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“How They Grow”: Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 16 in the series How They Grow

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Isaiah Reid

Not by works of righteousness which we have done…
—Titus 3:5—

Sanctification Not Obtained by Growth

People who are not in the experience of holiness are often hindered and defeated in obtaining the blessing by seeking it in some impossible way. Satan helps them in this, for so long as he can so deceive them, he hinders them from having the experience. One of the most plausible of these deceptions is that one who is not holy may become holy by “growth.”

Philosophically Incorrect

Growth is a law of life, but it is not life itself. Life must exist before it can be increased. Growth is not the living thing itself; it is the characteristic and by-product of the living thing. Growth also implies progress by degrees; it requires time for its processes.

It is therefore contrary to the laws and principles of growth for one to be sanctified wholly by the principle of growth, for it implies that the grace desired, by a law of increase can produce itself. People who seek a grace, do not have that grace. Those who expect to obtain the blessing of holiness do not already have it. They, therefore, hope to obtain it by growth. But for a thing that has no present existence to grow itself into existence is contrary to all reason and to all facts.

When a seed grows, it grows only the qualities it already possesses. It never produces anything new in kind. When a little oak tree grows, it multiplies only the qualities it possesses; it never grows anything but pure oak. A basswood tree may stand very close to it, and yet no fiber of it ever appears in the oak. A poison ivy may wind itself closely around the trunk, and still all the growth of the tree will be oak; it never grows a nature that it does not possess. Growth enlarges and multiplies that which belongs to it, but it has no power of creation. It can manufacture—that is, form out of existing material; but in no sense can it create —that is, make something out of nothing. This law of growth belongs to all that grows, to a man as well as a tree. No child truly born of a certain race can grow the characteristics of another race. No unsaved man can grow himself into Christian traits of character. He cannot grow out of sin. The Bible way is to be “born again,” which is to change the nature, not by an inside, but by an outside power. It is not by evolving some hidden, latent power in the soul that the soul of itself can climb into the realm of Christianity, or make itself a Christian, but by the employment of an agent outside of itself. That agent is God. For growth to give new features of nature not now in possession is Darwinism applied to Christianity. It is also the practical denial of the supernatural element in our holy religion. It is the deification of human nature and the denial of the need of the Divine in our salvation.

Qualities of nature must be created before they can grow. The acorn cannot start till it is first made. Nothing cannot produce something. Hoeing a jimson weed will never make a strawberry out of it. It is not in the power of the hoe to do that. In the human nature there is the old jimson weed of depravity that no hoe of culture, or growth, has ever been able to eradicate. Hoeing a hill of corn with a cockleburr in it hoes the burr at the same time the corn is hoed. The burr takes its part of the culture, and grows on, even when there is no culture, day and night. Growing the corn does not take out the weed. Growth is not the process by which we get rid of the trouble. There must be the application of an outside hand. The hill of corn cannot rid itself by growth of that which harms its life. Depravity cannot be cultured out.

This plan is philosophically wrong, because it proceeds on the principle that exercise makes a man holy, whereas no action can exist until there is something to act upon. Unholiness cannot act holy. Depravity cannot exercise into grace. A bitter fountain cannot send forth sweet water.2 A thistle cannot produce figs.3 A man trying to grow holy is like a man trying to lift himself over a fence by tugging at his boot straps. He works at a physical impossibility. That is why holiness is cleansing; the remedy for the sin nature cannot rely on the religious exercise, however well intentioned, of the sin nature. Stirring muddy water does not cleanse it. Exercising the faculty of anger does not remove it from the breast. Prodding a hornet’s nest does not quiet the enraged occupants. Working a broken limb is not a good way to cure it. A man in the last stages of consumption is not cured by forcing him to work. In all such things the theory of cure by exercise is unphilosophical.

From the above it ought to be plain that the plan itself is wrong. From the nature of the case, it seems unreasonable that any logical mind should advocate such a theory.

Theologically Incorrect

We have examined this subject from the philosophy of growth, and found that growth never changes the quality of things, its office being multiplication and enlargement of qualities already in possession. Next, we want to consider the matter from a theological standpoint.

