A "New Heart" not necessarily a "Clean Heart."
But some one objects, "I thought that when one became a Christian, and was made a partaker of the Divine nature, he had a clean heart?" Not necessarily. Many, many a one is born again, is pardoned and justified, and yet has not a "clean heart." "Forgiveness" is one thing, "Cleansing" is another, and one may possess the former without possessing the latter. For instance, take the case of David in Ps. li. He was one of God's people, a restored backslider, when he wrote that Psalm. "The Lord also hath put away thy sin" (2 Sam. xii.13), said Nathan to him. But forgiveness, great and sweet as that gift was, was not enough for Israel's now so deeply-taught and penitent King. "Create in me a clean heart" (Ps. li.10), he cries. This is something over and above being "born again," over and above and beyond and deeper even than "forgiveness" (compare Ps. li.2 and Jer. xxxiii.8). See also the New Testament teaching on this point in 1 John i.7, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin;" and 1 John i.9, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Is the "cleansing" of verse 7 the same as the "cleansing" of verse 9? Most certainly not. The "cleansing" of verse 7 has to do with the guilt of sin, with sin after it has been committed; this is the only sense in which the Blood of Jesus "cleanses," it washes white as snow from the guilt and stain of actual transgression; that "cleansing" is retrospective. Now, this "Cleansing" of verse 7 is the "forgiving" of verse 9; both these words bear on a sinner's Justification. But the "cleansing from all unrighteousness" of verse 9 is something different from, something over and above the "forgiving" of verse 9, or the "cleansing" of verse 7; else, if they mean one and the same thing, would not the author be guilty of tautology? The "cleansing" of verse 9 is prospective, and refers to holiness of life, to our being saved from sin, from sinning. And you will notice that it is not the Blood of Jesus that does this, but Jesus Himself by the exercise of His Almighty power. There is a great deal of confusion on this point in many minds, a confusion fostered, if not begotten, by some of our hymns. Powers are sometimes attributed to the Blood of Jesus, to the Death of Christ, which belong to Jesus Himself, to the living Christ. We are saved from sin's condemnation by the Blood, cleansed from the guilt of all sin, forgiven on the ground of the Blood; and in this connection we cannot possibly make too much of the Blood, too much of the Death of the Son of God -- but we are saved from sin's power by Jesus Himself. "Himself (lit.) shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. i.21). "We shall be saved by His life" (Rom. v.10). "He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The Blood "cleanses" in the sense of washing the sin away after it has actually been committed; He "cleanses" in the sense of preventing, restraining from sin. He keeps us back from sinning. He "makes us more than conquerors" over sin; and in this so blessed sense "prevention is better than cure." How often does a mother say to her child when putting on a clean snow-white pinafore in the morning, "Now, my darling, do keep it clean!" "Yes, mother," and she intends to do so; but alas for her intentions! At dinner-time she comes home with her pinafore about as dirty as she can make it. Now, the mother can wash it and make it clean again, as white as ever; but it is weary, wearing work, this everlasting washing. So the Blood of Jesus can cleanse from all sin the garments that are brought to it for cleansing, and what a deal of cleansing it has to do for some of us!
But wouldn't it be just splendid for many a hardworking mother if she could put some power or other into her child -- her own self, for instance -- by which the child would be kept from making the pinafore dirty at all, so that it would not need washing? Wouldn't this be a vast improvement, even on making it clean after it has been made dirty? This is just what Jesus does. He puts a power within the child that trusts Him -- that power is Himself, by which the believer is kept from defiling his garments by any known sin, so that they do not need washing. This is to be "cleansed from all unrighteousness." But there are whole battalions of God's saved, forgiven, and "cleansed" people ("cleansed" in the sense of verse 7), who are not "cleansed" in this sense ("cleansed" in the sense of verse 9), who are not yet saved from the power of some besetting (that is, upsetting) sin or other. Have we not known some Christian men who, as has been well said, are like well-supplied cruet-stands? take them which side you like, you will get something either hot or sour, peppery or vinegarish from them! And yet one can scarcely doubt their conversion to God! What are we to say of these cross-grained or fretful, or worldly-minded, or covetous, or pleasure-loving professors of religion? One would fear to judge some of them and say they were utter strangers to God's regenerating grace; no, but one will say that what they sorely need is the "clean" heart.
