The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 9 - SANCTIFICATION

Chapter Nine - SANCTIFICATION.

WE have thus seen how a sinner is once and for ever justified, when he believes in Christ, and stands thenceforth righteous before God, beyond every demand of law and every charge of sin. We have seen further how.the personal moral quality which is akin to such a standing, pertains to the new creation in which the believer has his place. And, in conclusion, we have noticed how practical conformity to that standing, and cultivation of that quality, are characteristic of true Christian life. All this, moreover, springs from, and rests upon the truth that God is righteous.

But God is not only righteous, He is also holy; and every requirement of righteousness has its correlative claim in regard to holiness. Sin not only brings the sinner before the judgment seat, it excludes him from the sanctuary. He is not only guilty, but defiled. And though faith accepts the blessings that are ours in Christ, and humbly takes the place they give, and the heart presses forward to the day of full redemption, when the redeemed shall be presented faultless before God; yet, sure and full though the blessing be, and bright and clear the hope, the sad stern facts around us and within are no less real. Sinners in a world of sin, though justified and born of God, and on our way to certain glory how can we pray and serve and worship, here on earth, for God is holy? It is not a question, now, of our place in Christ at God's right hand, nor yet of a new nature by virtue of a new birth from heaven. It is what we know ourselves to be as we walk the streets or fall upon our knees to pray ; ourselves, the responsible living persons in whom this new nature dwells. How can we approach a holy.. holy, holy God? In the Epistle to the Romans, the scene was laid in the hall of judgment. The righteous God was on the throne. At the bar there stood the sinner, guilty, condemned, and silent. The righteous sentence had gone forth, and he had not a word to offer why it should not be fulfilled. And we saw how, when all hope was dead, sovereign grace could justify the guilty even as he stood, and call him from the very bar of judgment to fellowship with Christ in glory.

But now we turn to the Epistle to the Hebrews, and here a new scene presents itself. The centre object is a holy shrine, and not the throne of righteousness. It is surrounded, not by lost and guilty outcasts, but by a redeemed and happy people. They are in the wilderness, however, beset by need and infirmity and sin. But they have a great leader to provide for need on the journey to the rest before them, and a priest to help their infirmities and to make atonement for their sin. The priest is theirs in virtue of a covenant, and the covenant has also a sanctuary, an altar, and a sacrifice. Here then we have a people exactly like ourselves, in circumstances like our own. For our present difficulty is not at all how redemption can be obtained, or a home in heaven made sure; that question has been set at rest. But it is as to the place redemption gives us during our sojourn here on earth, and the provision made to maintain us in this place, seeing we are weak, and wayward, and sinful, and in circumstances of difficulty and trial. Let us seek then, by the help of the typical history of Israel, to trace out the truth we are in search of for ourselves.

But, first of all, let this be clearly settled, that Israel's redemption was accomplished ere ever they sang their hymn of triumph upon the wilderness shore of the sea. Their redemption depended solely on the passover in Egypt, and the waves that rolled between them and the House of Bondage - death in its spiritual significance, and death in its separating power. It was in no respect, therefore, the work of priesthood, or the result of priestly sacrifice. The sacrifice of the passover was not a priestly act. Priesthood pertained to the covenant, and this was not an ordinance of the covenant at all. The yearly festival which the covenant enjoined was but a memorial celebration of the one great passover of their redemption ; and it was as thus redeemed that Jehovah entered into covenant with them. We must remember therefore, that in following Israel's story, the moment we turn the page of the 12th chapter of the Book of Exodus, we are dealing with a people whose pressing need was not redemption but SANCTIFICATION.

