|This is the will of God, even your sanctification.| -- I THESS. iv.3.
|As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy.'| -- I PET. i.15, 16.
|Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God. . . . By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.| -- HEB. x.9, 10.
OUR discussion of the will of God landed us -- perhaps in rather an unforeseen way -- in the great subject of sanctification. You may remember that we made this discovery, that the end of sanctification, in the sense of consecration, is to do the will of God, and that the proof was based on these words: |Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, and be not conformed to this world.| Why? |That ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.| We are to present ourselves to God, not because it is a pleasant and luxurious thing to live in the state of consecration, but to do the will of God. Or, to sum this up in a single sentence, it might read: |This is sanctification, even to prove the will of God.|
But our text to-day is apparently the very opposite of this. |This is the will of God, even your sanctification.| Then it looked as if sanctification was in order to the will of God; now it looks as if the will of God was in order to sanctification.
It is evident, therefore, that there is still something in this part of the subject which demands a clearance. And in order to gain this it will be necessary to present the other side of the same question, and complete the view of the subject of holiness itself.
There are in the Bible two great meanings to the word sanctification. The first may be roughly called the Old Testament word. The second is identified, but not exclusively, with the New. The Old Testament meaning had this peculiarity, that it did not necessarily imply any inward change in the heart sanctified. In fact, it was not even necessarily applied to hearts at all, but to things. A field could be sanctified, a house could be sanctified, an altar, a tabernacle, gold and silver vessels, the garments of the priest, the cities of refuge. Anything, in short, that was set apart for sacred use was said to be sanctified. But the New Testament word had a deeper meaning. It meant not only outward consecration, but inward holiness. It meant an internal purification of the heart from all uncleanness, and an enduing it with the mind of Christ. It was not a mere separation like the first, but a visitation -- a separation from the lower world, and a visitation from the higher, the coming in of God's Spirit from above with a principle of holiness that was to work an inward likeness to the character of God.
The practical object of the first process is mainly to put the thing in position where God can use it. A golden candlestick was sanctified, so that it might be of some use to God. A house was sanctified, so that it might be exclusively His -- to do what He liked with. In like manner a man is consecrated -- that God may use him. It is the process by which he is got into position for God. And all that sanctification does for him, in the first sense of the word, is so to put him in position that he shall always be within reach of God -- that he shall do what God likes, do, that is to say, what God wills.
But there is something more in sanctification than man's merely being a tool in the hands of God. If there were not, automatons could do the work far better than men. They would never oppose God's will, and they would always be in position. But God's will has a reaction upon the instruments whom He employs. God's will does not stop with His will, as it were. It recoils back upon the person using it, and benefits him. If the instrument is a sanctified cup, or a sanctified house, it does not recoil back, and make an internal change in them; but if it is a person who does God's will, God's will is not only done, but the person or doer is affected. God never keeps anything all to Himself. He who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, does He not with Him also freely give us all things? His Son is for us, His love is for us, His will is for us. How do we know that it is for us? Because this is the will of God, even your sanctification. Whatever else may be involved in it, this is in it; whatever else He may get from it, this is something which you get, your sanctification. |By the which will,| as Hebrews says, |we are sanctified.| |This is My will, not My gain, but yours; not My eternal advantage, but yours; not My holiness, but your sanctification.'| Do you think God wants your body when He asks you to present it to Him? Do you think it is for His sake that He asks it, that He might be enriched by it? God could make a thousand better with a breath. It is for your sake He asks it. He wants your gift to give you His gift -- your gift which was just in the way of His gift. He wants your will out of the way, to make room for His will. You give everything to God. God gives it all back again, and more. You present your body a living sacrifice that you may prove God's will. You shall prove it by getting back your body -- a glorified body. You lose the world that you may prove God's will. God's will is that you shall gain heaven. This is the will of God, therefore, that you should gain heaven. Or this is the will of God that you should gain holiness, for holiness is heaven. Or this is the will of God, even your sanctification.
To sum up these facts, then, we find that they shape themselves into these two propositions: --
1. That our sanctification, or, more strictly, our consecration, is in order to the will of God, |to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.|
2. That this reacts upon ourselves -- a conspicuous part of God's will being that we should be personally holy. |This is the will of God, even your sanctification.|
The first of these has already been discussed, and now the question comes to be how we can best fulfil this conspicuous part of the will of God and become holy ourselves. It is God's will for all of us that we should become holy. How are we to become holy?
