That holiness is more than cleansing, and must be preceded by it, is taught us in more than one passage of the New Testament. 'Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word.' 'If a man cleanse himself from these, he shall be a vessel sanctified.' The cleansing is the negative side, the being separate and not touching the unclean thing, the removal of impurity; the sanctifying is the positive union and fellowship with God, and the participation of the graces of the Divine life and holiness (2 Cor. vi.17, 18). So we read too of the altar, that God spake to Moses: 'Thou shalt cleanse the altar, when thou makest atonement for it, and thou shalt anoint it, to sanctify it' (Ex. xxix.36). Cleansing must ever prepare the way, and ought always to lead on to holiness.
Paul speaks of a twofold defilement, of flesh and spirit, from which we must cleanse ourselves. The connection between the two is so close, that in every sin both are partakers. The lowest and most carnal form of sin will enter the spirit, and, dragging it down into partnership in crime, will defile and degrade it. And so will all defilement of spirit in course of time show its power in the flesh. Still we may speak of the two classes of sins as they owe their origin more directly to the flesh or the spirit.
'Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh.' The functions of our body may be classed under the three heads of the nourishment, the propagation, and the protection of our life. Through the first the world daily solicits our appetite with its food and drink. As the fruit good for food was the temptation that overcame Eve, so the pleasures of eating and drinking are among the earliest forms of defilement of the flesh. Closely connected with this is what we named second, and which is in Scripture specially connected with the word flesh. We know how in Paradise the sinful eating was at once followed by the awakening of sinful lust and of shame. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul closely connects the two (1 Cor. vi.13, 15), as he also links drunkenness and impurity (1 Cor. vi.9, 10). Then comes the third form in which the vitality of the body displays itself: the instinct of self-preservation, setting itself against everything that interferes with our pleasures and comfort. What is called temper, with its fruits of anger and strife, has its roots in the physical constitution, and is one among the sins of the flesh. From all this, the Christian, who would be holy, must most determinedly cleanse himself. He must yield himself to the searching of God's Spirit, to be taught what there is in the flesh that is not in harmony with the temperance and self-control demanded both by the law of nature and the law of the Spirit. He must believe, what Paul felt that the Corinthians so emphatically needed to be taught, that the Holy Spirit dwells in the body, making its members the members of Christ, and in this faith put off the works of the flesh; he must cleanse himself from all defilement of flesh.
'And of spirit.' As the source of all defilement of the flesh is self-gratification, so self-seeking is at the root of all defilement of the spirit. In relation to God, it manifests itself in idolatry, be it in the worship of other gods after our own heart, the love of the world more than God, or the doing our will rather than His. In relation to our fellow-men it shows itself in envy, hatred, and want of love, cold neglect or harsh judging of others. In relation to ourselves it is seen as pride, ambition, or envy, the disposition that makes self the centre round which all must move, and by which all must be judged.
For the discovery of such defilement of spirit, no less than of the sins of the flesh, the believer needs the light of the Holy Spirit; that the uncleanness may indeed be cleansed out and cast away for ever. Even unconscious sin, if we are not earnestly willing to have it shown to us, will most effectually prevent our progress in the path of holiness.
'Beloved! let us cleanse ourselves.' The cleansing is sometimes spoken of as the work of God (Acts xv.9; 1 John i.9); sometimes as that of Christ (John xv.3; Eph. v.26; Tit. ii.14). Here we are commanded to cleanse ourselves. God does His work in us by the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit does His work by stirring us up and enabling us to do. The Spirit is the strength of the new life; in that strength we must set ourselves determinedly to cast out whatever is unclean. 'Come out, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.' It is not only the doing what is sinful, it is not only the willing of it, that the Christian must avoid, but even the touching it: the involuntary contact with it must be so unbearable as to force the cry, O wretched man that I am! and to lead on to the deliverance which the Spirit of the life of Christ does bring.
And how is this cleansing to be done? When Hezekiah called the priests to sanctify the temple that had been defiled, we read (2 Chron. xxix.), 'The priests went in unto the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found.' Only then could the sin-offering of atonement and the burnt-offering of consecration, with the thankofferings, be brought, and God's service be restored. Even thus must all that is unclean be looked out, and brought out, and utterly cast out. However deeply rooted the sin may appear, rooted in constitution and habit, we must cleanse ourselves of it if we would be holy. 'If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.' As we bring out every sin from the inner part of the house into the light of God and walk in the light, the precious blood that justifies will work mightily to cleanse too: the blood brings into living contact with the life and the love of God. Let us come into the light with the sin: the blood will prove its mighty power. Let us cleanse ourselves in yielding ourselves to the light to reveal and condemn, to the blood to cleanse and sanctify.
