a new starting-point on a higher plane.”2
There are various degrees of impurity, but, strictly speaking, there are no degrees of purity. According to Webster, the word “pure” means: “entire separation from all heterogeneous and extraneous matter, clear, free from mixture; as pure water, pure air, pure silver or gold.” The word in the New Testament which is most frequently translated “pure” occurs in some of its forms nearly seventy times. We may get at the idea the word was meant to convey by noting how the original is used. It is used
- of the body, not smeared with paint or ointment;
- of an army rid of its sick and ineffective;
- of wheat, when all the chaff has been winnowed away;
- of vines without excrescences;3
- of gold without alloy.
The idea is that that which is pure consists of one thing; it is uncompounded, without mixture or adulteration. It has all that belongs to it and nothing else. Gold that is free from alloy, unmixed with any baser metal, we call pure gold; milk that contains all that belongs to milk, and nothing else, is pure milk; honey that is without wax is pure honey.
In like manner, a pure heart contains nothing adverse to God. Where there is mixture there cannot be purity. By purity of heart we mean that which is undefiled, untainted, free from evil stains, without earthly alloy. It is holiness unmixed with selfishness and pride, or any other polluting and debasing element. When this supernatural and divine work is wrought within us by the Holy Spirit, all the chaff, refuse, and dross are purged away and sifted out of the soul, and the precious residuum4 is the genuine, the true, the pure, and the good. Then the eye is single and the whole body is full of light [Luke 11:34-36]. The graces exist in an unmixed state. Love exists without any germs of hatred, faith without any unbelief, humility without pride, meekness without any anger. “Purity of heart is the removal of whatever God could not admit into His immediate presence, and fellowship with Himself; in other words, the abolition of sin itself.”5
By maturity, we mean all this, and much more. The error of confusing purity of heart with maturity of Christian character lies at the base of nearly all the objections made to instantaneous and entire sanctification. Identifying and confounding these have occasioned most of the difficulties we find among Christians in reference to this doctrine. The scriptures always discriminate between purity of heart and the ripeness and fulness of Christian virtues. The one is a work wrought within us in a moment by the omnipotent power of the sanctifying Spirit; the other is a natural process involving culture and discipline. Purity has reference to kind or quality, but maturity has respect to degree or quantity. In 2 Corinthians vii. 1, the difference is clearly taught between holiness as a complete and immediate deliverance from all sin, and the seemingly paradoxical doctrine of progressive holiness. Holiness is both a gift and a process, and as such it is both instantaneous and gradual, as this Scripture recognises and explains:
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit; perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
By the “flesh” we understand the lower animal nature which we have in common with the brute creation. The “spirit” is the higher, nobler nature, designed to be the temple of God in man. The expression “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” embraces the whole of those evil propensities of our nature which would lead us to any kind of inordinate sensual indulgence, and all evil tempers, such as pride, envy, self-will, malice, uncharitableness, etc. It is that carnal and fleshly-mindedness of the heart which inheres to our fallen nature, the inward fountain, which we have already described, from which actual sins in the life have their rise. The phrase includes the whole of sin in man, the depraved nature in its entirety. Had the word “all” been omitted, we should have been puzzled to know from how much sin we may be saved, and from how much we may not be saved. But this word covers the whole ground; the remedy extends to the last remains of sin.
As to when this deliverance may take place, the verb “cleanse” is in the aorist tense, which denotes that it is an instantaneous work. According to the best New Testament grammarians, we have no English tense exactly like the aorist in the Greek. It denotes a single momentary and decisive act, in opposition to a continuous and never-completed work. Hence says Dr. Beet:6 “It is worthy of notice that in the New Testament we never read expressly and unmistakably of sanctification as a gradual process.” We grasp by faith the sin-consuming power which sweeps the heart clean at a stroke.
Cleansing is spoken of here as a human work, because it is by faith we appropriate the purifying power. On God’s part all is done. The atonement is complete, the provisions ample. Christ’s great work was restorative as well as atoning. Through the shedding of His blood He has procured for us cleansing as well as forgiveness. This is the teaching of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews:
By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all.
What is meant is that through His atoning work Christ has procured or purchased complete deliverance from sin for us, exactly as He has made forgiveness possible to us. It is the will of God that we should be sanctified in the same way as we are justified “through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all.” Provision is made for our sanctification as fully as for our justification. The human work in entire cleansing is to appropriate the salvation Christ has purchased and promised. The promises are the means and instruments of our cleansing. In order to cleanse a filthy garment, the fuller7 uses nitre8 and soap — both the fuller and the soap are cleansers. So exactly is it with salvation—it is both a divine and human work. God provides the salvation, and we cleanse our souls by believing the promises.