What is a Clean Heart?
The question then arises, What is it to have a "clean heart"? what is it to be "cleansed from all unrighteousness"? It is to be "saved from our sins," according to Matt. i.21. It is to translate 1 John iii.9 into practice, "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin; ... and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God." It is to have a "conscience void of offense" (Acts xxiv.16). It is to "know nothing against myself" (1 Cor. iv.4). It is -- in the words of another -- to be "saved from all known, conscious sin." But, it is objected, "That is perfection!" (It is amazing how frightened some people are of being perfect! It were well if they were equally afraid of being imperfect; for it is imperfection that grieves God. This dread of perfection has been called by some one, "a scarecrow set up by the devil to frighten away God's people from the very finest of the wheat.") "That is perfection!" Yes and no. It is the perfection which is not only allowed, but commanded in the Word of God. But it is not absolute perfection; it is not sinlessness. Let us look carefully at the expression, "From all known, conscious sin;" "From all;" yes, all, not some or nearly all, but from "all known sin" -- known, that is, to us, though not from all known to God; from "all known, conscious sin," so that one might be able to say, in the language of the lowliest of the apostles, "Herein do I also exercise myself to have a conscience void of offense toward God and men alway" (Acts xxiv.16); and "I know nothing against myself" (1 Cor. iv.4); or, in the language of the disciple whom Jesus loved, "We keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John iii.22). To have a clean heart, then, is to be saved "from our sins," saved from sinning, saved by JESUS; note it well! not saved by our own efforts, by our watching and praying, and wrestling and fighting and struggling, but by Jesus. So it is not a question of what we can do, but of what He can do. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen. xviii.14.) Can He not "guard from stumbling?" (Jude 24.) Can He not save from sin, from sinning? Is not this what is meant when it is said, "He is able to save to the uttermost"? (Heb. vii.25.) "Able to save," as Matthew Poole puts it, "to perfection, to the full, to all ends, from sin, in its guilt, its stain, its power." Yes, He is just as complete, as perfect a Saviour from the power of sin, as He is from its guilt and stain. He is equally powerful in each department of His saving work. But after all is said and done, and one is being saved from all known, conscious sin, saved from sinning, that is not to say there is no sin remaining. We are face to face with the inspired statement, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 John i.8). How much sin may there be in us of which we are entirely unconscious, but which is naked and open to those "Eyes like unto a flame of fire!" (Rev. ii.18).
"I know nothing against myself," cries Paul in 1 Cor. iv.4, "yet am I not hereby justified; but He that judgeth (examineth) me is the Lord." God may, and does, know much against me when I know nothing against myself; and it is just here that our constant need of the cleansing Blood comes in. If the Bible doctrine of the clean heart meant the eradication of sin, a state of sinlessness, that is, absolute perfection, what need would we then have of the cleansing Blood at all? Though Jesus Christ may have "cleansed us from all unrighteousness," so that we "have a conscience void of offense," so that we "know nothing against ourselves," yet we need the Blood to cleanse from the sins which our eyes fail to detect, and of which our conscience takes no cognizance. It is failure to see this that has led many astray at this point. Having been cleansed and having "no more conscience of sins" (Heb. x.2), they imagine they have no more sin. How superficial is some people's idea of sin! How little conception have they of the Pauline doctrine of sin! He speaks of sin as "exceeding sinful." How subtle it is! how far-reaching! In their daring ignorance some have actually taken the penknife, like Judah's foolish king, and cut a whole petition out of the prayer which the Lord taught His disciples. He taught them to pray, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors;" but these modern lights in their darkness are correcting their Teacher, and have cut out that petition, and thrown it away. "No need have we to confess our sin, for we have none to confess, and therefore we have no debts to be forgiven." Poor mistaken people! never more need of confession and forgiveness than when they are speaking thus! The holiest of men are the men who lie the lowest before the Holy One, confessing that which they know only too well (because the truth is in them), that they "have sin," offering the sacrifices with which God is ever well pleased, "a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart" (Ps. li.17). The nearer we get to Him "whose head and whose hair are white as wool, white as snow" (Rev. i.14), to the Ancient of days "whose garment is white as snow" (Dan. vii.9), the more conscious are we of the dullness of our whiteness, of the vast difference between our whitest and His whiteness; and this consciousness humbles one. "What is it to have sin? What is sin?" asked a great leader once, and he answered his own question thus: "It is to come short of the glory of God; and in this sense we sin every moment of our lives in thought, word, and deed." Is there a man on earth who can stand before the infinitely Holy One and say, "I do not come short of Thy glory"? Should we speak thus, "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
