God's Way of Holiness

by Horatius Bonar

Chapter 1

The New Life

It is to a new life that God is calling us; not to some new steps in life, some new habits or ways or motives or prospects, but to a new life. For the production of this new life the eternal Son of God took flesh, died, was buried, and rose again. It was not life producing life, a lower life rising into a higher, but life rooting itself in its opposite, life wrought out of death, by the death of "the Prince of life." Of the new creation, as of the old, He is the author. For the working out of this the Holy Spirit came down in power, entering men's souls and dwelling there, that out of the old He might bring forth the new.

That which God calls new must be so indeed. For the Bible means what it says, as being, of all books, not only the most true in thought, but the most accurate in speech. Great then and authentic must be that "new thing in the earth" which God "creates," to which He calls us, and which He brings about by such stupendous means and at such a cost. Most hateful also must that old life of ours be to Him, when, in order to abolish it, He delivers up His Son; and most dear must we be in His sight when, in order to rescue us from the old life, and make us partakers of the new, He brings forth all the divine resources of love and power and wisdom, to meet the exigencies of a case which would otherwise have been wholly desperate. The man from whom the old life has gone out, and into whom the new life has come, is still the same individual. The same being that was once "under law" is now "under grace." His features and limbs are still the same; his intellect, imagination, capacities, and responsibilities are still the same. But yet old things have passed away; all things have become new. The old man is slain; the new man lives. It is not merely the old life retouched and made more comely, defects struck out, roughnesses smoothed down, graces stuck on here and there. It is not a broken column repaired, a soiled picture cleaned, a defaced inscription filled up, an unswept temple whitewashed. It is more than all this, else God would not call it a new creation, nor would the Lord have affirmed with such awful explicitness, as He does in His conference with Nicodemus, the divine law of exclusion from and entrance into the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Yet how few in our day believe that "that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6).

Hear how God speaks! He calls us "newborn babes" (1 Pet 2:2), "new creatures" (Gal 6:15), a "new lump" (1 Cor 5:9), a "new man" (Eph 2:15), doers of a "anew commandment" (1 John 2:8), heirs of "a new name" and a new city (Rev 2:17; 3:12), expectants of "new heavens and a new earth" (2 Pet 3:13). This new being, having begun in a new birth, unfolds itself in newness of spirit" (Rom 7:6), according to a "new covenant" (Heb 8:8), walks along a "new and living way" (Heb 10:20), and ends in the "new song and the "new Jerusalem" (Rev 5:9; 21:2).

It is no outer thing, made up of showy moralities and benevolences, or picturesque rites and graceful routine of devotion, or sentimentalisms bright or somber, or religious utterances on fit occasions, as to the grandeur of antiquity, or sacramental grace, or the greatness of creaturehood, or the nobleness of humanity, or the universal fatherhood of God. It is something deeper, and truer, and more genial, than that which is called deep, and true, and genial in modern religious philosophy. Its affinities are with the things above; its sympathies are divine; it sides with God in everything; it has nothing, beyond a few expressions, in common with the superficialities and falsehoods which, under the name of religion, are current among multitudes who call Christ "Lord" and "Master." A Christian is one who has been "crucified with Christ," who has died with Him, been buried with Him, risen with Him, ascended with Him, and is seated "in heavenly places" with Him (Rom 6:3-8; Gal 2:20; Eph 2:5,6; Col 3:1-3). As such he reckons himself dead unto sin, but alive unto God (Rom 6:11). As such he does not yield his members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but he yields himself unto God, as alive from the dead, and his members as instruments of righteousness unto God. As such he seeks "the things which are above," and sets his affection on things above, mortifying his members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col 3:1-5). This newness is comprehensive, both in its exclusion of the evil and its inclusion of the good. It is summed up by the apostle in two things: righteousness and holiness. "Put off," says he, "the old man, which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind;.. .put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph 4:22-24), literally "righteousness and holiness of the truth," that is, resting on the truth. The new man then is meant to be righteous and holy, inwardly and outwardly, before God and man, as respects Law and gospel, and this through the truth. For as that which is false ("the lie" v 25) can only produce unrighteousness and unholiness, so the truth produces righteousness and holiness through the power of the Holy Ghost. Error injures, truth heals; error is the root of sin, truth is that of purity and perfection. It is then to a new standing or state, a new moral character, a new life, a new joy, a new work, a new hope, that we are called. He who thinks that religion comprises anything less than this knows nothing yet as he ought to know. To that which man calls "piety," less may suffice; but to no religion which does not in some degree embrace these, can the divine recognition be accorded.