We have probably asked this question many times already in our life. We have thought, and read, and prayed about it, and perhaps have never yet reached the conclusion how indeed we are to become holy. Perhaps the question has long ago assumed another and evasive form with us, |When are we going to become holy?| or perhaps a hopeless form, |How ever are we to become holy?|
Now the real way out of the difficulty is to ask a deeper question still: |Why do I want to be holy?| All the great difficulties of religion are centred round our motives. Impurities in a spiritual stream generally mean impurities at the spiritual source. And all fertility or barrenness of soul depends upon which source supplies the streams of the desires. Our difficulties about becoming holy, therefore, most likely lie in our reasons for wanting to become holy. For if you grant the true motive to holiness, you need no definition of holiness. True holiness lies in touching the true motive. We shall get nearer the true roots of holiness, therefore, if we spend a little time over the root-question: |Why do I want to be holy?|
1. The first thing which started some of us to search for a better life, perhaps, was Infection. We caught an infection for a better life from some one we knew. We were idling our own way through life, when some one crossed our path -- some one with high aims and great enthusiasms. We were taken with the principles on which that life was lived. Its noble purpose charmed us: its disregard of the petty troubles and cares of life astonished us. We felt unaccountably interested in it. There was a romance in its earnestness and self-denial that captivated us, and we thought we should like to take down our own life, and put it together again on this new plan. So we got our first motive to holiness.
Now this was not a wrong motive -- it was only an imperfect one. It answered its purpose -- so far. For God takes strange ways to start a man's religion. There is nothing more remarkable in the history of conversion, for instance, than the infinite diversity of answers to this question: |What made you first think about your soul?| God does take strange ways to start a man for heaven. The way home is sometimes shown him by an unexpected finger-post; and from a motive so unworthy that he dare not tell it in after-life, there comes to many a man his first impulse toward God. And long after he has begun to run the Christian race, God may try to hasten his lagging steps by the spur of a motive as far beneath an heir of heaven as his spiritual life is beneath what it ought to be.
But the principle to be noted through it all is this, that the motives which God allows us to start on are not the ones we are to live on. It may be adversity in business that gives us a fresh start. It may be affliction, or ambition, or church-pride, or a thousand things. But such an impulse cannot last, and it cannot carry us far. And there must come a time to exchange it for a higher one if we would grow in grace, or move onward into a holier life. A man's motive must grow, if grace would grow. And many a man has to live on old grace, because he lives on an old motive. God let us begin with a lower one, and then when He gave us more grace, it was that we might get a higher one; but we spent the grace on something else, and our motive is no higher than before. So, although we got a start in religion, we were little the better for it, and our whole life has stood still for want of a strong enough motive to go on.
2. But it was not necessary that we should have caught our infection from a friend. There is another great source of infection, and some of us are breathing its atmosphere every day -- books. We may have got our motives to be good from a book. We found in works on ethics, and in all great poets, and even perhaps in some novels, that the highest aim of life was to be true and pure and good. We found modern literature ringing with the praises of virtue. By-and-by we began to respect it, then to admire it, then to wish for it. Thus we caught the enthusiasm for purity which has changed our whole lives, in a way, and given us a chief motive to religion.
Well, we must thank God for having given us a start, anyhow. It is something to have begun. It is a great thing to have an enthusiasm to be true and pure and good. Nor will the Bible ever be jealous of any lesser book which God may use to stir men up to a better life. But all lesser books sin and come short. And the greatest motives of the greatest of the lesser books fall as far short of the glory of God as those who live only by the enthusiasms which are kindled on the altar of modern literature fall short of the life and mind of Christ. God may give these motives to a man to start with. If he will not look into God's Book for them, God may see fit to put something remotely like them into men's books. Jesus Christ used to come to men just where they were. There is no place on earth so dark that the light of heaven will not come to it; and there is no spot of earth where God may not choose to raise a monument of His love. There is always room anywhere in the world for a holy thought. It may come to a man on the roadside, as to Paul; or in the fork of a sycamore tree, as to Zaccheus. It may come to him at his boats, as to Peter; or at his Bible, as to the Eunuch. But, whether it come at the boats, or whether it come at the Bible, whatever is good is God's; and men may be thankful that the Giver of all good has peopled the whole earth and air and sky with thoughts of His glory, and filled the world with voices which call men near to Him. At the same time, it must be understood again that the initial motives are never meant to continue us far on the road to God. As a matter of fact, they never can continue us, and if a man does not get higher ones, his religion must, and his morality may, come to a bitter end. The melancholy proof occurs to every one in a moment, that those who inspire us with these almost Divine enthusiasms are, and have been, many of them, degraded men and women themselves. For if a man's motives to goodness are not higher than the enthusiasms of his own higher nature, the chances are that the appeals of his lower nature, in time, will either curb or degrade them.
The true motive to holiness, then, is not to be caught from books.
3. In the next place, some of us, perhaps, were induced to aim at a better life from prudential motives, or from fear.
We had read in the Bible a very startling sentence -- |Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.| Now we wished to see God. And we found the Bible full of commands to keep God's law. So, with fear and trembling, we began to try. Its strictness was a continual stimulus to us. We were kept watching and praying. We lived in an atmosphere of fear, lest we should break it. No doubt this has done good -- great good. Like the others, it was not a bad motive -- only an imperfect one. But, like the others, it will have to be exchanged for a higher one, if true progress in holy living is to be made.
