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God's Way of Holiness: Chapter 9 - Counsels and Warnings

By Horatius Bonar

      That which among men so frequently takes the name of holiness is very unlike the Bible reality. Whether used in connection with the hardness of a lifeless orthodoxy, or the genialities of a fond idealism, or the smooth regularities of a mechanical devotion, or the religiousness of pictorial superstition, or the austerities of self-righteous mortification, or the sentimentalisms of liberalized theology, or the warm dreams of an earnest pantheism, the words "holy" and "holiness" and "spirituality" have become misnomers or ciphers, as ambiguous in meaning and profane in use, as would have been Aaron's ephod upon the shoulders of a priest of Baal.

      This retention of Bible formulas and a Bible terminology after the expulsion or perversion of Bible meaning is one of the sacrilegious dishonesties of the age, which are so uncomfortably offensive to a straight-forward student of the Word.

      Holiness may be called spiritual perfection, as righteousness is legal completeness, and both are exhibited in Christ. He is the representation, the illustration, the model. Likeness to Him is holiness. He that is holy is conformed to His image. Every other ideal is vanity. We must learn from the four Gospels what living holiness is, and for a doctrinal exposition of it we must turn to the Epistles. Thus we shall understand both what it is not and what it is.

      "Abide in Me," "learn of Me," "follow Me," are the contents and summing-up of the Christian statute-book, constituting our true directory and guide in the pursuit of holiness. Here we have:

      1. The life. From the Prince of life the new life comes to us, even out of His death and tomb, for "we are planted together in the likeness of His death, that we may be also in that of His resurrection" (Rom 6:5); "we are dead (have died), and our life is hid with Christ in God" (Col 3:3). Thus we are "alive unto righteousness"; we live, and yet not we, but Christ in us. We come to Him for life, or rather, first of all, He comes to us with life: we "apprehend Him," or rather, first of all, "we are apprehended of Him"; and the "abiding in Him" is but a continuance of the first act of "coming," a doing the same thing all our life which we did at first. Thus we live.

      Thus life increases by a daily influx, and as yesterday's sunshine will not do for today, nor today's for tomorrow, so must there be the constant communication of heavenly life, else there will be immediate relapse into death and darkness. Because He liveth, we live, and shall live for ever. His life is ours, and our Christianity must be (like its fountain-head) a thing of vitality, and power, and joy; our life the most genial, earnest, and useful of all lives, "out of us flowing rivers of living water" (John 7:38).

      2. The scholarship. "Learn of Me." His is the school of heaven, the school of light. Here there is all truth and no error The Tutor is as perfect as He is "meek and lowly." He is at once the teacher and the lesson. With Him is the perfection of training and discipline and wisdom. There is no flaw, no failure, no incompleteness in the education which He imparts. He teaches to know, to love, to act, to endure, to rejoice and to be Sorrowful, "to be full and to suffer want." The range' of scholarship enjoyed by His disciples is only to be measured by His divine stores, His "treasures of wisdom and knowledge." And the end of His instruction and discipline is to make us holy men, conformed to His likeness, and imitators of His heavenly perfection.

      3. The walk. "Follow Me." It is not merely a life to which we are called, but a walk (a "walking about," as the Greek implies); not a sitting alone; not a private enjoying of religion but a walk--a walk in which we are visible on all sides, a walk' which fixes many eyes upon us, a walk in which we are "made a spectacle" to heaven, earth and hell. It is no motionless resting or retirement from our fellows, but a moving about in the midst of them, a coming into contact with friends and foes, a going to and fro upon the highways and byways of earth. As was the Master so must the servant be. On His way to the cross He looked round and said, "Follow Me" (John 12:26); on His way to the throne, after He had passed the cross, He said the same (John 21:22). To the cross, then, and to the crown alike, we are to follow Him. It is one way to both.

      He then that would be holy must be like Christ, and he that would be like Christ must be " filled with the Spirit" ; he that would have in him the mind of Christ must have the same "anointing" as He had, the Same indwelling and inworking Spirit, the Spirit of "adoption," of life, faith, truth, liberty, strength, and holy joy. it is through this mighty Quickener that we are quickened; it is through "sanctification of the Spirit" that we are sanctified (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2).