These are weighty words of the apostle, "We are His workmanship. "(1) Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things pertaining to us. Chosen, called, quickened, washed, sanctified, and justified by God Himself, we are in no sense our own deliverers. The quarry out of which the marble comes is His; the marble itself is His, the digging and hewing and polishing are His; He is the sculptor and we the statue. "We are His workmanship," says the apostle. But this is not all. We are, he adds, "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." The plan, the selection of the materials, the model, the workman, the workmanship, are all divine; and though It doth not yet appear what we shall be, we know that we shall be "like Him," His image reproduced in us, Himself represented by us, for we are "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created us" (Col 3:10). It is not, however, dead, cold marble that is to be wrought upon. That is simple work, requiring just a given amount of skill. But the remolding of the soul is unspeakably more difficult, and requires far more complex appliances. The influences at work In opposing--internal and external, spiritual, legal, physical--are many; and equally numerous must be the influences brought into play to meet all these, and carry out the design. The work is not mechanical, but moral and spiritual (physical in a sense, as dealing with the nature of things, but more truly, moral and spiritual). Omnipotence is not mere unlimited physical power, operating, as upon inanimate matter, by mere intensity of volition; but power which, with unlimited resources at its command, exhibits its greatness by regulating its forthgoings according to moral circumstances, producing its greatest results by indirect moral influences, developing itself in conformity with law and sovereignty, and holy love on the one hand, and on the other with human guilt, and creature responsibility, and free volition. The complexities thus introduced are infinite, and the "variable quantities," if one may so speak, are so peculiar and so innumerable, that we can find no formula to help us in the solution of the problem; we get bewildered in speculating on the processes by which omnipotence deals with moral beings, either In their sinfulness or their holiness.

Here let us also notice the duality or twofoldness of divine truth, the overlooking of which has occasioned much fruitless controversy and originated many falsehoods. Truth is, indeed, not two-sided, but many-sided, like a well-cut crystal. In a more general sense, however, it is truly double; with a heavenly and an earthly, a divine and a human side or aspect. It is at the line where these two meet that the greatest nicety of adjustment is required, and hence it is here that divergent theologies have come specially into conflict. The heavenward and the earthward aspects of truth must be carefully distinguished--the one fitting into the other, the one the counterpart of the other. God is absolute Sovereign; this is the one side. Man has volition of his own, and is not a machine or a stone; that is the other. God chooses and draws according to the good pleasure of His will; yet he hinders no man from coming or from willing. God is the giver of faith, yet "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom 10:17). Hence the difficulty of believing is not from the absence of proper faculties, but from the derangement of these, and conversion is God's restoration of these to their original nature. Faith is not a foreign gem imported into the soul, distinct from all our original powers; it is simply the man believing, in consequence of his soul being set right by the Holy Spirit, but he believes and disbelieves in the same way as before. It is not the intellect, or the mind, or the affections, that believe; it is the man, the whole man, the same whole man that formerly disbelieved. Very absurd and unphilosophical (not to say unscriptural) have been the questions raised as to the seat of faith, whether it is in the intellect, or the will, or the heart. Faith is the man believing, just as love is the man loving. In Romans 10:9, the apostle is not contrasting the heart with the mind, but with the mouth; in other words, the inner with the outer man.