4. Then some of us found another motive in gratitude. The great love of God in Christ had come home to us with a peculiar power. We felt the greatness of His sacrifice for us, of His forgiveness of us. And we would try to return His love. So we set our hearts with a gracious purpose towards God. Our life and conversation should be becoming the Gospel of Christ. We would do for His sake what we would never do for our own sake. But even a noble impulse like this has failed to fulfil our heart's desire, and even our generosity has left us little nearer God.
5. And. lastly, there is this other thought which has sometimes helped us onward for a time -- a feeling which comes over us at Communion times, at revival times, which Christian workers feel at all times: |Here are we surrounded by great privileges -- singled out from the world for God's peculiar care. God comes very close to us; the very ground is holy oftentimes. What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness? How different we ought to be from all the people around! How much more separate from every appearance of evil! How softly we should walk, who bear the vessels of the Lord!|
Now some of these motives are very beautiful. They are the gifts of God. Doubtless many have attained to a certain measure of holiness by employing them. And they have at least awakened in us some longings after God. But they are all deficient, and hopelessly inadequate to carry on what sometimes they so hopefully begin.
And they are deficient in these three ways: --
1. They are unscriptural -- rather, they do not convey the full scriptural truth.
2. They are inadequate to produce more than a small degree of holiness.
3. They never produce the true quality of holiness.
If we have not yet had higher motives than these, then it follows that our spiritual life is being laid down upon principles which can never in the nature of things yield the results we had hoped and waited for.
We have been wondering why our growth in grace has been so small -- so small, indeed, that sometimes it has almost seemed to cease. And as we look into our hearts, we find this one reason, at least -- perhaps the great one -- that our motive is incomplete.
Now, the weakness of the old motive, apart from the error of it, consisted in this: in the first place it wanted authority; in the second, it proposed no standard. As regards the first, there was no reason why one should strive to be better. It was left to one's own discretion. Our friend said it, or our favourite author, and the obligation rose or fell with the nearness or remoteness of their influence. And as regards the standard, our friend or our favourite author's favourite hero was but a poor model at the best, for only a most imperfect spiritual beauty can ever be copied from anything made of clay.
Well, then, what is the right motive to holiness of life? We have been dealing with ordinary motives hitherto; now we must come to extraordinary ones. Holiness is one of the most extraordinary things in life, and it demands the noblest motives, the noblest impulses, or none. Now we shall see how God has satisfied this demand of our nature for an extraordinary motive to this extraordinary thing, holiness -- satisfied it so completely, that the soul, when it finds it out, need never feel unsatisfied again. God's motive to holiness is, |Be ye holy, for I am holy.|
It is a startling thing when the voice of God comes close to us and whispers, |Be ye holy|; but when the question returns from our lips, |Why should we be holy?| it is a more solemn thing to get this answer, |For I am holy.| This is God's motive to holiness -- |For I am holy.| Be ye holy: here is its authority -- its Divine obligation. For I am holy -- here is its Divine motive.
Be ye holy. Think of the greatness of the obligation. Long ago, when we began the Christian life, we heard a voice, |Be ye holy.| Perhaps, as we have seen, it was an infectious voice, the voice of a friend. Perhaps it was an inspiring voice, the voice of poetry and literature. Perhaps it was a warning voice, the voice of the law. But it was not a commanding voice -- the voice of God. And the reason was, perhaps, that we were not thinking of the voice: we were thinking of the |holy.| We had caught sight of a new and beautiful object -- something which seemed full of promise, which was to consecrate even the common hours of our life. The religious world seemed bright to us then, and the books and the men were dear that would help us to reach out our hands to this. It was something new that had come into our life -- this fascination of holiness. Had we been asked about the voice which said, |Be ye holy,| we should indeed have said it was God's. But, in truth, it was only our own voice, which had caught some far-off echoes from our reading, or our thinking, or our friends. There was no authority in the voice, therefore, and it rested with our own poor wills whether we should grow in holiness or not. Sometimes our will was strong, and we were better men and women then than ever in our lives before; but there were intervals when we listened to another voice, |Be ye prosperous,| or |Be ye happy,| and then we lost all we had gained.
But with the Divine obligation before us, it is no longer optional that we should be holy. We must be holy. And then see how the motive to holiness is attached to the obligation to holiness -- the motive for holiness: |For I am holy.| The motive accounts for the obligation. God's one desire for the whole earth is that it should be holy -- just because He is holy. And the best He can do with men is to make them like Himself. The whole earth is His and He would have it all in harmony with Him. God has a right to demand that we should be holy -- that every one should be holy, and everything, just because He is holy Himself. To take even the lowest ground, we allow no ornaments in our house that are not lovely and pleasant to the eye. We have no business to cumber God's earth with ourselves if we are not holy -- no business to live in the same world with Him. We are an offence to God -- discordant notes in the music of the universe.
