The beginnings of religion lie in the desire to have our sins forgiven, and to be enabled to avoid doing the wrong things again. It was so with David when, in the fifty-first Psalm, he not only cried, 'Have mercy upon me, O God, and blot out my transgressions', but 'Wash me, cleanse me from my sin'.
Sin is a double evil. On the one hand, it creates a record of wrongdoing which has to be faced; on the other, it creates a disease in the moral system and spiritual make-up of a man. This disease creates desires for the evil thing, and so warps and weakens a man's force of resistance that when the temptation is presented, the inward craving asserts itself, and makes the man want to go into the temptation.
To deal with this complex character of sin is a greater problem than human ingenuity and skill are equal to. God, however, has solved the problem Himself, and His plan of Salvation is addressed to both aspects of evil. It includes, first, the forgiveness of sins; and then the introduction of a new governing force and the power to live according to the will of God. Both these things are set out in the verses quoted, although the order of statement is reversed.
Let me use two stories to illustrate the separate points. The one relates to a little boy who, having done wrong in his home, had been dealt with by his mother. Referring to it afterwards, the boy said, 'Yes, I knew mother had forgiven me for the wrong; but I saw in her face, although she did not frown, that she remembered all day what I did in the morning'. There are many, no doubt, who forgive in that fashion; but it is not God's way. He says, 'Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more'. He forgets as well as forgives.
An illustration of the other point came out in the personal testimony of an eminently religious man who, before his conversion, was addicted to horse-racing. He said that after his conversion he did not go to the race-meeting, but very much wanted to do so. Later, when the light came to him, he got his heart and mind sanctified; and 'Then', said he, 'I not only did not go, but I had no desires to be there; the Lord had taken the want to out of my heart'.
It is the knowledge of these two aspects of evil, and of the necessity for having the double problem dealt with, which causes us to lay such emphasis upon the 'clean heart' teaching. First, the forgiveness of the sins; then cleansing from the evil desire, and getting the power to live the holy life. This is the essence of our Holiness doctrine.
There are, as I have frequently pointed out, other things besides inner experiences connected with true religion; for instance, we read in this chapter of its outward tokens, such as witnessing for Christ, holding fast the profession or confession of our faith without wavering. That is very important. There is also the association with others who are of the same mind; 'not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together'. Combination and outward union seem to be within the Divine plan for extending religion. Stirring one another up to duty is also emphasized, 'exhorting one another', 'provoking one another to love and good works'; that is, helping each other in the things which make for the godly life. All these must be in us and abound, if we are to justify our religion.
But, after all, the vital thing about religion is its inward springs and connexions; the outer life inspired and regulated by the laws of God put into our hearts and written in our minds, reproducing themselves in the activities and relations of daily life.
We would not undervalue the tables of stone, on which God with His own finger wrote the Commandments, and delivered them to Moses. We would ever prize the Blessed Bible, with its sacred records of the wonderful revelations of the Divine mind and purposes concerning men; for, in producing these, 'holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost'. How much more highly, however, do we value the Spirit of God writing upon the fleshly tables of the heart, bringing the heart and mind, not only into the knowledge of God's will, but into harmony with it, and planting and feeding the living principles which produce the fruit of good living!
It is worth while to inquire what are the laws which God undertakes to put into the hearts and minds of His willing children. In this connexion we think of the law of submission and obedience. Religion begins there. When seeking Salvation, either at the penitent-form or elsewhere, we went down, submitted ourselves to God, so far as we knew it, and declared that we would do what He wanted us to do.
We saw, felt, and accepted it as the settled thing for us that His will should be the governing law; that must go on operating all along life's way. Continuing to follow Him is as important as beginning to do so -- 'If any man will deny himself, let him take up his cross, and follow Me' That means continued submission to His government and conditions of service.
In the days of Christ's ministry a large number of people gathered around Him, but when they saw what was involved, 'they went back from following Him'. We must see that the surrenders of the sanctified life are not matters of a moment. There is a supreme moment when consecration lays its all upon the altar, but every day brings its own tests even to the most advanced among us. As in Abraham's experience, the birds of temptation and beasts of prey seek to destroy or defile the offering, and we have to hold on in our obedience, binding the sacrifice with fresh cords to the altar.
Now, we must not miss the point of the Apostle's teaching, which is, that when the law of God is stamped in the heart and mind, the spirit of the law prevailing within us makes us desire to obey and serve, and so we are empowered to sustain the claims of the consecrated life.
Then, there is the law of faith. It is spoken of in these verses. 'We are to draw near in the full assurance of faith'; that is, with the confidence that our approaches will not be in vain, because Christ has opened the way by His own Blood; and we believe that the provisions are at our disposal.
Now, faith is a law for the mind as well as for the heart. It is with the heart that a man 'believeth unto righteousness'; but there must be an intelligent perception of the facts and of the rightness of the truth; there must be an apprehension of the reasonableness of God's requirements before a man will happily submit, obey, and follow.
May I touch upon our own family sorrow in the death of a beloved son and Officer in India? Before my heart could rest in the will of God as exhibited in that bereavement, I had to reach the point of believing that a Father's hand prepared that cup, and that His will is the best, and His power and grace will make all things work together for good. The heart cried out in its agonizing pain and sense of loss; but, trusting in the Divine Love, rest and peace came to my bereaved soul.
And so, all along the consecrated way and line of service, it is when the law of faith is written in the mind, and becomes a settled perception or conviction, that the sanctified heart is able to find rest. 'By grace are ye saved through faith', is true at the beginning; but equally true is the word, 'Kept by the power of God through faith'; and the principle is that the law in the mind and heart constantly operates as we tread the appointed path of life and service.
I cannot leave the subject without touching specially upon one among other important laws which deserve our consideration; the law of love. Paul was quite right when, comparing the various qualities of Christian character he declared, 'The greatest of these is love'. 'Love is the bond of perfectness.'
Even submission and sacrifice are acts of joy when it is a case of love's surrender. The blessedness of service is great when love is the inspiration of that service, and great is the enduring power of true God-given love. The human will at best is weak; human supports are like reeds which bend or break when most needed; intellectual capacity or natural talents are valuable; but, after all, they only stand for so much in one's life; but 'love never faileth'. I cannot sufficiently commend to you this law of love in the heart; but, believe me, it sweetens life's sorrow, lightens life's burdens, and strengthens our powers of service and endurance.
How far does our experience harmonize with what has been said about the nature and conditions of true religion? which is only another way of presenting the blessing of Holiness. The new and living way of which the Apostle speaks as opened through the Blood of Jesus, is the only way to the cleansing fountain and the sanctifying grace. Let his words, therefore, encourage you to 'enter with boldness', to 'draw near with a true heart', a heart knowing its need, but believing the promises of God, and He will meet you and make these inward laws of Holiness and service your abiding experience.