      It is as our Guest that He does His work, not working without dwelling, nor dwelling without working (2 Tim 1:14), not exerting a mere influence, like that of music on the ruffled soul, but coming into us and abiding with us; so that being "filled with His company," as well as pervaded by His power, we are thoroughly "transformed." He does not merely ply us with arguments, nor affect us with "moral suasion," but impresses us with the irresistible touch of His divine hand, and penetrates us with His own vital energy; nay, He impregnates us with His own purity and life, in spite of desperate resistance and unteachableness and unbelief on our part, all the days of our life.

      He that would be like Christ, moreover, must study Him. We cannot make ourselves holy by merely trying to be so, any more than we can make ourselves believe and love by simple energy of endeavor. No force can effect this. Men try to be holy, and they fail. They cannot by direct effort work themselves into holiness. They must gaze upon a holy object and so be changed into its likeness "from glory to glory" (2 Cor 3:18). They must have a holy Being for their bosom friend. Companionship with Jesus, like that of John, can alone make us to resemble either the disciple or the Master. He that would be holy must steep himself in the Word, must bask in the sunshine with radiates from each page of revelation. It is through the truth that we are sanctified (John 17:17). Exposing our souls constantly to this light, we become more thoroughly "children of the light," and

            Like the stain'd web that whitens in the sun,
            Grow pure by being purely shone upon.

      For, against evil, divine truth is quick and powerful. It acts like some chemical ingredient, that precipitates all impurities, and leaves the water clear. It works like a spell of disenchantment against the evil one, casting him out, and casting him down. It is "the sword of the Spirit," with whose keen edge we cut our way through hostile thousands. It is the rod of Moses, by which we divide the Red Sea, and defeat Amalek, and bring water from the desert rock. What evil, what enemy, within or without, is there that can withstand this unconquered and unconquerable Word? Satan's object at present is to undermine that Word, and to disparage its perfection.

      Let us the more magnify it, and the more make constant use of it. It is indeed only a fragment of man's language, made up of human letters and syllables, but it is furnished with superhuman virtue. That rod in the hand of Moses, what was it? A piece of common wood. Yet it cut the Red Sea in twain. That serpent on the pole, what was it? A bit of brass. Yet it healed thousands. Why all this? Because that wood and that brass were connected with omnipotence, conductors of the heavenly electricity. So let the Bible be to us the book of all books, for wounding, healing, quickening, strengthening, comforting, and purifying.

      Yet, he that would be holy must fight. He must war a good warfare (1 Tim 1:18); fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12), though not with carnal weapons (2 Cor 10:4). He must fight upon his knees, being sober, and watching unto prayer (1 Pet 4:7). He must wrestle with principalities and powers, being strong in the Lord and the power of His might, having put on the whole armor of God, girdle, breastplate, shield, helmet and sword (Eph 6:13-17). This battle is not to the strong (Eccl 9:11), but to the weak; it is fought in weakness, and the victory is to them that have no might; for in this conflict time and chance do not happen to all; but we count upon victory from the first onset, being made more than conquerors through Him that loved us, and are cheered with the anticipation of the sevenfold reward "to him that overcometh" (Rev 2:7). Though, in this our earthly course and combat, we have the hostility of devils, we have the ministry of angels in aid (Heb 1:14), as well as the power of the Holy Ghost (Eph 1:13).

      He that would be holy must watch. "Watch thou in all things" (2 Tim 4:5); "watch ye, stand fast in the faith. quit you like men, be strong" (1 Cor 16:13). Let the sons of night sleep or stumble in the darkness, but let us, who are of the day, be sober, lest temptation overtake us, and we be ensnared in the wiles of the devil, or the seductions of this wanton world. "Blessed is he that watcheth" (Rev 16:15). In watching let us witness a good confession (1 Tim 6:13), not ashamed of Him whose badge we bear; let us run a swift and patient race; "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin [unbelief] which doth so easily beset us" (Heb 12:1) and "follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" (1 Tim 6:11), having our eye upon the coming and the kingdom of our Lord Jesus.