God worketh in us both to will and to do, yet He commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It is God that sanctifies us, yet it is through "the truth" that we are sanctified (John 17:17). It is God that purifies (Titus 2:14), yet it is by faith that our hearts are purified (Acts 15:9). It is God that fills us with joy and peace, and yet this is "in believing." This duality is the key to the solution of many a hard controversy. The movements of man's intellect are not superseded by God but assumed and regulated; the intellect itself is not overborne and forced, but set free to work its true work truly. (2) The "heavenly things" and "earthly things" are distinct, yet not separate; always to be viewed in connection with each other, yet not confused; for confusion here is mysticism, superstition, and false doctrine. "There are celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another" (1 Cor 15:40).

In every Bible truth there are two elements, the divine and the human; but the divine element is one thing, the human another. The theology that embodies most truth is that which knows how to recognize both of these, without confusion, yet without isolation or antagonism, and which refuses to merge either the divine in the human or the human in the divine. (3) Hence the necessity for confining ourselves to the Word, and the danger of introducing human metaphysics into questions connected with the spiritual change wrought on us. It is God that worketh; it is we who are wrought upon; and everything needful to be known in connection with this work is revealed in the divine record. We give this thought some prominence because of the tendency with many to magnify humanity, and to undervalue the greatness of that change which begins the Christian course and character. No elevation of natural taste, no infusion of religious or benevolent earnestness, no cultivation of the intellect, can fill up the description given us in the word of one "who fears God," and is "called according to His purpose," "begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). And we urge this the more decidedly because, as is the beginning, so will be the middle and the end. A false idea or a diverging step at the outset may lead to a false religion throughout life, to an imperfect and superficial goodness, as one incorrect figure or sign in an equation falsifies both process and result. If the dislocated joint is not properly set, it will never work comfortably; and if the wound is merely skinned over, the disease may be taking its own way underneath, all the more fatally because it is supposed to have been removed. How the Holy Spirit operates in producing the newness of which we have spoken, we know not; yet we know that He does not destroy or reverse man's faculties; He renovates them all, so that they fulfill the true ends for which they were given. As He does not make the hand the foot, nor the eye the ear, so He does not make the heart the intellect, nor the will the judgment. Each faculty remains the same in end and use as before, only purified and set properly to work. Nor does the Holy Spirit supersede the use of our faculties by His indwelling. Rather does this indwelling make these more serviceable, more energetic, each one doing his proper work and fulfilling his proper office; while the whole man, body, soul and spirit, instead of being brought under mechanical constraint, is made more truly free, never more fully himself than when filled with the Holy Spirit. For the result of the indwelling Spirit is liberty; not bondage, or the production of an artificial character.

Thus, although no violence is done to our being in regeneration, omnipotence is at work at every point. Our new being is not the result of a mechanical process, yet it is the product of divine power. God claims it as a "creation," and as His own handiwork. "He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God" (2 Cor 5:5), where the word implies the thorough elaboration of some difficult piece of work. "It is God which worketh in [us] both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13), where the expressions indicate an operation which influences our willing" as well as our "doing," and this on account of His being "well pleased" with Christ (Matt 3:17) and with His own eternal design. "God's tillage" (or husbandry, 1 Cor 3:9) is His name for us when speaking as a husbandman, "God's building" (or fabric), His name when speaking as an architect. It is to the image of His Son that He has predestinated us to be conformed, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29), having "chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love" (Eph 1:4). It is, then, to holiness that God is calling us (1 Thess 4:7); that we should have our "fruit unto holiness" (Rom 6:22), that our hearts should be stablished "unblameable in holiness" (1 Thess 3:13); that we should abound in "all holy conversation and godliness" (2 Pet 3:11); that we should be "a holy priesthood" (1 Pet 2:5); "holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Pet 1:15); "called with a holy calling" (2 Tim 1:9); "holy and without blame before Him in love" (Eph 1:4), presenting not only our souls but our bodies as (not only a living but) a holy sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1); nay, remembering that these bodies are not only "a sacrifice," but a "temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor 6:19).