We may be helped here by observing the difference between the two New Testament words "blameless" and "faultless." "I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless (without blame, unblameworthy), unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. v.23). "To present you faultless (flawless, blemishless) before the presence of His glory" (Jude 24). Now a person or work may be "blameless" and yet not be "faultless." This is not verbal hair-splitting -- by no means. Suffer a personal illustration. I have lying on the table beside me a letter, which will illustrate the point at issue. I received it when I was away in New Zealand on a mission tour, in 1891. It was from my eldest daughter, then a child of five years of age. It reads: "Dear father, I wrote all this myself. I send you a kiss from Elsie." The fact of the matter is, that it is not writing at all, but an attempt at printing in large capitals, and not one of the letters is properly formed; there is not as much as one straight stroke on the page. Why is it that I prize this letter and keep it laid up among my treasures? Fathers who are as much away from home as I am will understand when I say that it was my child's first attempt at letter-writing. Now, this letter which I prize so dearly is certainly not a "faultless" production; it is as full of faults as it is full of letters, but most assuredly it is "blameless." I did not blame my child for her crooked strokes, and answer with a scold, for I judged her work by its motive. I knew it was the best she could do, and that she had put all the love of her little heart into it. She wanted to do something to please me, and she succeeded. By the grace of the indwelling Christ (for you will perceive that it is His work, "Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it" -- 1 Thess. v.24), this is what our daily life, our daily life-work may be, viz., "blameless;" and He can tell us that it is so, even as I told my child; we may have this testimony, that we are "pleasing God," as Enoch had (Heb. xi.5). Oh, the joy! Oh, the inspiration of this God-given testimony! But what a sad mistake for any who may by grace have been made "blameless," to think that they are "faultless," a condition which is to be found only "before the throne." For it is to be noted that the Greek word translated "without blemish," "without fault," (amomos) is never used of God's people on earth. It is used once of the Lamb "without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet. i.19). Elsewhere of the saints.
In Rev. xiv.5, "Without fault before the throne of God."
In Jude 24, "Before the presence of His glory without blemish."
In Eph. v.27, "That it should be holy and without blemish," when in the sweet by-and-by He will "present the Church to Himself."
In Eph. i.4, "Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love;" chosen in the past eternity that we should be "holy and without blemish" in the coming eternity, not here, but there; not now, but then; for the word translated "before" is the same Greek word (katenopion), translated in Jude 24 "before the presence of."
In Col. i.22, "To present you holy and without blemish, and unreprovable before Him." Here he is speaking again of our future standing, for the word translated "before" is the same as in Eph. i.4.
"Without blemish" then is sinlessness, having no sin. "And if we say (here on earth) we have no sin (are sinless -- blemishless -- faultless -- flawless), we deceive ourselves (but no one else!), and the truth is not in us" (1 John i.8). He that has the truth in him knows only too well that he has sin in him, though "cleansed from all sin" by the blood, and though "cleansed from all unrighteousness" by the might of the uttermost Saviour. It is most instructive and humbling to notice how the Spirit of truth has placed that "If we say we have (present tense) no sin, we deceive ourselves," in between His two statements about the "cleansing from all sin" and the "cleansing from all unrighteousness."
But though we will never be able on earth to say with the truth in us that "we have no sin," -- that we are without blemish, yet the whole Bible teaches us that we may, in this life, be saved "from our sins." (Note the difference between "sin" and "sins.") We may be saved from sinning. "These things write we unto you, that ye sin not" (1 John ii.1); and this is the condition described as "blameless," "unreprovable," "without reproach."
See 1 Cor. i.8; 1 Tim. iii.10; Tit. i.6, 7; where the Greek word anegkletos (unreprovable) is used.
Also 1 Tim. iii.2; 1 Tim. v.7; where the Greek word is anepileptos (without reproach).
Also Matt. xii.5, where anaitios (guiltless) is used.