Here, then, is precisely the point at which have ourselves arrived in this inquiry. Let us pursue the matter further, and seek to ascertain how Israel was sanctified, and thus to discern truth with reference to ourselves. Israel was a redeemed people. But God had a purpose in this redemption, and that purpose had yet to be fulfilled. He redeemed them from Egypt and from the power of Pharaoh, that He might establish them as a holy people in covenant with Himself. Covenant was based upon redemption, and followed as an separable consequence.
But the covenant ~ inaugurated with the blood of burnt-offerings an peace-offerings sacrificed to Jehovah, and it was the blood of the covenant, sprinkled on the peop that their sanctification was accomplished. ThU it was that they were introduced into the place c which they were entitled by virtue of redemption, and became in fact what they were already by the promise and purpose of their God.
Truth has many sides, but here I am dealing with but one. In one sense redemption is a result of covenant, and here sanctification precedes it; for the meaning of sanctification b a setting apart for God. But In another sense, redemption is the foundation of covenant, and sanctification follows as a consequence. Both These seem to be Included in the opening words of t Pet. "Elect through sanctification of the Spirit unto sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ."
Christ is the great Paschal Lamb of our redemption. He is also the Burnt-offering of the covenant. We are "redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." "We are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." The covenant is inseparable from redemption, and it is by the blood of the covenant that the believer is sanctified. And this is no mere form of words, no piece of idle rhetoric. Sanctification was a reality for Israel. Without it, there could have been no covenant, no priest, no sanctuary. And it is likewise a reality with us, and just as necessary. It is as much a fact as our justification, and as absolute and complete. By nature not righteous but guilty, we have seen how the sinner is justified. By nature not holy but defiled, he is likewise sanctified, And both depend alike, and only, upon blood. He is righteous, moreover, because God has declared him righteous; and it is by the call of God that he is holy. "And such were some of you," the apostle reminds the Corinthian Christians, after naming transgressors of the grossest kind, "but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified" "Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints," as he had described them in the salutation of the epistle.

Sanctification in this sense, therefore, is not a gradual change or a progressive work, nor yet a moral attribute ; it is an act, like justification, accomplished once for all. Just as the guilty sinner passes, immediately when he believes, into a new condition relatively to sin and a righteous God, and becomes thereby and thenceforth righteous; so the defiled sinner gains, as immediately and in the same way, a new standing relatively to sin and a holy God, and becomes thereby and thenceforth holy. "Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it."

But it will doubtless be argued, However true and blessed this may be, it fails to satisfy our need, for this is only the setting out upon our pilgrimage; and though perfectly sanctified when we believe, we may soon become defiled again. What provision then has been made to keep us holy on the way? This is precisely what we learn, in part by comparison and in part by contrast, from the Epistle to the Hebrews. And here let me give the reader a threefold clew to the seeming difficulties which make that wonderful and blessed book so profitless to many. Judaism, first of all, is here regarded not as the apostate faith which crucified Messiah, but as that holy religion whose aim and work it was to lead to Him. The true Israelite had no need to be converted to Christianity. He had already, as a Jew, experienced the new birth of water and the Spirit, without which no one can see the kingdom; and he accepted Christ, not as the founder of a new religion, but as the author and fulfiller of the true and holy faith which had already knit his soul to God. It is to such that the book is especially addressed. Secondly, the believer is looked at, not as seated in the heavens in Christ, but as here on earth ; nor yet as a member of His Body, but as one of a company of "holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling," setting out on their wilderness journey home. And thirdly, the book takes up our spiritual history at the point which Israel had reached in the 24th chapter of Exodus. Redemption is complete. The covenant has been established. The people have been sanctified. And having thus made purification for sins, the Mediator of the covenant is gone up to God.

And here it is that priesthood meets us. As yet we have known no priestly functions. It was not a priestly hand that killed the passover, or sprinkled the door of the dwelling with its blood. It was not a priestly hand that sacrificed the dedication offering of the covenant; and the sanctification of the people was the work of the mediator, not of the priest. It is as "brought again from the dead, in virtue of the blood of the everlasting covenant," and now passed into the heavens, purification for sin being made, that the Son of God has been proclaimed a Priest.

Here the type fails us. Moses went up to the Mount as mediator of the covenant, and would then have been called to the priesthood, had not the offices become separated, owing to his want of faith (Ex. iv. ia). Aaron, therefore, was made priest; but it was then, and not before, that he received the call. His formal consecration was still later. See Lev. viii. ix., which is connected with Ex. xxiv., and gives us the fulfilment of that which took place on the Mount. And mark that it was Moses who ofliciated in regard of these offerings (comp. Ex. xxix.); and further, that he was associated with Aaron in the act which typified Christ's coming forth hereafter as Royal Priest to bless His people (Lev. ix. 23). It is most important to see that the Lord's priesthood dates from His enthronement in heaven. See Heb. ii. i. (where the word is "that He might become"); v. 5-10, VI. 20, vii. 23, 24, viii. 1-4. He could not be a priest while on earth (Heb. viii. 4). See chap. xvi. Heb. iv. 15. Our English Version is ambiguous here, arid the words have been very generally perverted to mean that the Lord's temptations were exactly similar to ours, the result alone being different. Were this so, He must have known the powerof Sin within - the source of so many of our trials. But the words are "apart from sin". So that throughout these temptations, in their origin, in their process, in their result, sin had nothing in Him: He was free and separate from it" (Alford).