In the natural theological order we claim that entire sanctification is not obtained by growth, because:

  1. No grace comes by the will or effort of man. It is of God. Sanctification is a high state of grace. To claim we can grow into a high state of grace is to claim we can also grow into any lower state of grace. If a converted man can grow into holiness, then a sinner can also grow into conversion. The statement proves to be too much, and so invalidates itself. No benefit of the Calvary purchase can be entered by any other method than the divine administration of the Holy Ghost.
  2. In every case, plant, animal, or man, growth can only be predicted of the individual organism. No one can grow for another. Growth is individual. Growth that exists outside of the individual is not the property of that individual. An elm and a cedar on the same lawn are samples of this; the growth of one is never the property of the other. We mean, that it is the individual that does the growing. Growing is, therefore, self effort. But the Bible tells us it is “the very God of peace” who sanctifies us wholly. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calls you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23,24). The theory then that makes us attain sanctification by growth, makes us sanctify ourselves. It, therefore, takes the matter out of God’s hands, and sanctification is no longer of grace, but an attainment of the human spirit, all of which is contrary to the Word of God.
  3. In all the steps of grace whereby we are saved, no one grace is the cause of any other grace. Conviction prepares the way for penitence, but conviction itself cannot produce penitence. Sorrow for and confession of sin do not pardon the sinner. Justification does not regenerate. Regeneration does not adopt one. Much less do any of these sanctify. In all cases there is a dual work. Man makes ready, and God efficaciously brings the thing into existence. “It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). It is God who sanctifies: “I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Exodus 31:13). Any grace in possession may be multiplied through human instrumentality, but none can be created thus. We are divinely put into these graces, and grow after we are in them. My hand, or foot, or eye, must first be born, then grow afterwards. It is idle to to talk about unholiness growing into holiness. It is as unreasonable and unscriptural to talk of a man growing a depraved nature out of him, as to try to grow the poison out of a poison ivy by hoeing it.
  4. It is admitted on all sides that growth is a principle of multiplication; it makes more of what there is on hand. In the case where one is supposed to grow into holiness, he logically puts himself into a situation where his depraved nature, which he proposes to remove by growth, will only be increased. By cultivating what he has, he will get more of the same kind.

Now the thing that needs to be done is not multiplication, but subtraction. A person needs the old nature taken away. It is a bad nature, too, and, like some weeds, chopping it up with the hoe of human effort only makes that many more plants. In fact, both based on the nature of the case, and based on theology also, man needs not an individual movement of himself, but a divine power outside of himself to efficaciously take away what he can’t grow away.

A Question

It has been asked, “If sanctification is begun in regeneration, then why may we not grow into entire sanctification as well as grow in any other grace?”