Holiness is likeness to God, to Him who is the Holy One of Israel, to Him whom they laud in heaven, as "Holy, holy, holy" (Rev 4:8). It is likeness to Christ, to "that Holy Thing" which was born of the virgin, to Him who was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb 7:26). It is not only disjunction from evil, and from an evil world; but it is separation unto God and Ills service. It is priestly separation, for priestly service. It is distinctiveness such as that which marked the tabernacle and all its vessels, separation from every common use: separation by blood, "the blood of the everlasting covenant," this blood (or that which it signifies, namely, death) being interposed between us and all common things, so that we are dead to sin, but alive unto God, alive to righteousness, having died and risen in Him whose blood has made us what we are, saints, holy ones. This holiness or consecration extends to every part of our persons, fills up our being, spreads over our life, influences everything we are, or do, or think, or speak, or plan, small or great, outward or inward, negative or positive, our loving, our hating, our sorrowing, our rejoicing, our recreations, our business, our friendships, our relationships, our silence, our speech, our reading, our writing, our going out and our coming in--our whole man in every movement of spirit, soul, and body. In the house, the sanctuary, the chamber, the market, the shop, the desk, the highway, it must be seen that ours is a consecrated life.

In one aspect, sanctification is an act, a thing done at once, like justification. The moment the blood touches us--that is, as soon as we believe God's testimony to the blood--we are "clean" (John 15:3), "sanctified," set apart for God. It is in this ceremonial or priestly sense that the word is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews; for as that to the Romans takes us into the forum and deals with our legal standing, so that to the Hebrews takes us into the temple, and deals with our priestly standing. As the vessels of the sanctuary were at once separated to God and His service, the moment the blood touched them, so are we. This did not imply that those vessels required no daily ablution afterwards, so neither does our consecration intimate that we need no daily sanctifying, no inward process for getting rid of sin. The initiatory consecration through the blood is one thing, and the continual sanctifying by the power of the Holy Ghost is another. The former is the first step, the introduction to the latter; nay, absolutely indispensable to any progress in the latter; yet it does not supersede it, but makes it rather a greater necessity. To this very end we are consecrated by the blood, that we may be purified inwardly by the Holy Ghost; and he who would make the completeness of the former act a substitute for the latter process, or a reason for neglecting it, has yet to learn what consecration means, what is the import of the blood which consecrates, and for what end we were chosen in Christ and called by His grace (Eph 1:4).

The thing which man calls sin may be easily obliterated or toned down into goodness. It deserved no expulsion from Paradise, no deluge, no Sodom-fire; it is a thing which the flames of Sinai greatly exaggerate, and of which Israel's history presents an exceptional picture. It is one of the mishaps of humanity, the enormity of which has been quite misreckoned by theologians, and the history of which, in Scripture, must be read with abatements and due allowances for oriental coloring! It is not a thing for the judge, but for the physician; not a thing for condemnation, but for pity. It deserves no hell, no divine wrath, no legal sentence; it needs no atonement, no blood, no cross, no substitution of life for life; mere incarnation as the expression of divine love to the unfortunate, and the intimation to the universe of God's all-comprehending fatherhood, and of Adamhood's union with God will be sufficient. But that which God calls sin is something infinitely terrible, far beyond our ideas of misfortune and disease, something to which even Sodom and Sinai gave but faint expression. It is something which the Law curses and the Judge condemns; something which needs a righteous pardon, a divine Savior, and an almighty Spirit; something which can destroy a soul and ruin a world, which can, from one single drop, overflow earth for six thousand years, and fill hell eternally. It is that of whose hatefulness the blood and smoke and fire of the altar speak, which is "exceeding sinful," whose wages is death, the first and second death, and of whose balefulness the everlasting darkness is the witness. He who would know holiness must understand sin: and he who would see sin as God sees it, and think of it as God does, must look at the cross and grave of the Son of God, and must know the meaning of Gethsemane and Golgotha.