But by believing Thee
And waiting for Thy blood to impart
The spotless purity.9
But while the doctrine of instantaneous cleansing is undoubtedly taught by this text,10 the doctrine of progressive holiness is also taught. Being purged from all iniquity is one thing; a symmetrical, well-proportioned, and fully-developed Christian life is another. There can be no increase of purity, but there may be an eternal increase in love, and in all the fruits of the Spirit. After cleansing, our ceaseless prayerful effort must be to gain more knowledge, robuster virtue, deeper sanctity, and every other form of spiritual excellence. This is what is implied by “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” The word “perfecting” is defined in Baxter’s Greek Testament Lexicon thus: “to carry into practice, to realise,” which means that the perfect inward cleansing instantaneously wrought by the Holy Spirit is to be constantly and progressively carried outward into all the acts of daily life. As knowledge increases and conscience is cultivated, there will be quickened sensibilities and more accurate perceptions of duty, which will lead to constant increase of moral beauty and all the fruits of righteousness, until we “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” [Colossians 4:12].
It may not be generally known that the word “health” and the word “holy” come from the same root. Perfect health is the absence of disease; perfect holiness is the absence of sin. Christian purity brings finality to nothing but inbred sin. It is the soul restored to perfect health, but it is not perfect development. A babe may be perfectly healthy, but there is a vast difference between childhood and manhood. There are “babes,” “young men,” and “men of full age” in a state of entire sanctification. Purity expels disease from the soul; maturity builds up the soul in vigour and beauty. The one is the field cleared of noxious weeds; the other is the ripe, waving harvest. Purity is the best preparation for growth, but it is not the consummation of growth. A steady and constant growth in grace is the ideal in Christian life. But to secure this there must be a pure moral soil such as results from entire cleansing. “The heart may be cleansed from all sin,” says Bishop Hamline,11 “while our graces are immature, and entire cleansing is the best preparation for their unembarrassed and rapid growth.” We must seek a clean heart first, and look for maturity in the order of Divine appointment.
A friend of mine was once conversing with a good man and a leader in the Church on this important subject, when the man said to him, “I would just as soon believe that my son could go to school tomorrow morning without knowing a figure in arithmetic, and come home at night a complete mathematician, as I could believe that any man could in a day become a perfectly matured Christian.”
My friend replied, “You are confounding things that differ; I am speaking of one thing, and you of another. Suppose,” he said, “your son, with no knowledge of arithmetic, were to go to school tomorrow, and that he were put into simple addition, and that at the end of the month, and of the year, and at the end of two or three years, he were in simple addition still, what would you say to that?”
“Why,” said he, “I should say there was something wrong in the boy, or in his teacher, or both.”
“Exactly,” replied my friend, “that is just what I want you to see, that if we do not grow in grace, if we are always in a state of spiritual babyhood instead of advancing to manhood, it is because there is something wrong that needs removing.”
That “something” is inbred or heart sin.
Purity is not the goal of Christian life, but rather a new starting-point on a higher plane. In conversion, all the graces of the Spirit are implanted within the soul, but they exist in germ only; they are not developed. So long as sin remains within us, not only are the graces of the Spirit within, but their opposites are there also, which are like weeds about the root of a plant impeding its growth. No grace of the Spirit can be helped in its development by the presence of its opposite. A little unbelief cannot help, but must hinder the growth of our faith, a little pride will have the same effect on our humility. To one who thought that we needed a little sin in our hearts to keep us humble, we ventured to suggest, “Why not have a great deal, and be perfectly humble if there be reason in that?” Proclivities towards sin cannot help a soul into conformity to God. Just as a child, who has an organic disease, grows very slowly and unevenly, if at all, so a Christian who has not been entirely sanctified grows very irregularly. There must be perfect health before there can be real and vigorous growth. Sin in the heart makes us like a child that is sickly, or a tree with a worm at the root.
Some hope by cultivating the graces of the Spirit to grow into purity, which is like a man cultivating the vegetables in his garden to grow the weeds out from about the roots of the plants. Common sense says, “Pluck up the weeds and give the plants a fair chance of growth and development.” This is the Divine method. God cleanses the heart from inbred sin, after which growth is more rapid and symmetrical; advancement in knowledge, the love of God, and every kind of grace, become possible then as never before. Purity of heart is not so much the enlargement and increase of the graces, as the plucking up of the weeds of inbred sin, which obstruct their growth. Maturity is the result of experience, trial, and conflict; it is a natural, gradual process of development, which requires time. But purity is by faith, and therefore a present and instantaneous experience. There may be preparations for it, and approaches to it, but there is a moment when the work is done.