We have thus not only a great leader,- the Captain of our salvation, and a home to which He guides; but if through sin or frailty we fail to follow Him aright, and turn aside or stumble by the way, we know Him also as a great High Priest, who can sympathise and help. He can sympathise, for He was in all points tried as we are; He can help, for the trial found no sin.
But to offer sacrifices for sins was Aaron's peculiar vocation. There are other priestly functions different from this, and higher; but this was the characteristic of the Aaronic order. It was founded on the necessity for, expiation. If then the sacrifice had in fact accomplished the work it typified, and sin had been put away, there would have been no need for the priesthood of the law. A priest there must have been truly, for there can be no worship without a priest and a sanctuary; but not a priest of the Aaronic type. Faith grasped the truth which the sacrifice prefigured; but sin was not, in fact, put away, and therefore, on account of the inefficacy of the blood with which they had to do, there was a remembrance again of sins continually, and every transgression demanded a new Sacrifice to maintain them in holiness befitting the covenant. But now, by the death of Christ, expiation has been accomplished, sin has been purged, and not only is the worshipper sanctified, but the sanctified ones are perfected for ever. There is therefore no longer room for sacrifice, no need henceforth for blood.shedding. The Aaronic priesthood is at an end; the priesthood of the Son of God is of a different order altogether,- the order of Melchisedec. But the priesthood is connected with the covenant; and if the one be changed, the other follows as of course. And it is with the new covenant that the believer has to do, a covenant in keeping with the priesthood of Meichisedec, a covenant based on the great fact that sins and iniquities are for ever expiated, and on the promise that God will remember them no more. To the covenant, again, there pertains a sanctuary. The sanctuary of the old covenant bore witness by its very structure that there was a place of access still closed against the worshipper, and "a greater and more perfect tabernacle" yet to be revealed. The new covenant and the priesthood of Christ have to do with this the true tabernacle in heaven itself.

Ours, therefore, is an eternal redemption, and an everlasting covenant; we have the Son of God Himself as the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, the Holiest in the heavens as our sanctuary, and the blood of Christ to perfect us, and make us fit for such a shrine. If, then, the question should still be pressed, What have we further that is akin to the great yearly sin-offering of the law, and the offerings for trespasses and sins of ignorance? I answer, the need of these repeated sacrifices arose entirely from the inefficacy of the blood of the covenant to which they pertained; but the blood of the new covenant has brought us remission fully and absolutely, and, "where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." We have seen how, when once justified by blood, we stand in perfect righteousness; so now we see how, once sanctified by blood, we stand in holiness as absolute and perfect.

But though sin can no longer master the sacrifice which purges it, and is as powerless to exclude us from the sanctuary as to drag us into judgment, still we are in daily contact with what defiles ; is there then no need for cleansing? There is truly, and full provision for it, too, through the same death which justifies. Every ordinance of the old covenant that was required by reason of the "weakness and unprofitableness" of the sacrifices, we are for ever done with; but there was a special rite to meet the need that was inseparable from the circumstances of the people, and this has its abiding antitype for us. A Jew of blameless life might possibly have had no cause to resort to the offerings for sins and trespasses; yet he could not on that ground absent himself upon the great day of atonement, for that depended on the inherent inefficiency of the sacrifice. But even if sin had been fully purged, and the worshipper absolutely sinless, he would have been none the less liable at any moment to become defiled; for under the ceremonial law the Israelite became unclean by contact with death in any form. And this defilement was met by water, not by blood. But it was by water which owed its efficacy to a sacrifice accomplished. I allude, of course, to the offering of the red heifer, enjoined in the i9th chapter of Numbers. The victim was led forth without the camp, where it was slain and burnt to ashes, part of the blood being first brought in and sprinkled before the tabernacle of the congregation. The ashes were then laid up outside the camp, and water that had touched those ashes availed to purify. The Israelite who had become unclean was sprinkled with this "water of separation," and then, having washed his clothes, and bathed his person, he was cleansed from the defilement.

It is impossible that the blood of Christ can do less than make perfect the sinner whom it sanctifies; but, even in the case of those who are so richly blest, there can be no fellowship with a holy God, no access to His presence, if that be allowed which is opposed to Him. The touch of evil cannot but defile; and if we insist that there is no need to come back again to blood, it is not that we make light of sin, but that we pay due homage to the sacrifice that has once and for ever purged it. The blood has achieved its work; our future cleansing results from "the water of the Word," as applied by the Holy Ghost. The sprinkling of the water which had flowed over the ashes of the sacrifice, typified our bringing the Spirit's testimony about the death of Christ to bear upon ourselves in regard to that which has defiled us. The washing which followed upon that sprinkling is the clearing ourselves practically from the evil. It is not enough to judge the evil while continuing in it; it is not enough to turn from it, however zealously, without having to do with God respecting it. But to turn from it, even as we judge it in the presence of the Cross by that Word which is sharper than a two-edged sword, is to bring us face to face with a Priest whose work secures to us divine compassion, and the grace our weakness needs.