Also 2 Pet. iii.14, where amometos (blameless) is employed.
Also Luke i.6; Phil. ii.15, and iii.6; 1 Thess. ii.10, iii.13; and v.23, where amemptos (without blame) is the word used.
These words describe a state or condition of heart and life which is not only attainable here, but imperative; and the passages we have just been reading prove that it has been attained. This is what is meant by a clean heart, to be "blameless," not "faultless."
"I was sitting alone in the twilight,
"Some homely work I was doing
"But my thoughts were about the building,
"And remembering my own poor efforts,
"'It is nothing but wood, hay and stubble,'
"'And I have so longed to serve Him,
"Just then as I turned the garment,
"My heart grew suddenly tender,
"Dear child! she wanted to help me,
"And yet, can you understand it?
"Then a sweet voice broke the silence,
"Then straightway I knew His meaning,
"So, I thought, when the Master Builder
"Perhaps as He looks o'er the building
"He will feel as I felt for my darling,
"'And for the great love that is in it
"And there, in the deepening twilight,
"Then I knew by the thrill of sweetness,
"So my thoughts are never more gloomy,
A clean heart then does not mean sinlessness, the eradication of sin, that sin is taken out of us; for though sin is taken out of the heart that is cleansed -- for a clean heart must be clean! -- yet "the flesh," the self-life, remains in the man, "latent if not patent," ready to manifest itself should the counteracting power of the indwelling Christ the Saviour even for a moment be withdrawn. This "flesh" is evil (Rom. vii.18) and, therefore, while "the flesh" is in us "sin" is in us, and hence our constant need of the cleansing Blood. As we trust for continuous cleansing we get it. "The Blood ... cleanseth" -- resent progressive tense -- goes on cleansing, therefore guilt is never allowed to gather, for as sin appears the Blood cleanses it away and so keeps us clean. Blessed present tense! Thus it is possible for us always to walk in the Light.
Then as Christ exercises His counteracting power over "the flesh" we are being "cleansed from all unrighteousness," delivered from doing the "not right," and, by continuous trust in our omnipotent Saviour, we may know continuous deliverance, continuous victory over sin; we need never know defeat. A Christian mother had just kissed good-night to her little daughter, and was busy in the dining-room arranging the table for dinner, when she heard little feet on the stair. Wondering what was the matter, she slipped into the window recess and hid herself behind the curtains, and waited. Presently the little one came into the room, and going straight up to some peaches that were on the table, she took one of them away with her! Oh, the agony in that mother heart! She did not speak to her child, but standing where she was, she spoke to God her Father, and asked Him so fervently to speak to her child. God heard that cry, and in a little while the sound of the pattering feet was heard on the stair again. The child came into the room, not knowing her mother was there, and going on tip-toe over to the table she put the peach in the place from which she had taken it. As she turned away with a radiant face, rubbing her hands with delight, her mother heard her say, "Sold again, Satan! Sold again, Satan!" That's victory! Yes, the cleansing means that and more than that. "We are more than conquerors," for when Jesus cleanses the heart, He cleanses the springs of action and being, so that our very desires are purified; the desire to sin, the "want to," is taken clean away. This is coming off "more than conquerors through Him that loved us" (Rom. viii.37). Glory to His name! The man now "wants to" do the will of God. He "likes" what God likes. "I thought you could do what you liked," was the taunt hurled by a young man at a friend of his who enjoyed full salvation on his refusing to go to the theater. "I thought you told me you could do what you liked?" "So I can." "Why, then, won't you come with me as I asked you?" "Because I don't like," was the rejoinder. The only men on earth who enjoy perfect freedom are the men who have clean hearts, for they not only know that they ought to do the will of God, but they want to do it and they like to do it and moreover they have a power that enables them to do it. On the other hand, in our jails and hospitals you will find people who thought that they could do as they liked, but they have discovered that they were mistaken.