      He that would be holy must feel his responsibility for being so, both as a member of Christ's body and a partaker of the Holy Ghost. The thought that perfection is not to be reached here ought not to weaken that sense of responsibility, nor lead us to give way to aught that would "grieve the Holy Spirit of God whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption." The sevenfold fullness of the risen Christ (Rev 2:1), and the sevenfold fullness of the Holy Ghost (Rev 5:6), these are the church's birthright, and for no mess of pottage is she to sell it; nay, for the personal possession of that fullness, in so far as vessels such as ours can contain it, each saint is responsible. We are sanctified by the blood (Heb 13:12), that we may be sanctified by the Holy Ghost (1 Cor 6:11), be led by the Spirit (Gal 5:18), be temples of the Holy Ghost, even in our bodies (1 Cor 6:19), walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:16), speaking by the Spirit (1 Cor 12:3), living in the Spirit (Gal 5:25), and having the communion of the Holy Ghost (2 Cor 13:14).

      The doctrine of the personality and energy of the Holy Spirit was not more offensive to the cold infidelity of the last century than it is to the more earnest and plausible idealism of the present day. It is set aside as savoring of superstition, and at variance with human liberty and self-power. Energies from beneath or from above are either denied, or recognized only as "principles" or "sensations," or developments of natural law, not connected with personalities in either case. Supernatural personalities are exploded relics of superstition! The thought that there was one perfect and superhuman book, in this world of imperfect literature, used to be cheering; but if modem theories of inspiration be true, this consolation is gone, and the world is left thoroughly disconsolate, without one fragment of the superhuman or the perfect in the midst of it.

      The Christian man must not trifle with sin under any pretense; least of all on the plea that he is not "under the Law." The apostolic precepts and warnings are quite as explicit as the Mosaic, and much more numerous. He that thinks himself free from the latter will have no difficulty in persuading himself that he may set aside the former; and he who reckons it bondage to listen to the Sinaitic statute, "Thou shalt not kill," will think it equal bondage to hearken to the Pauline commandment: "Be not drunk with 'wine," or "Owe no man anything," or "Let him that stole steal no more."

      As possessors of the Spirit of love, we must be loving, laying aside all malice, and guile, and hypocrisies, and evil-speaking, discharging daily the one debt that is never to be paid (Rom 13:8). For the indwelling Spirit is not idle nor barren, but produces fruit, divine fruit in human hearts, heavenly fruit on earthly soil, fruit which indicates its inner source, and tells of the glorious Guest within; "for the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Gal 5:22,23).

      As those whose feet have found the rock, let us be stable, not carried about with every wind of doctrine, not vacillating nor undecided nor compromising. As those who have been "delivered from a present evil world," let us, like the saints of old, be separate from it, standing aloof from its gaieties, as men who have no time for such things, even were they harmless, keeping our raiment undefiled. Let us be suspicious of its foolish talking and jesting, jealous of its light literature, which "eats as doth a canker," vitiating the taste, and enervating the soul.

      Let us maintain unblunted the edge of our relish for prayer and fellowship with God, as the great preservative against the seductions of the age; for only intimacy with God can keep us from intimacy with the world. Let us not try to combine the novel and the Bible, the closet and the ballroom; nor attempt to serve two masters, to drink two cups (1 Cor 10:21), to worship two gods, to enjoy two religions, to kneel at two altars.

      Let us be on our guard against old self in every form, whether it be indolence, or temper, or coldness, or rudeness, or disobligingness, or slovenliness, or shabbiness, or covetousness, or flippancy, or self-conceit, or pride, or cunning, or obstinacy, or sourness, or levity, or foolishness, or love of preeminence. Let us cultivate a tender conscience, avoiding old notions and conceits; yet watching against the commission of little sins, and the omission of little duties; redeeming the time, yet never in a hurry; calm, cheerful, frank, happy, genial, generous, disinterested, thoughtful of others. Seeing we must protest against the world on so many important points, let us try to differ from it as little as possible on things indifferent, always showing love to those we meet with, however irreligious and unlovable, especially avoiding a contemptuous spirit or an air of superiority.