And here it is, indeed, that true priestly work begins. I have already noticed that Israel was not only redeemed, but brought into covenant with God, and sanctified, apart from priesthood; and in the 19th chapter of Numbers, we have again a sacrifice and a rite in which the high priest took no part. And this is the more remarkable because these, the three great sacrifices that were not sacerdotal, were precisely those which were offered once for all, and could never be repeated.
The death of Christ was not a priestly sacrifice. It was the foundation of the covenant, and, as I have already said, it is to the covenant that priesthood pertains. It was "after He had made purification for sins and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" that the Son of God was proclaimed a Priest Purification by blood, as we have seen, was not priestly work, but the prerogative of the Mediator of the covenant. The purification by water was the work of neither priest nor mediator ; and in keeping with the truth that any hand could sprinkle the water of separation, there is the exhortation, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit."'
I have said that Hebrews teaches us partly by contrast and partly by comparison; and in exemplification of that remark I may here give another key to that Epistle, and a clew by which to follow aright the teaching of the types. Everything pertaining to the old covenant, which existed in virtue of some unchanging principle, or of the condition and circumstances of the people, finds Its exact correlative in the new covenant. But on the other hand, with respect to all in the old covenant that depended on the powerlessness of the ordinance, $be Inefficacy of the sacrifice, we learn from the absence of any antitype the perfectness of the new. They had a sanctuary, and so have we. But the veil that divided theirs is rent for us, and the holiest is open. Christ Is the fulfilment of the great sacrifices I have enumerated; but if we turn to seek the antitype of their continually repeated sin-offerings, we are reminded by their absence of the virtue of the blood shed on Calvary. They had a priest, as we have. But Aaron's special work arose from the special need which now has been for ever satisfied. The priesthood of the Son therefore is of another order.
To make intercession and reconciliation for sins, and to offer gifts and sacrifices, here are the functions which belong essentially to priesthood: it was the peculiarity of the Aaronic priesthood that the sacrifices they offered were for sins. Our great High Priest has no need to sacrifice for sins. He did this once for all ere ever His priesthood was proclaimed. But, like Meichisedec of old, He receives and offers up to God the gifts of the believer's service and the sacrifice of his praise and worship, feeding him in return with the bread and wine of heaven, and crowning all with the blessing Of His God. (Gen xiv. 11-2O).
But the words which follow those I have this moment cited remind me that what I have said of righteousness is no less true of holiness: the word has various meanings. When we predicate of someone that he is holy, we may be giving expression, if we are speaking in scriptural language, to any one of three ideas, which, though allied, are by no means inseparable. We may mean that he is one of those who have been sanctified by the blood of Christ, or in other words that he is a Christian. All such are holy in a sense both true and deep, irrespective of their conduct.

But a holy person may become defiled, even as were the Corinthian saints at the very time the apostle wrote to them. They had been made holy in Christ Jesus, and were holy by their calling, but yet they were unclean through dreadful sin unjudged among them. I may speak of holiness therefore as describing a life, or practical condition, in keeping with the Christian's calling. He is holy and separated to God by virtue of his calling: his daily life ought to be in accordance therewith. Christians are holy persons; they ought therefore to live "as becometh holy persons" they ought to be holy in this practical and secondary sense.

But it will be observed that in both these senses, holiness describes a relation rather than a quality; it represents a condition, not an attribute. And this brings us to a third meaning of the word, a meaning which it bears in the verse already quoted" Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord." "Perfecting holiness" observe; proving that the holiness he speaks of is incomplete and capable of degrees. Therefore he is not speaking here of attaining holiness by the blood, nor yet of maintaining ourselves in the position into which it brings us, but of cultivating in a practical way the character akin to such a state.

Now, in either of the senses in which hitherto I have used the word, to speak of incomplete holiness or sanctification, is a mere contradiction in terms. An unconverted person is absolutely unholy, and a Christian is absolutely holy. That, in virtue of the blood, the Christian is perfectly and for ever holy, is the most prominent truth of the Epistle to the Hebrews. "Christ has perfected for ever them, that are sanctified." And again, in its secondary sense, holiness admits of no degrees. Here it is not advancing that we speak of, but continuing in holiness. The Israelite who touched defilement became not less holy, but unholy; and, until his purification was accomplished, he was absolutely unclean; but, when the rite was fulfilled, he became immediately and absolutely clean.

