Sanctification is one of the most glorious gifts which, by the Covenant of Grace, the Mediator bestows upon the saint. It covers his entire mental, spiritual, and physical nature. We should, therefore, thoroughly understand it, and learn how to obtain it, and every believer, whatever the measure of his faith, should be fully aware of his attitude toward it; for erroneous views concerning this will surely lead us astray from the living Christ.
It is foolish to think that, altho present-day heresies have affected the doctrines of Christ, Sin, and Regeneration, Sanctification is so simple as not to be affected. Yet even ministers fall into this sad delusion. Men of spiritual fervor, they strictly oppose heresies concerning these others, in their catechetical and pulpit instructions, and in their writings; regarding such as fundamental error; but somehow they never realize that the doctrine of sanctification can be imperiled, and they fail to put the Church on guard.
Such imperiling was impossible; and so, indeed, they hardly care to have sanctification distinguished as a dogma at all. "On the contrary," they say, "It is the beauty of sanctification that it is life; hence utterly independent of the mysteries of a dogma. In the life of sanctification believers may be charged with neglect, careless living, slow progress in brief, with faulty doing and working; for what is sanctification but betterment of self and daily growth in holiness? but never with faulty confessing, with faulty views of the doctrine; for sanctification is not doctrine, but life." In this way they have come to deny it the value and dignity of a dogma or doctrine; to make it almost synonymous with bettering of life; hence to make it the common property of all that try to lead earnest and pious lives.
Then the idea naturally grew that many persons of unsound doctrine might lead more spiritual lives. This supposed fact was even fortified with the word of Jesus, that publicans and harlots go into the Kingdom of God before us; and the congregations often received the impression that rationalism itself might lead to better results than sometimes flow from an orthodox belief. And the result was that this so-called sanctification led to a weakening of the faith, to a considering of purity of doctrine as immaterial; until finally it assumed a hostile attitude toward the mysteries of the truth. This was the natural effort of confounding self-betterment with sanctification, and of opposing life to doctrine as gold to tinsel.
The spread of these false ideas of sanctification has not benefited Christianity in these provinces, but, as in pre-Reformation days, it has led the people astray from its pure doctrine.
Rome once suffered and suffers still from the same evil. Not as tho it surrendered or even slighted its doctrine; but, even in the flourishing days of its hierarchy, the necessity of reformation of life was so strongly felt that it resulted in a one-sided urging of sanctification. Its favorite motto was: "Good works." They were of greatest importance: not words, but power; not the confession, but the earnestness and willingness to do good, not merely in secret, but openly so that men could see it! This was carried so far that finally Rome ceased to be satisfied with good works as fruit of conversion, and even began to look upon them as a primary and meritorious cause of salvation; and thus it broke down the mystery of faith by a false preaching of sanctification. As now, unintentionally, by the cry, "Not doctrine, but life," men are driven, as by iron necessity, first to underestimate the value of doctrine, then to disapprove of it, and lastly to pronounce it injurious, yea, even dangerous; so did the cry for good works induce Rome gradually to divorce the mystery of the forgiveness of sin from the cross of Calvary, not in the confession, but in the conscience of its members.
For the sake of clearer insight and safer procedure, we must return to the definite teaching that sanctification is a doctrine, an integral part of the confession, a mystery, just as much as the doctrine of reconciliation, and therefore a dogma. In fact, in the treatment of sanctification we penetrate the very heart of the confession, the dogma which scintillates in the doctrine of sanctification.
Of course we are not to divorce sanctification from life. No child of God denies that the doctrine has its application in life; there is no truth whose operation is not felt in his life. To him every doctrine is instinct with life, a live coal, a radiating fire, a lamp always burning, a well of living water springing up to eternal life. The content of every doctrine, of every mystery, is something in the living God or in His creature; the confession of a condition, a power, a working, a person who actually exists, who lives, who works. The blood of atonement means, not those particular drops which flowed from the cross, and were lost in the inhospitable ground of Calvary; but a treasure in the living Christ, unceasingly at work in heaven, by which He enriches His children on earth, the glorious power of which they know and experience.
And this is true of every mystery, as our confession of the Holy Trinity shows, which says of this deepest and most incomprehensible dogma: "That God's children know this as well from the testimonies of Holy Writ as from the operations of the divine Persons, and chiefly by those we feel in ourselves" (art. ix.).
And this applies to the doctrine of sanctification as well as to all other doctrines; for it is not, any more than the other dogmas, the confession of a lifeless matter, but the confession of an awful power, which lives and works effectually in us. Hence sanctification must be preached once again as a doctrine; it must be confessed, examined, and studied as a doctrine; to be followed by an appropriate application like the preaching of any other doctrine; and godliness, spiritual life, and good works will be the result. But to obtain this result a clear exposition of the cause and animating power of sanctification is necessary.
When on a cold morning the fire does not burn, and the family suffers, it is foolish to say: "Since the fire does not burn remove it, and get warm without it." To keep from freezing requires more fire; not the fire, but the cause of its failure, must be removed. And this applies to sanctification. There is a general and bitter complaint of the coldness that has fallen upon the Church; and it requires the powerful working of sanctification to save the Church.
But the means employed frequently show poor judgment. Formerly the Church confessed a pure doctrine by which it kept close to the source of vital heat which is given us in God's word; and the powers and workings deposited in the Mediator for the Church radiated in glorious activity. Then the Church flourished and faith celebrated its greatest triumphs. It was severely cold without, but, while the world lay perishing in its cerements, truth filled the Church with light and heat, and the sacred fire of a pure doctrine glowed and sparkled. But the light grew dim, and the fire went out; and the Church of God became dark and cold. And the saints, half frozen and stiff, became deeply conscious of the loss they had suffered, and of the need of light and heat. And now, instead of advising them to light the lamp of truth and rekindle the fire of the confession, that their souls may be revived and comforted, many say: "Dear brethren, there is no salvation in dogma or confession; they are utterly unprofitable; nothing remains but to kindle light and heat in your souls without them," And thus the Church is threatened with death and destruction.
In quiet assurance of the blessing of God, we proceed in the opposite direction, and advise the brethren to fill the lamp of the divine mysteries with oil, to put more fuel upon the fire of the confession; then there shall be light and heat, and the Church shall be saved. This shall be so, provided -- and this needs no emphasis -- that the doctrine be really confessed. To confess is not merely to say, "There is a comfortable fire in the house," and then to stay out in the cold; but to accept its comfort and benefit for others as well as for ourselves.
The cry, "Not dogma, but life," is folly and unbelief. Let us rather oppose the shallow and unsound teaching of the day. The doctrine should be a faithful expression of the mystery; the mystery should stand clearly before the spiritual eye and illuminate the soul, as it radiates from the living Christ, according to the design of salvation. Instead of turning the people away from the doctrine, we should make them see how little they understand it; how they have trifled with it, and not confessed it; that their soul's welfare requires its earnest study, that so the act of confessing may deepen and enrich their spiritual life. And then let us imagine, not that the fruit of life must still be imported from elsewhere, but that the doctrine, rightly confessed, becomes its own instrument to manifest its power in us.
Thus sanctification should be treated.