      As disciples of Christ, let our discipleship be complete and consistent, our connection with Him exhibiting itself in conformity to His likeness, our life a comprehensive creed, our walk the embodiment of all that is honest, and lovely, and of good report. Christ's truth sanctifies as well as liberates; His wisdom purifies as well as quickens. Let us beware of accepting the liberty without the holiness, the wisdom without the purity, the peace without the zeal and love.

      Let us be true men, in the best sense of the word: true to ourselves, true to our new birth and our new name, true to the church of God, true to the indwelling Spirit, true to Christ and to the doctrine concerning Him, true to that book of which He is the sum and the burden. Let us be true to truth, loving it, not because it is pleasant or picturesque or ancient, but because it is true and divine. On it let us feed, with appetite new-whetted every day; so shall we add, not one, but many cubits to our stature, growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is such a thing in the church as poverty of blood. Hence the blotches that discolor her. For the removal of these, not mere medicine is needed, but a more generous diet.

      That diet is only to be found in the Word, which is as nourishing (Jer 15:16) as it is healing and purifying to the blood, being truly what old Tyndale calls it, "the word of our soul's health." There is needed, too, the infusion of richer blood, to be brought about by a second Pentecost, in which the existing life will be greatly intensified, and large additions made by conversions of a deeper kind than heretofore. So shall our leanness of faith, of love, of life, of zeal, of joy be efficaciously and abidingly cured. So shall we "come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:7).

      Our spiritual constitution must be braced, not only that we may be strong for work or fight, but that we may be proof against the infection of the times, against the poison with which the god of this world, "the prince of the power of the air," has impregnated our atmosphere. For this we need not only the "strong meat" recommended by the apostle (Heb 5:12-14), but the keen fresh mountain air of trial, vicissitude, and hardship, by means of which we shall be made hardy in constitution and robust in frame, impervious to the contagion around (whether that come from ecclesiastical pictorialism or religious liberalism), impregnable against the assaults of Satan the Pharisee, or Satan the Sadducee.

      They who have slid into a creed (they know not how), or dreamed themselves into it, or been swept into it by the crowd; they to whom the finding of a creed has been a matter of reading, education, or emotion; they to whom faith has been but the result of an intellectual conflict, not a life and death struggle of conscience, these possess not the true power of resistance. They carry no disinfecting virtue, no error-repelling power about with them. The epidemics of the age tell sorely upon them, and even though they may have taken hold of the truth, it becomes evident that the truth has not taken hold of them. In a time of uncertainty, skepticism, speculation, false progress, we need to recognize the full meaning of the apostolic "we know" (1 John 5:13-20), "we believe" (2Cor4:13), "we are confident" (2 Cor 5:6), "we are persuaded" (2 Tim 1:12).

      For that which is divine must be true; that which is revealed must be certain, and that which is thus divinely true and certain must be immortal. Like the results of the exact sciences, it is fixed, not varying with men and ages. That which was true, is true, and shall be true for ever. It is the more needful to recognize all this, because the ground underneath us has been thoroughly mined and is very largely hollow; a process of skeptical decomposition and disintegration has been going on, the extent of which will soon be manifest when the treacherous crust gives way. (1)

      At the same time let us beware, in the details of personal religion, merely of repeating the past, or getting up an imitation of religion. The genuine in life does not thus repeat itself; nor does it need to do so. The living face of man is of a certain type; yet each face varies from its fellow. The Holy Spirit's work is not to form mere statues. He produces life, and life is always varied. It is death that repeats itself. As silence is always the same, so is it with death. The presence of life is the security against tame monotony.

      The larger the infusion of life, the greater the diversity, not of gifts merely, but of beauty, and fruit, and power. Let us not then seek the living among the dead, not try to revivify old forms. Let us place ourselves simply in the hands of the quickening Spirit. He will pour into us the fullness of a diversified, fruitful, healthful life. The evil in us is too strong for any power save omnipotence. The resistance of a human will is too powerful for philosophy or logic, or poetry or eloquence. The Holy One alone can make us holy.