Says Dr. Adam Clarke:
We are to come to God for an instantaneous and complete purification from all sin, as for instantaneous pardon.12 In no part of the Scriptures are we directed to seek the remission of our sins seriatim13—one now and another then, and so on.14 Neither a gradation pardon or a gradation purification exists in the Bible15….For, as the work of renewing and cleansing the heart is the work of God, His Almighty power can perform it in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.16
But only as a complete deliverance from sin is holiness a present possibility. A mother is not content that her child should be in perfect health; she longs that it may grow to perfect maturity. So deliverance from sin is but the stepping-stone, the vestibule and threshold of the higher life. Though a blessed and glorious state, yet when compared with the breadth and length and depth and height to which the soul may attain through the rich and abundant grace of God, it is not a really high state of spiritual attainment. None are so eager for spiritual advancement as those who are entirely sanctified. Like the racer who strains every nerve and muscle eager for the prize, they are always “reaching forth unto those things which are before” [Philippians 3:13]. Their ideal is never reached, because the higher they climb the more the horizon enlarges to the view. The more God is known and loved, the more the soul follows “hard after Him” [Psalm 63:8]. “The path of the just is as a shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” [Proverbs 4:18]. And even when the “Perfect Day” has come, there will be continual progression in knowledge, love, and conformity to the image of the Lord Jesus, as the beauties of the God-man are unfolded before our enraptured vision.
- Annotations by Jim Kerwin, and are copyrighted along with his other contributions to the print and e-book versions of New Testament Holiness. ↩
- Graphic created by Jim Kerwin using a 2014 photo by Denise Kerwin of a Caribbean sunrise. ↩
- excrescence: as noted previously, an abnormal projection or outgrowth; a disfiguring blot; an extraneous or unwanted mark ↩
- residuum: a Latin word meaning ‘residue' ↩
- At first glance, these words would appear to come from Rev. John Hartley in his Chapters on Holiness: Expository and Practical (London: The Methodist Book-Room (1883)), p. 37. But on closer inspection, Hartley himself is quoting another source, to wit, a review appearing in The London Quarterly Review, Vol LVII (“published in October 1881 and January 1882,” London: T. Woolmer, 1882). The review is of Von Dr. F.A. Philippi's Die Vollendung der Gottesgemeinschaft (The Consummation of Fellowship with God). I present the citation on page 448, from the anonymous reviewer, in its larger, very instructive context:
Our author rightly interprets purity of heart in its deepest sense as the removal of whatever God could not admit into His immediate presence and fellowship with Himself: in other words, the abolition of sin itself. The tendency even among those who speak most earnestly about entire sanctification is to forget this and to limit their views of Christian perfection to a state of entire consecration and perfect devotion and love to God. There are seasons when the heart is conscious of nothing contrary; this consciousness may continue long in its undimmed joy; and it may become, indeed, the predominant and ruling state of the soul; while yet the latent sin may be there and lying in wait. The extinction of sin is something deeper than all this. …our author insists on the direct miracle of God's power being as signally witnessed in the destruction of sin as in our regeneration. This is a most important truth, and one that equally needs to be impressed upon Christian teachers. As regeneration is a Divine act, imparting the life of the Son of God to the spirit prepared for it, so the perfect death of sin is a Divine act, the act of the same Spirit who alone can kill and make alive in this sense. Christians may be called upon to purify themselves, and consecrate themselves, and crucify the body of sin, and kill its individual members; but the final death of the old man in him must be a Divine operation. ↩
- Joseph Agar Beet was a Methodist theologian best remembered for some of his commentaries on Paul’s epistles. ↩
- fuller: a fuller was a person whose occupation was to full cloth, that is, to cleanse and thicken new cloth by various processes. (See next note.) ↩
- nitre or niter: potassium nitrate, a strong oxidizer ↩
- From Charles Wesley's hymn Father, I Dare Believe ↩
- That is, 2 Corinthians 7:1, the verse under consideration. ↩
- Leonidas L. Hamline was a 19th Century bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. ↩
- All the sentences in this paragraph come from Clarke's Christian Theology, this first quote appearing in chapter 12, “Entire Sanctification.” ↩
- seriatim: a Latin word meaning ‘in a series’ ↩
- From Christian Theology, chapter 9 on “Justification.” ↩
- Also from the “Entire Sanctification” chapter, immediately following the first sentence in this extended quote. In the original, this sentence actually reads, “Neither the seriatim pardon, nor the gradatim purification, exists in the Bible.” ↩
- This final sentence is found in the penultimate paragraph of chapter 12, “Entire Sanctification.” ↩