'Let us cleanse ourselves, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.' We read in Hebrews (x.14), 'Christ hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.' As we have so often seen that what God has made holy man must make holy too, as he accepts and appropriates the holiness God has bestowed, so here with the perfection which the saints have in Christ. We must perfect holiness: holiness must be carried out into the whole of life, and carried on even to its end. As God's holy ones, we must go on to perfection, perfecting holiness. Do not let us be afraid of the word. Our Blessed Lord used it when He gave us the command, 'Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.' A child striving after the perfection in knowledge of his profession, which he hopes to attain when he has finished school, is told by his teacher that the way to the perfection he hopes for at the end of his course is to seek to be perfect in the lessons of each day. To be perfect in the small portion of the work that each hour brings, is the path to the perfection that will crown the whole. The Master calls us to a perfection like that of the Father: He hath already perfected us in Himself: He holds out the prospect of perfection ever growing. His word calls us here day by day to be perfecting holiness. Let us seek in each duty to be whole-hearted and entire. Let us, as teachable scholars, in every act of worship or obedience, in every temptation and trial, do the very best which God's Spirit can enable us to do. 'Let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.' 'The God of peace make you perfect in every good work to do His will.'
'Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.' It is faith that gives the courage and the power to cleanse from all defilement, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. It is as the promises of the Divine love and indwelling (2 Cor. vi 16-18) are made ours by the Holy spirit, that we shall share the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith. In the path along which we have already come, from the rest in Paradise down through Holy Scripture, we have seen the wondrous revelation of these promises in ever-growing splendour. That God the Holy One will make us holy; that God the Holy One will dwell with the lowly; that God in His Holy One has come to be our holiness; that God has planted us in Christ that He may be our sanctification; that God, who chose us in sanctification of the Spirit, has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and now watches over us in His love to work out through Him His purposes and to perfect our holiness: such are the promises that have been set before us. 'Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.'
Beloved brother! see here again God's way of holiness. Arise and step on to it in the faith of the promise, fully persuaded that what He hath promised He is mighty to perform. Bring out of the inner part of the house all uncleanness; bring it into the light of God; confess it and cast it at His feet, who takes it away, and cleanses you in His blood. Yield yourself in faith to perfect, in Christ your Strength, the Holiness to which you are called. As your Father in heaven is perfect, give yourself to Him as a little child to be perfect too in your daily lessons and your daily walk. Believe that your surrender is accepted: that the charge committed to Him is undertaken. And give glory to Him who is able to do above what you can ask or think.
BE YE HOLY, AS I AM HOLY.
Holy Lord Jesus! Thou didst give Thyself for us, that, having cleansed us for Thyself as Thine own, Thou mightest sanctify us and present us to Thyself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Blessed be Thy Name for the wonderful love. Blessed be Thy Name for the wonderful cleansing. Through the washing by the word and the washing in the blood, Thou hast made us clean every whit. And as we walk in the light, Thou cleansest every moment.
With these promises, in the power of Thy word and blood, Thou callest us to cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit. Blessed Lord! graciously reveal in Thy Holy Light all that is defilement, even its most secret working. Let me live as one who is to be presented to Thee without spot or wrinkle or any such thing -- cleansed with a Divine cleansing, because Thou gavest Thyself to do it. Under the living power of Thy word and blood, applied by the Holy Spirit, let my way be clean, and my hands clean, my lips clean, and my heart clean. Cleanse me thoroughly, that I may walk with Thee in white here on earth, keeping my garments unspotted and undefiled. For Thy great love's sake, my Blessed Lord. Amen.
1. Cleansing has almost always one aim: a cleansed vessel is fit for use. Spiritual work done for God, with the honest desire that He may through His Spirit use us, will give urgency to our desire for cleansing. A vessel not cleansed cannot be used: is not this the reason that there are some workers God cannot bless?
2. All defilement: one stain defiles. 'Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement.'
3. No cleansing without Light. Open the heart for the Light to shine in.
4. No cleansing like fire. Give the defilement over to the fire of His Holiness, the fire that consumes and purifies. Give it into the death of Jesus, to Jesus Himself.
5. 'Perfecting holiness in the fear of God:' it is a solemn work. Rejoice with trembling -- work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
6. 'Having these promises,' it is a blessed work to cleanse ourselves -- entering into the promises, the purity, the love of our Lord. The fear of God need never hinder the faith in Him. And true faith will never hinder the practical work of cleansing.
7. If we walk in the light, the blood cleanseth. The light reveals; we confess and forsake, and accept the blood; so we cleanse ourselves. Let there be a very determined purpose to be clean from all defilement, everything that our Father considers a stain.