the hands of God. Hundreds were saved by his ministry; but much of his strength was wasted in what he saw afterwards to have been vain strugglings. Had he known to trust in Jesus for his own soul’s sanctification, and for all fitness to herald the Saviour for others, not only would he have saved what he himself said was wasted, but his life might have been spared long to the church, and his success, great as it was, increased vastly in its measure.8
Suppose the Apostles, according to this theory, had waited till death for the “purifying of their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9), which came at Pentecost; then when and where would have been the planting of Christianity? A long line of witnesses stand ready to testify that death sanctification is too late to make the best use of life and accomplish the most for God. Reader, if you are tempted to make this excuse for not being holy now, as God commands, go read again the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9).
5. Death sanctification does not report itself.
Practically, sanctification at death is useless for this life. We know of a sister who held strenuously to this view, yet upon coming with but little warning up to the banks of the river, though fully alive up to the last moment, so far as her reason and power of communication was concerned, she had no testimony of the kind to give.
6. It does not accord with many Bible examples.
- The testimony of Enoch’s life was “that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5; see also Genesis 5:22-24; Jude 14).
- Take God’s repeated statement concerning Job’s life, that he was “a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3; see also Job 10:7).
- Notice also David’s profession of holiness: “I am holy” (Psalm 86:2).
- Examine Isaiah’s experience of it in chapter 6 of his prophecy.
- See how Paul classes himself among those that “are perfect” in Philippians 3:15.
- And how pointedly the Apostle John says, “He that committeth sin is of the devil” — 1 John 3:8.
7. It is unsatisfactory to live by.
The Bible teaches that religion is a satisfactory adjustment of unsettled business with God. If the testimony of those who profess the doctrine of death sanctification can be used as evidence, the want of it leaves “an aching void” in the heart, while the testimony of those who believe for and receive this blessing in God’s order and time obtain a “satisfying portion,” a “soul rest,” and a “perfect peace.” Let us contrast their songs. Those who believe in getting their sanctification at death, sing often as their experience:
Dear Lord! And shall we ever live
At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to Thee,
And Thine to us so great.9
Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?10
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.11
While those who in life enter upon this experience of sanctification testify in their songs thus:
In God I have found a retreat,
Where I can securely abide,
His blood makes my cleansing complete
And here I intend to abide.12
I rest, I rest supremely blest,
Without a care to canker.13,14
The blood, the blood it makes me clean,
My life and lip shall shout it.15
I rise to walk in heaven’s own light
Above the world and sin,
With heart made pure and garments white
And Christ enthroned within.16
- 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. ↩
- Albert Phelps Graves (1829-1911; not to be confused with the better-known Irish poet Alfred Perceval Graves) was a Baptist evangelist. ↩
- From Earth to Heaven as Viewed in the Sermons, Bible Readings, and Reform Papers of Rev. A. P. Graves, Evangelist. The editor’s copy declares itself to be the “twentieth edition” of 1886, published by Fairbanks, Palmer & Co., Chicago. However, it notes that the first edition was copyrighted in 1877, three years before Isaiah Reid composed his thoughts above. ↩
- Graves, page 200. ↩
- Jonas Oranel Peck (1836-1894) was a pastor and church official, associated with both the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Congregational Church. ↩
- Divine Life most likely refers to a Methodist periodical (1877-1895) which went by various names (Divine Life and Bible Expositor, Divine Life and Missionary Witness, and Divine Life and International Expositor). ↩
- Edward Payson (1783-1827) was an American Congregational preacher. ↩
- Reid seems to quote here from William Edwin Boardman’s book, The Higher Christian Life (Boston: Henry Hoyt, 1859), page 286. ↩
- This verse is taken from Isaac Watts’s hymn, Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove. ↩
- These words are from William Cowper’s hymn, O for a Closer Walk with God. ↩
- From Robert Robinson’s hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. ↩
- This is the first verse of James Nicholson’s hymn, In God I Have Found a Retreat. ↩
- Canker shares the same root as our modern word cancer. (Imagine cancer as having two hard “c” sounds.) But this usage of canker could be along the lines of the King James translation of 2 Timothy 2:17 — “their words will eat as doth a canker” — where the word is used to translate gangraina — gangrene. Canker was also used in Old English of a caterpillar which ate into the buds of flowers and other plants, similar to the usage of cankerworm in Joel 1:4; 2:25; and Nahum 3:15-16. ↩
- These two lines comprise the first half of the second verse of John Parker’s hymn The Blood, The Blood Is All My Plea. ↩
- These are, essentially, the closing lines of Parker’s hymn. ↩
- Phoebe Palmer wrote these words as a part of her hymn, Oh, Now I See the Crimson Wave. ↩