God’s Ways and Man’s Methods
of Becoming Holy, Contrasted
Agreat many people have denominational holiness. They believe in it because it is “a doctrine of their church.” Doctrinally, or in a theoretical way, they advocate it and may be said to favor it. Practically, there is usually a great gap between this class and those who believe in it as an experience, and who hold special meetings for its promotion.
We have taught and do still that holiness is not denominational; that is, it is not the birthright or special heritage of any one denomination. No church has any more right to be holy than another. No one has been singled out by heaven’s order to be holier than the rest; no one has a right to claim it as their special doctrine to the setting aside of any other church order. In this sense holiness is as undenominational as sunlight, or air, or water, or free grace. For us Presbyterians to preach that it is our duty to be holy is right and our bounden duty. But it is equally so for our Methodist brethren, or any other properly constituted church order. Yet we have always thought it in bad taste to go over to some of our sister churches, whose people are not in the experience of holiness, and say to them, “You ought to be holy; it is a Presbyterian doctrine.” We do not think this the right way to preach holiness to the people at large as we find them in our conventions and camp-meetings. As we come in contact with their prejudices, they justly come to think that we seek to make Presbyterians out of them.
For a Methodist Conference to say that inasmuch as holiness is one of our doctrines we ought to preach it among our people is certainly right and proper, and no one should object. But for them, or any other body of men in any denomination seeking a better life among all Christians, to preach and urge, as a special reason why holiness should be embraced, that it is one of “our doctrines,” is certainly out of place.
The reason people should be holy is not because it is a Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist or any other order of church doctrine. We are to be holy because God is — “It is written, ‘Be ye holy; for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:16). Nowhere has God said to preach it for any other reason. We shall do well to hold to this in integrity and simplicity.
The above, with other thoughts, have shaped our teaching on this question as above stated. Experience has taught us that success is on the side of presenting it as a Bible doctrine. Oftentimes it is appropriate and demanded that we show that it is not at war with some church standard; but even this is forceless with right-minded people, if it is not seen to be a Bible doctrine. Holiness is true even if it be in no creed on earth. Putting it in our standards makes it no truer, nor does our declaiming against it or official denouncing of it as an “error” or “delusion” make it false. It is true anyway. Why then preach it as a Presbyterian or Methodist doctrine? The Presbyterian force does not make it true. The Methodist adoption of it is not the best reason for our belief of it. Again, God’s reason rings in our ears, “Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
We have no sympathy with that class of teaching which puts holiness to fighting churches, and if this is what some think we mean when we urge to present holiness as a Bible doctrine, rather than a denominational doctrine, we beg to be excused. We hope by the statement above you will stand corrected. The above is what we mean by it, and is the way it is taught in all this country in the meetings we attend. Holiness is continually declared to be the great need of all denominations. We continually hunt the best methods by which it can be done. Be it understood that we speak from the standpoint of evangelistic work, that is, work among the masses, as distinct from work among the churches in a denominational character, which is another class of evangelism. Church evangelism is one thing, and general work among the masses quite another. If I go out to build up the spiritual life of the people of my denominational choice, I may do a good work. If I am called to go into the regions beyond,2 I may do as well, if not better. In the first case I would impress the fact of my work lying within the standards of my church, if needed; in the other, I would seek solely the promotion of the experience, and leave this matter of denominational affiliation to be settled in the usual way.
One trouble about denominational holiness is that it works only for “us,” or in some way subserves the interests of our church. Its exclusiveness gives it a bad flavor. It is unable to help others who are in need of assistance and light in this direction. It cannot join in any general work. It may invite hungry souls to its meetings, only to drive them away by the “us,” “my,” “our church,” and “our doctrine.” It must make “all our meetings holiness meetings,” and so in a professional way tone down holiness till it has little significance, and soon comes to that state where the professional coat of arms may hang on the wall as a symbol long after the life is gone.
But practically, joining a holy denomination will make no one holy. The life is more than this cup and platter business.3 Inner experience must underlie profession, and a holy experience is from God and not from the denomination. Why then say much about denominational holiness?
We grant that a church which believes in holiness as an experience, and works to that end, is a great help to souls in the experience. But a church that has holiness in creed, yet doesn’t hold special meetings for its promotion, may only become a refrigerator to put the death chill on all holy life.
Almost without exception, the holiness that does not outstrip mere denominational lines is tame, lifeless, and nonaggressive. One with “denominational holiness” won’t work, does not attend holiness meetings, and is powerless to help others into the experience. Denomionational holiness is not satisfactory to live and work by, and we fear is a poor kind to die by.
- 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 allusion is to 2 Corinthians 10:16. ↩
- Here is another allusion, this time to Matthew 23:25-26 — Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. ↩