  1. As we have seen, we never grow into any grace, nor can any one grace produce another grace. All the graces of salvation are of supernatural origin. No one of them comes by the flesh, nor are they in any way self-evolved out of the elements or productions of the human spirit. No sanctification has its origin in growth. It is the “very God of peace” who accomplishes this work; that is, it is accomplished or wrought out by another, not grown out, and hence is the work of God. It is just as logical and scriptural to conclude that entire justification is a work of growth, as that entire sanctification is.
  2. It is not claimed in the growth of any of the other graces of the Spirit that growth in them adds any essential element that was lacking. It is only claimed that growth belongs to them in the way of enlargement, and wider adaptation, and training, and cultured skill. In all that enters into their essential composition and constitutes their nature, they are divinely created, and though susceptible to wonderful enlargement and increased measures of effectiveness, in no sense are they capable of functional change in the constituent elements of their characters. No new quality can be added by growth. These graces simply move in their respective spheres, but cannot change in their nature. A possible change in essential elements of their character would make way for changeableness in the identical character of the individual himself. Each element in the constitution of Christian character is a fixed quality. It remains the same. Adoption, or regeneration, or pardon, need no new element added by growth or any other process to complete them. They are fixed elements that, combined, make up the constitution of a redeemed character. They neither need, nor can they have, addition of any thing that would essentially change their nature, or alter their order or fixed place in their functional activity. If adoption could have some such addition by growth or otherwise that would add a new function to its working force, it would no longer be adoption, but adoption and something else combined. Entire sanctification obeys the same law of the redeemed soul. Sanctification is not justification mixed up with something else. It is not infant justification grown up into teens. It is not justification so grown up that it is no longer justification, and for want of a better name called sanctification. Justification is justification.
  3. That entire sanctification is not simply the growth of the new nature imparted in regeneration is evident from the nature of the case.
    1. It should never be forgotten that the “new nature” is not a new individual forming a separate identity. The new man, as to all that constitutes personal identity, is always the man that sinned. The saint is the identical man that sinned. The saint was once a sinner. Jesus did not come to create new men “that never had sinned and never could sin” in the place of sinners, as McKay4 erroneously teaches, but as the word of God teaches, He “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). It is the same will that before chose sin, that is regenerated and now chooses the service of God. It is the same heart that was desperately wicked that is now in love with what it before hated. It is the same tongue that before blasphemed that now blesses. The same feet that before hastened to evil, now take their way to the house of God. It is the same hands that once ministered in the tents of wickedness that now open and shut the doors of the Lord’s house. The new nature is always the regenerated sinner. In no sense is it to be understood that there is any separate individual, accountable and responsible in the new life, that was not in the sinner before the act of regeneration. It is the same conscience, will, intellect, and memory, the same consciousness, accountability, and responsibility, that in the new relationships are charged with the new stock in hand, which before made shipwreck of the previous proffered grace and endowment and equipment of human talents and opportunities. It is a fearful delusion to fall into the error of thinking that the old nature, the sinner that did the sinning, cannot be saved, and that in his place Jesus has to create “a new man that never has sinned, never can sin, is unchanged and un­change­able,”5 as it leaves the very man lost whom Jesus died to save. What matters it to me if Jesus would create a thousand other Isaiah Reids that have never sinned nor could sin? That does not affect my case; none of them would be me. I am the man that sinned and the man Jesus came to save, and He did save, too, bless His holy name. Jesus came not to save men that never had sinned; He came to save sinners. The new man is the same individual acting under a new order of things.
    2. It is then a character or nature that was a sinner, that had habits, and attachments, preferences, choices, loves, likes, and dislikes that becomes the subject of consideration. It is not the case of one who had never sinned, and formed no fixed habits. He has rather accustomed himself to sin. There are already set ways he has of acting. There is a bad “want to” in his deepest disposition. There is both a sinful character and a sinful habit already formed, when the soul gets under conviction. This habit, this way of acting, this “ratherness” to do what it has been doing, this deepest disposition of the being, is the thing that persists in having its way after the regenerated soul has changed masters and service. Ishmael is older than Isaac and wants his way. Isaac is in his place, but Ishmael hinders him and makes trouble. The trouble is not because Isaac is wrong, but because Ishmael is in the same house, and he was there before Isaac was and does not like the intruder. So, the sinful habits in the character, its modes of thought, the things learned, the way it acted before the conversion, this “old man,” is in the way of the new man. We are liable after conversion to the old sins that took the strongest hold of us, and also our old habits help or hinder us according as they are good or bad. Take the habit of foolish jesting, for example, or the mind that has formed a vulgar habit and has been accustomed to turn conversation in that direction; or the habit of profanity. With the memory full of a thousand such things, even though there be forgiveness and regeneration, how often these come up, even in most sacred places, to break in with interruptions, suggestions, and interference. It is not of the spirit and impulse of the new man, but because of his relation to the old man it cannot be different. The trouble is not because the new man is not right, but because of the relations.

We hope you can now see the reason why the new nature, which has no bad element in it, cannot by growth rid itself of that which adheres to it, or clings about it, or pervades it more or less with its atmosphere. The oak by growing does not rid itself of the poison ivy which clings about it. The ship by sailing cannot rid itself of the barnacles that cling to it and impede it progress. The carnality that affects the regenerate soul is not of the essential elements of its character; but it is in us like vermin are in a home. The vermin have no right there, but they were there when we moved in, and they mean to stay there. They are not of the house, and yet they are in the house. It suits them, if the house be enlarged, to occupy the new quarters as well as the old. They are not wanted, yet they are there. They are of no use to the house, and yet in it; not welcome, but unwilling to go; not content unless annoying, disturbing, and harassing the occupants. The fact of our moving in does not drive them out. In like manner, the graces imparted in regeneration (like “moving in”) cannot grow themselves out of their surroundings and secure deliverance from indwelling sin (the resident vermin). The indwelling sin, like the indwelling vermin, is not an essential part of our “house,” yet it plagues us.

As we have seen, growth only multiplies or enlarges its own essential qualities. The carnal mind does not belong to the regenerate character. It is like the poison ivy around the oak, not affected at all by the oak’s enlargement, but rather taking advantage of the oak’s extra length of limb to extend its poisonous possessions. So growth cannot be the remedy for getting free of the poisonous attachment. In the same way, growth does not destroy carnality. To the contrary, carnality follows up and takes advantage of our increased advancement. Carnality itself has a law of growth. Ishmael grows as well as Isaac. It is possible, therefore, at the end of forty years for a man who is trying to make the port (sanctification) by the way of growth to be farther from the point than when he first began. The point at which most of the Israelites who rebelled at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 14) fell in the wilderness was farther from the border than was the place of rebellion.

(Continued in Part 3)



  1. 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.
  2. The allusion is to James 3:11.
  3. Here is another allusion, this time to the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:16.
  4. Little has been discovered at this point about McKay.
  5. Most likely another quote from McKay.
Series Navigation<< “How They Grow”: Part 1“How They Grow”: Part 3 >>
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