But God lays this high obligation upon us for our own sake. For this we were made. For this we were born in a Christian land. For this, strange things have happened in our lives -- strange pieces of discipline have disturbed their quiet flow, strange troubles, strange providences, strange chastenings. There is no other explanation of the mystery of our life than this, that God would have us holy. At any cost God will have us holy. Whatever else we may be, this one thing we must be. This is the will of God, even our sanctification. It is not necessary that we should be prosperous or famous, or happy. But it is necessary that we should be holy; and the deepest moments of our lives give us glimpses sometimes of a more tender reason still why God says, |Be ye holy| -- it is for our own sakes: because it would be hell to be unholy.
There is now only one thing wanting in our new motive to holiness. We have discovered the sources of its obligation far up in the counsels of God, and deep down in the weakness of our own nature. We have found holiness to be an absolutely necessary virtue -- to live without which is to contradict our Maker. But we have not yet looked at its quality. The thing we are to pursue so ardently -- what is it? How are we to shape it to ourselves when we think of it? Is there any plain definition of it -- any form which could be easily stated and easily followed. It may be very easily stated. It is for those who have tried it to say whether it be easily followed. Be ye holy, as He is holy. As He is holy, as He who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy. This is the form of holiness we are asked to aim at. This is the standard, God's commentary on the motive, |As He. . . . so ye.| Ponder for a moment the difference between these pronouns. He -- Ye. He who hath called you -- Jesus Christ. He who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. He who when He was reviled, reviled not again, when He suffered, He threatened not. He who was without spot or blemish, in whom even His enemies found no fault.
Ye the fallen children of a fallen race. Ye with hearts deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Ye are to become as He. The two pronouns are to approach one another. The crucifiers are to work their way up to the crucified. Ye are to become as He. Here is a motive as high as the holiness of God. It makes us feel as if we had our life-work before us still. We have scarcely even begun to be like God -- for we began perhaps with no higher motive than to be like some one else -- not like God at all. But the little betterness that we get from books, the chance impulses that come from other lives, have never fulfilled in us the will of God -- could never sanctify such hearts as ours and make ye become as He.
No doubt a great deal of human good is possible to man before he touches the character of Christ. High human motives and human aims may make a noble human life. But they never make a holy life. A holy life is a life like Christ's. And whatever may be got from the lower motives to a better life, one thing must necessarily be absent from them all -- the life like Christ's, or rather, the spirit like Christ's. For the life like Christ's can only come from Christ; and the spirit of Christ can only be caught from Christ.
Hence, therefore. we come at Last to the profound meaning of another text which stands alone in the Word of God and forms the only true climax to such a subject as this.
|Lo I come to do Thy will, O God,| the author of the Hebrews quotes from David, and goes on to add, |By the which will we are sanctified.| Christ came to do God's will, by the which will we are sanctified. This is the will of God, even your sanctification. But the writer of the Hebrews adds another lesson: |By the which will we are sanctified.| How? |Through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.| Our sanctification is not in books, or in noble enthusiasm, or in personal struggles after a better life. It is in the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Justification is through the blood of Jesus Christ once for all. Sanctification is through the body of Jesus Christ once for all. It is not a thing to be generated, but to be received. It is not to be generated in fragments of experience at one time and another -- it is already complete in Christ. We have only to put on Christ. And though it may take a lifetime of experience to make it ours, the sanctification, whenever it come, can only come from Christ, and if we ever are sanctified it will only be because, and inasmuch as we have Christ. Our sanctification is not what morality gives, not even what the Bible gives, not even what Christ gives, it is what Christ lives. It is Christ Himself.
The reason why we resort so much to lower impulses to a Christian life is imperfect union with Christ. We take our doctrines from the Bible and our assurance from Christ. But for want of the living bright reality of His presence in our hearts we search the world all round for impulses. We search religious books for impulses, and tracts and sermons, but in vain. They are not there. |I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.| |Christ is all and in all.| The beginning of all things is in the will of God. The end of all things is in sanctification through faith in Jesus Christ. |By the which will ye are sanctified.| Between these two poles all spiritual life and Christian experience run. And no motive outside Christ can lead a man to Christ. If your motive to holiness is not as high as Christ it cannot make you rise to Christ. For water cannot rise above its level. |Beware, therefore, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him which is the head of all principality and power| (2 Col. viii.10). |Who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption| (1 Cor. i.30). |As ye have therefore received the Lord Jesus, so walk ye in Him.|