If we forget this, we shall be betrayed into light and sinful thoughts of God. Lovingly to touch a dead wife's hand, excluded the Jew as absolutely from the tabernacle, as would her blood if in guilty anger he had shed it." It was a severe and stern enactment, and must seem, more than strange to those who fail to see its spiritual significance. There is no question of degrees in the holiness of a thrice holy God. It is not that great, sins shut the sinner out, while allowance can be made for triffing faults. Perfection is the only standard that can avail with Him; and full provision has been made, not only to make us, but to keep us, perfect.

But yet, in saying this, we stand at an immeasurable distance from all the low thoughts of God, and light views of sin, that alone can lend an air of plausibility to such a delusion as that any cultivation of piety, or attainment in sanctity, can ever give us right to seek His presence, or fitness to be there. It is only and altogether in virtue of the blood of Christ that the saintliest saint on earth can hold fellowship with God. A higher title is impossible, and no lower will avail.

But this holiness is merely the correlative of forensic righteousness. "Merely," I say, not to make little of it, for the one is as real and as essential as the other, but because something more is needed for the home of God. No one shall be there who is not intrinsically holy. And here I would beg the reader to turn back to the preceding chapter, and to read the latter part again, substituting holiness for righteousness throughout. Our moral fitness for heaven, in this respect as in the other, is independent of attainments achieved on earth. As regards rewards for faithfulness and service upon earth, no two of the redeemed, it may be, will stand upon a level; but the perfectness of the new creation will be shared alike by all. The standard is not what the Christian becomes by the work of the Spirit, here, but what Christ now is as seated at the right hand of God. I cite the words again, The new man "is created in righteousness and holiness of truth." No change of scene can add virtue to the blood of Christ, therefore heaven itself can add nothing to the holiness in which we stand by reason of that blood. No holy living upon earth can add to the intrinsic perfectness of Christ Himself; therefore it can add nothing to the holiness which shall be ours when made like unto Him who is the head of the new creation.

I have thus endeavoured to unfold, and establish on the authority of Scripture, the truth of the believer's absolute and perfect sanctification in Christ. I have also spoken of what I may venture to term continuous sanctification, the constant conformity to that standard in his life on earth. Thirdly, I have alluded, though still more briefly. as being still further beyond the scope of my subject, to progressive sanctification, the cultivation of holiness as a moral quality. And lastly, I have shown that the sinner's meetness for heaven in this respect, as in regard of righteousness, depends not on attainment here, but on his perfectness as a part of the new creation in Christ.

And now it is once more with a feeling of reluctance that I lay down my pen. I cannot but fear lest the great truth I have sought to unfold should suffer in the estimation of some, through being divorced from practical exhortation is to a holy life. But I take comfort from the hope that thoughtful minds will in no way share the prejudice. Valuable though exhortation be, truth has a power independent of the appeals we base upon it; and, therefore, no teaching that, is truly doctrinal can fail to be likewise practical. In dealing with this subject I have already gone. somewhat beyond the due limits of my theme,. which is the gospel, and not the Christian life; but I have struggled in vain to keep within them.

The unusual interest which the doctrine of holiness excites, combined with the fact that the great truth of sanctification by blood is unknown to our creeds, and but little noticed in our religious literature, has not only made the task important, but has vastly increased my difficulties in the effort to fulfil it. I now dismiss it with a parting word. Even by those who own it, this truth is sometimes spoken of as though it were a fiction or a theory. But with the Israelite his sanctification was one of the most true and solemn facts of his existence. Upon it depended, not alone his citizenship in the commonwealth, but his life itself. And shall it be deemed less real in this dispensation, when shadows have given way to substance, types to their fulfilment? If the sanctification of the Jew was a great and practical reality, how much more the sanctification of the believer now. "If the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

And again, the practical maintenance of holiness is the true effort of a heart that grace has mastered. But yet, as with the prisoner who struggles to his window, and wipes out every stain, making it shine again, with a zeal no sense of duty could arouse, his thought is only of the sunlight he is yearning for, so is it with the soul that is alive to God. All true life leads to Him, and holiness is eagerly pursued, only to be forgotten in the enjoyment of its end and aim. Hence the exhortation and warning, "Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."