Am I bound to think of sin as God thinks? Most certainly. Have I no liberty of thinking otherwise? None You may do so, if you choose to venture, but the consequences are fearful, for error is sin. We are not bound to think as man thinks. In this respect we have entire liberty; not tradition, but free thought may be our formula here. But we are bound to think as God thinks, not in one thing but in everything. Woe be to him that presumes to differ from God, or reckons it a light matter to be of one mind with Him, or tries to prove that the Bible is inaccurate or unintelligible, or but half-inspired, in order to release himself from the responsibility of receiving the whole truth of God and afford him license to believe or disbelieve at pleasure, freed from the trammels of a fixed revelation. The tendency of the present day is to underestimate sin and to misunderstand its nature. From the cross of Christ men strike out the very elements which intimate the divine opinion of its evil. Sin is admitted to be an evil, greater or less according to circumstances; a hereditary poison, which time and earnestness will work out of the constitution; an unruly but inevitable appetite, which is to be corrected gradually by moral discipline and wholesome intellectual diet, rendered medicinal by a moderate infusion of the "religious element"; a sickening pain, sometimes in the conscience, sometimes in the heart, that is to be soothed by the dreamy mysticism, which, acting like spiritual chloroform, dulls the uneasiness without touching its seat; this is all!

Why a loving God should, for so slight and curable an evil, have given over our world for six thousand years to such sorrow, pain, tears, weariness, disease and death, as have overflowed it with so terrible a deluge, is a question which such a theory of evil leaves unanswered. Yet such are the representations of sin with which we find a large amount of the literature and the religion of our day penetrated. Humanity is struggling upward, nobly self-reliant! The race is elevating itself (for the Darwinian theory has found its way into religion); and Christianity is a useful help in this process of self-regeneration! Thus does many a prophet speak peace where there is none, bent on "healing the hurt" by the denial of its deadliness. Of what avail this calling evil good and good evil, this putting darkness for light and light for darkness, this putting bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, will be in the great day of reckoning, a coming hour will show. "Awake to righteousness, and sin not," is God's message to us (1 Cor 15:34). "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Pet 1:16). "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Rom 12:1). "Purge out.. .the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump" (1 Cor 5:7). "Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Tim 2:19). "Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts,.. .live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:12). "Be diligent that ye may be found in Him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2 Pet 3:14). "Let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ" (Phil 1:27). "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph 5:11). "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof' (Rom 13:14). "I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" (1 Pet 2:11). From sin, then, in every sense and aspect, God is calling us. As exceeding sinful, the abominable thing which He hates and will avenge, He warns us against it. He speaks to us as "shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin," carrying evil about with us, nay, filled with it and steeped in it; not merely as diseased and requiring medicine, or unfortunate and requiring pity, but as guilty, under law, under sentence, dead in trespasses and sins, with inevitable judgment before us. He neither palliates nor aggravates our case, but calmly tells us the worst; showing us what we are, before calling us to be what He has purposed to make us. From all unholiness, from all uncleanness, from all unrighteousness, from all corruption, from all crooked ways, from all disobedience, from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, He is calling us, in Christ Jesus His Son.

Ephesians 2:10 "His poem," the production of His wisdom, love, and power, that which He and only He can make, Psalm 100:3. A house should be worthy of the builder, and a poem of him from whom it comes.

The more thoroughly we can study the Word of God, the better: and all critical helps are to he welcomed. Genuine scholarship, consecrated to the elucidation of the Word, is an accomplishment of no common price. Everything that brings our souls into full contact with "the Word," in Its fullness and variety, so as to steep them in it is to be greatly prized, as fitted to make us holier, more fruitful, and more spiritual men.

We hear much of the divine and the human element in Scripture; nor is the expression amiss; yet might we not rather say that the Bible is all human and yet all divine. It is perfect according to what God meant it to be, though we may note what we call "imperfections" in it. The mountains of earth, in their ruggedness, are perfect in their way, though they have not the artificial perfection of the statue or the temple. God has chosen that His book and His world should resemble each other in that kind of perfection--a perfection which man appreciates in the landscape, but depreciates in the Bible.

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