Sanctification is a very common word in both the Old and the New Testaments. It is also a subject treated more or less in all complete systems of theology. In nearly all catechisms the question is asked, “What is sanctification?” and some answer is given. It is a libel on the intelligence of the evangelical Christendom of the age to deny knowledge of the doctrine and faith in it. The fact is, all Christians believe in it, only they have their way about receiving it. Indeed, after all, the question is not about the truth of the doctrine, but about the obtainment of the grace. Nobody wants other than a holy heaven; for this reason all men want some way of being made holy, though naturally few at first prefer God’s way.
The how of a holy experience is the line of continual battle. At first the theme divides itself into man’s way, and God’s way. God has but one way; man has several ways, as:
- Some men claim they were born holy, and that sin is of the flesh; take it away and they are holy still.
- Some claim they were made entirely holy when they were converted.
- Some claim they never can be holy while they live in this world; that they are made holy at death.
- Some claim that they reach this state of grace by repressing the evil that is in them.
- Some claim, and the class is large, that after they are regenerated they grow in holiness.
All these are human methods, devised by men, in order to avoid the lone way of the cross, entire consecration and faith in the blood of Jesus.
At present we want to examine this “growth” method by which so many are “hoping” to reach the goal of their expectation.
In consideration of this subject let us examine it in several aspects. It is a question of no trivial interest. We should not only think we are right, but we should know we are right.
Grace or Growth?
“But grow in grace.”
—2 Peter 3:18—
- Grace is of God; growth is of man.
- Grace is conferred; growth is commanded.
- Grace is a favor; growth is a duty.
- Grace is administered; growth is attained.
- Grace is before growth; for a thing that is not, cannot grow.
- Grace is the unmerited helpfulness of God administered in love. Growth is the enlarging of the ways of God’s helpfulness within us, and the exercise of what is given in such ways that there is continued increase.
Growth is but the cooperation of the human spirit, and belongs to the man side of the question of salvation. Growth does not create or begin any grace, or gift, or faculty. It has reference always to the exercise of any of these unto more godliness. Growth is never into, but always in, grace. Grace is like the air we breathe, or the water for which we thirst—all good of themselves, all free; but all of no avail unless appropriated and individually used. So growth starts at the point of personally appropriating what grace offers, then proceeds to the enlargement that comes from so doing.
Growth implies life, for dead things cannot grow. God never requires in the natural world a dead seed to develop into a plant. So Peter’s command to “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18) is spoken not to the world of sinners at large, but “to them that have obtained a like precious faith” (2 Peter 1:1).
Peter uses other words and expressions in both of his epistles to convey the same idea briefly comprehended in the word “grow.” So we have “multiply” in 1 Peter 1:2 and 2 Peter 1:2, and in 2 Peter 1:5 we have the word “add,” or more correctly translated, “furnish,” as we furnish a house already built, with additional comforts, or better equipment. So we furnish our faith with additional facilities for greater usefulness and effectiveness. This expresses more fully what the apostle meant by growth, namely: Multiplication of grace on hand; enlargement of measures possessed; better skill in use; greater wisdom in application; higher effectiveness and wider range of service. In no case does he use the term in the sense of the obtainment of a grace, but always in the use of a grace already possessed.
Peter uses the term, or refers in his application of the idea, to those who had already reached a high state of grace; they had “obtained a like precious faith with us” (apostles); and were those of whom he said, “According as His divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3); and further, as those “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (v. 4). In addition, after having warned his readers of various hurtful and damning, errors, he says: “You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace” (3:17-18). So it is reasonable and scriptural to conclude—
- That the growing referred to belongs not to people who had no grace, or even had a little grace, but to those who had an uncommon measure of it.
- That the apostle nowhere teaches that we can grow into a grace we do not have, but always applies the term to the multiplication or enlargement of grace already in possession.
- That he does not teach the doctrine that one who is unsanctified can grow into sanctification, nor that a sinner can grow into grace when graceless. On the other hand, he teaches that we come into the kingdom of grace by a very different process, namely: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23). “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1:2).
“Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and all hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:1,2). “Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God” (2:10). So he further admonishes them to “Sanctify the Lord God in their hearts” (3:15), and encourages them to press forward amid testings and trials, saying: “But the God of all grace, who has called us unto eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered awhile, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (5:10).
It is very evident from both of Peter’s epistles that “growth” is something God requires of us, not something He does. Just as He require of us faith, to repent, or to believe, and to obey, so He requires of us growth. These are things that God can never do for us, and which we must do on our part.
Therefore we conclude that, inasmuch as growth is our work, and it is the “very God of peace that sanctifies wholly” (1 Thessalonians 5:23), that sanctification being God’s work, and growth being our work, so men are not sanctified wholly by growth.
Methods of Spiritual Growth
“First the blade.”