Cleansing: a Crisis
But how am I to get this clean heart? Peter answers, "Cleansing their hearts by faith" (Acts xv.9). Cleansing is God's work, and the condition on which God will do His work is "faith" on our part. There is only one way of getting anything from God, and that is by faith. One obtained forgiveness and the new birth by faith, and one obtains cleansing of the heart by faith too. You may, you will, get "cleansing" the moment you definitely trust Christ for it. "We aye get what we gang in for" was one of Duncan Mathieson's favorite expressions; and along the line of God's revealed will how true it is! If you will only venture now on Christ for "cleansing from all unrighteousness," He will do it for you now. "Wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?" (Jer. xiii.27.) Why not now? for "cleansing" is a crisis and not a process; but, as Principal Moule, of Cambridge, has very tersely put it, "Cleansing is a crisis with a view to a process." It is just here that multitudes of God's people miss the track. "Sanctification is the work of God's free grace." Of course it is; it is a "growth," a gradual process; but "cleansing" is not "sanctification." The latter, in the sense in which it is being used here, is a theological term embracing all the Spirit's work in the believer between the cross and the crown; but "cleansing" is an act. While sanctification is a "growth," "cleansing" is one of the conditions of growth, and the very reason why some who hold most tenaciously by the gradual theory of sanctification are "growing in grace" so very slowly, is that they have not attended to one of the most essential conditions of growth, viz., this "cleansing." "But," some one objects, "this is not in the Standards of our Church?" That may be; but it is in the Bible. To quote the words of the saintly Dr. Andrew Bonar in another connection, "I believe all that is in our Standards, for I find all that is in our Standards in the Bible; but I believe more than is in our Standards, for I find some things in my Bible that are not in the Standards;" for the simple and very obvious reason that you cannot get a quart into a pint measure. While every honest Churchman believes that all that is in the Standards of the Church to which he belongs is in the Bible, no one in his sane senses believes that everything in the Bible is to be found in the Standards. The doctrine of a "clean heart" is one of these things.
[1: Shorter Catechism, No.35.]
In support of the statement that "cleansing" is a crisis, an act, something done in a moment, just as conversion is, and not a "process" drawn out indefinitely before one can reach a state of "cleansing," let us ponder well David's prayer, in Psalm li.10, "Create in (margin, for) me a clean heart." Is creation an "act" or a "work"? Is it a "crisis" or a "process"? All the Creator had to do was to speak the word and David's prayer was granted; he then could turn his prayer into thanksgiving; "I thank Thee for having created in me a clean heart;" but he could not thank God for what he had not received. Giving thanks for the clean heart would prove that it was in his possession. Note also that heart "cleansing" is God's work alone. We are exhorted to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (2 Cor. vii.1), which simply means "separation" from all the palpable, manifest evils Paul had just been enumerating, such as "yoking with unbelievers," "unrighteousness," "darkness," "Belial," "infidel," "idols," "unclean things" (vide 2 Cor. vi.14-17). In reference to all such things God says "cleanse yourselves." The aorist tense is used in the original, denoting a definite, decisive act; "separate from these things at once and be done with them." And where are we to get the enabling power? In effect, God says, "Draw a check on ME; draw on My resources for all you need," for all God's commandings are God's enablings. But when it comes to be a question of cleansing the "heart," the inner being, the springs of action, that part of the man where the affections and the will are seated, God undertakes that Himself; He says, "Bring that to Me." If this work were left to us it would indeed be a "process" slow and tedious, and progress might be made, as it so often is, alas! backward. But now the question is, -- not what can the believer do by his efforts to overcome indwelling sin, but what can the Almighty God do? It is not a question of our power, but of His.
"'Twas most impossible of all,
He is able and willing to "cleanse." Are we willing to be cleansed?
Another mistake to be carefully guarded against is this, making "cleansing" to be an end instead of a means to an end. "Cleansing" is not the blessing that we are seeking; it is only a means. The end is the "Filling of the Holy Ghost." "Cleansing" is a negative blessing, the separating from sin; but we can only be satisfied with a positive blessing. When the housewife cleans the house, does she then go out and live in the yard? Not so. She cleans the house that it may be the more fit for her to inhabit. God cleanses, "empties, sweeps, and garnishes" (Matt. xii.44), that He may come in to dwell; and if He, the Holy One, does come in and take up His abode, He will keep His dwelling place "clean." This "cleansing" of which we have been speaking is one of the steps into the Blessed Life; but there is not much likelihood of any one living the Life unless they first take the necessary steps into the Life. It is a Life of Purity, and it is lived, as it is entered upon, by faith in the Son of God; hence the name by which the Spirit-filled Life is sometimes called -- the Life of Faith.