      Life is not one battle but many. It is made up, too, of defeats as well as victories. Let us not be unduly troubled or grow moody when a battle is lost. There is always time to 'win another, and such a thing as flight or demoralization should be unknown in the army of the living God. It is the lost battles of the world (like Thermopylae) that have told most on a nation's history. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" "Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle" (Psa 18:39).

      The Christian life is a great thing, one of the greatest things on earth. Made up of daily littles, it is yet in itself not a little thing, but in so far as it is truly lived, whether by poor or rich, by child or full-grown man, is noble throughout--a part of that great whole, in which and by which is to be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places.. .the manifold wisdom of God (Eph 3:10).

      It does not need to be a long life; a short one may be as true and holy as a long one. A short one is not a failure. John the Baptist had perhaps the shortest ministry in the church, yet it was no failure; it was one of the greatest successes. He was a burning and a shining light. We do not need to say profanely, "Whom the gods love die young," but we may say that it does not need the threescore years and ten to unfold the beauties of holiness. If the new life were the mere rubbing off the rust of the old, if the sweetening of the Marah well of our corrupt nature were but a common, nonmiraculous process, if all goodness be within the easy reach of any earnest man, if a refined literature and aliberalized theology, and the cultivation of the beautiful, and social science, and a wider range of genial recreation, be the cure for all the evil that is in us and in our age--then there has been much ado about trifles, the Bible is an exaggeration, and the gift of the Holy Spirit a superfluous exhibition of power.

      If sin be but a common scar or wrinkle, to be erased from the soul's surface by a few simple touches, if pardon be a mere figure of speech, meaning God's wide benevolence or good-natured indifference to evil, why tell of wrath, and fire, and judgment, the never-dying worm and the ever-rising smoke? Does God love to torment His creatures by harsh words, or fill their imaginations with images of woe which He does not intend to realize? Or why did the Son of God suffer and weep, and grieve? If error be but a trifle, a foible, a freak at worst, or if it be a display of honest purpose and the inevitable result of free thought, why is the "strong delusion" (literally, "the energy of error") spoken of so awfully, "that they all might be damned who believed not the truth" (2 Thess 2:12), and why did the Lord Himself say, once and again, in reference to false doctrine, "which thing I hate"?

      As the strongest yet calmest thing in the world is light, so should a Christian life be the strongest and greatest, as well as the calmest and brightest. As the only perfectly straight line is a ray of light, and as the only pure substance is sunshine, so ought our course to be, and so should we seek to shine as lights in the world--reflections of Him who is its light--the one straight, pure thing of earth.

      Let us then shine! Stars indeed, not suns; but still stars, not tapers nor meteors. Let us shine! Giving perhaps slender light, but that light certain and pure; enough to say to men "It is night," lest they mistake, but not enough bring day; enough to guide the seeking or the erring in the true direction, but not enough to illuminate the world. The sun alone can do that. It is the sun that shows us the landscape; stars show but themselves. Let us then show ourselves beyond mistake. The day when all things shall be seen in full warm light is the day of the great sun-rising.

      "The night is far spent; the day is at hand." We shall not set nor be clouded; we shall simply lose ourselves in light. And we need not grudge thus losing ourselves, when we call to mind that the splendor in which our light is to be absorbed is that of the everlasting Sun. It is His increasing that is to be our decreasing, and shall we not say, "This my joy therefore is fulfilled"?

      (1)"The thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns, says the philosophic poet of the age. and the maxim seems accepted In so far as the widening thoughts are honest developments of revelation, the maxim will only express the apostolic going on unto perfection." increasing in the knowledge of God. in so far as they are the results of disengagement from the trammels of revelation, they will express nothing but the progress of uncontrolled free-thinking.

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - The New Life
   Chapter 2 - Christ For Us, The Spirit In Us
   Chapter 3 - The Root And Soil Of Holiness
   Chapter 4 - A Strength Against Sin
   Chapter 5 - The Cross and Its Power
   Chapter 6 - The Saint and the Law
   Chapter 7 - The Saint and the Seventh Chapter of Romans
   Chapter 8 - The True Creed & the True Life
   Chapter 9 - Counsels and Warnings


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