—Jesus (Mark 4:28)—
The blade represents the germ, or seed. There can be no growth where there is no seed. First the blade. Holiness cannot grow if it does not first exist. Men that confess they do not have it, and claim to obtain it by growth, are of all men the most unreasonable. What is not, might be created; but certainly it cannot grow.
Another law of seeds is that each produces “after its kind” (Genesis 1:12). If the stock and root is unholy, how can the full corn in the ear be holy? Blade first, ear afterwards; and at all times, full corn in the ear after the nature of the blade—not some other nature.
The first essential, then, for growth in holiness, is to have holiness. What is not, cannot be added to, or multiplied, or taken away from. What is not, cannot grow. Growth does not change qualities; it enlarges and multiplies. Grace used brings more grace of the same kind, but it has no power to take away that which is graceless. A man will only grow what he has. If he has no holiness, he cannot grow a holy crop. If he has cockle2 in his seed wheat, he will but reap as he sows. He will find cockle bound up with his harvest sheaves. To grow in holiness, you must have holiness.
Once holiness is obtained, it must be retained as an experience. Whatever therefore is needful for abiding in that grace must be secured. The general rule for guidance is this: “As ye have therefore received the Lord Jesus, so walk ye in Him” (Colossians 2:6). All graces received must be retained. The conditions of receiving are the same general conditions for the retaining of a grace. With faith, for instance, just as we received Jesus by faith, so we must retain Him by faith; as we received the experience of holiness at the point of entire consecration, by faith, so our consecration must be kept; as we renounced the world, so the renunciation must not be abandoned; as we began a life of prayer and trust, so these, and all other such things, must be retained. Certainly holiness cannot grow if it is not retained.
But the gifts of grace are not only to be kept; they are to be used. A buried talent, though kept, does not please the Master. He requires the lawful interest on his investment. This is so fixed, that even in this life, we will lose if we do not use. What we have, or seem to have, shall be taken away,3 when we only horde it. A non-working holiness soon becomes a thing of utter weakness, or a thing of the past.
God has designed that each grace used has a law of increase about it. Pray, and prayer will become more natural and free—the vital breath of the soul. Speak for Jesus, and you will have more to say. Seek the salvation of the lost, and more will come across your pathway who need help. Be useful in the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom will have use for you. “Give, and it shall be given you” (Luke 6:38). Love, and you shall be loved. As you make room for Jesus in the chambers of the soul, more and more shall your house be established in righteousness.
Holy life gathers an avalanche of momentum with it, if its straightforward movement be maintained for a period of years. By and by no earthly obstacle seems to stand before it, and like “Paul, the aged,” you hear its song of triumph echoing from all earth’s plains, seas and mountains, and waving its banner over the sins and ailments of time, with all the evils and besetments, saying: “I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8).
This growth in holiness is secured both by retaining and using the grace given. This of course includes the use of the ordinary means of grace, both public and private. Do not err here and make a recluse of yourself, or think you have no use for God’s appointed means of grace that allies you with others. Great mistakes have been made along this line. Some have shut themselves up in walls and behind locks and bars to keep themselves away from the world God wanted them to be instrumental in saving. Some have done no better, withdrawing themselves from God’s organic kingdom around them, repeating, in this enlightened age of the world, the mistake of the old-time Catholics, who locked up holiness in monasteries. So we find people fighting God’s order for associating and combining His people in churches; and for the same reason they will renounce an ordained ministry and contemn 4 God’s necessary ordinances. All these are God’s helps, and in their proper place and order are incorporated into God’s methods of growth in holiness. So of prayer meetings, and all the legitimate appointments of public service in the house of God, and external activities by which we are identified and associated with others.
In another sense there is, in this matter of growth in holiness, a sphere which the outside world does not see so much of, nor can they know so much about it. It is inward trueness to God, loyalty to convictions, fidelity to the voice of God in the soul, personally and individually going on with Jesus; these mean more than can be written, to every honest soul. How these walks and talks with Jesus will lift up and encourage! How these soul struggles and victories will shed light on the pathway! How the Bible will gleam with new meaning! How meetings will blaze with new interest, shining in the reflected light of the place of private prayer, and quiet hours with the Bible! How Jesus will be found in the most quiet ways of life, where He was not thought of before, making the most common service a way of blessing and delight! Thus the inward life comes to have an enchanting interest about it, and its ongoing will be more charming than the most fascinating stories. Life itself begins to put on eternal bloom. The soul takes on the movement of the heavenly way, and loses its worldly motion! This inward approximation of spiritual likeness to God is the highest order of growth.
(Continued in Part 2)
- The text itself is public domain. The original book, How They Grow, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2011 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's How They Grow. ↩
- cockle: a kind of weed ↩
- The story of the buried talent is found in Matthew 25:14-30. Reid’s final sentence could be an allusion to Luke 8:18. ↩
- contemn: scorn, disdain, despise, treat with disregard. (Not to be confused with condemn.) ↩