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A Review of Lewis Sperry Chafer's "He That Is Spiritual"

By Benjamin B. Warfield


      Mr. Chafer is in the unfortunate and, one would think, very uncomfortable condition of having two inconsistent systems of religion struggling together in his mind. He was bred an Evangelical, and, as a minister of the Presbyterian Church, South, stands committed to Evangelicalism of the purest water. But he has been long associated in his work with a coterie of "Evangelists" and "Bible Teachers," among whom there flourishes that curious religious system (at once curiously pretentious and curiously shallow) which the Higher Life leaders of the middle of the last century brought into vogue; and he has not been immune to its infection.

      These two religious systems are quite incompatible. The one is the product of the Protestant Reformation and knows no determining power in the religious life but the grace of God; the other comes straight from the laboratory of John Wesley, and in all its forms modifications and mitigations alike remains incurably Arminian subjecting all gracious workings of God to human determining. The two can unite as little as fire and water.

      Mr. Chafer makes use of all the jargon of the Higher Life teachers. In him, too, we hear of two kinds of Christians whom he designates respectively "carnal men" and "spiritual men," on the basis of a misreading of I Cor. ii. 9 ff (pp. 8, 109, 146); and we are told that the passage from the one to the other is at our option, whenever we care to "claim" the higher degree "by faith" (p. 146). With him, too, thus, the enjoyment of every blessing is suspended on our "claiming it" (p. 129).

      We hear here, too, of "letting" God (p. 84), and, indeed, we almost hear of "engaging" the Spirit (as we engage, say, a carpenter) to do work for us (p. 94); and we do explicitly hear of "making it possible for God" to do things (p. 148), a quite terrible expression. Of course, we hear repeatedly of the duty and efficacy of "yielding" and the act of "yielding ourselves" is quite in the customary manner discriminated from "consecrating" ourselves (p. 84), and we are told, as usual, that by it the gate is opened into the divinely appointed path (pp. 91, 49). The quietistic phrase "not by trying but by a right adjustment," meets us (p. 39), and naturally such current terms as "known sin" (p. 62), "moment by moment triumph" (pp. 34, 60), "the life that is Christ" (p. 31), "unbroken walk in the Spirit" (pp. 53, 113), "unbroken victory" (p. 96), even Pearsall Smith's famous "at once": the Christian may realize at once the heavenly virtues of Christ" (p. 30, the italics his). It is a matter of course after this that we are told that it is not necessary for Christians to sin (p. 125) the emphasis repeatedly thrown on the word "necessary" leading us to wonder whether Mr. Chafer remembers that according to the Confession of Faith to which, as a Presbyterian minister, he gives his adhesion, it is in the strictest sense of the term not necessary for anybody to sin, even for the "natural man" (ix, I).

      Although he thus serves himself with their vocabulary, and therefore of course repeats the main substance of their teaching, there are lengths, nevertheless, to which Mr. Chafer will not go with his Higher Life friends. He quite decidedly repels, for example, the expectation of repetitions of the "Pentecostal manifestations" (p. 47), and this is the more notable because in his expositions of certain passages in which the charismatic Spirit is spoken of he has missed that fact, to the confusion of his doctrine of the Spirit's modes of action. With equal decisiveness he repels "such man-made, unbiblical terms as 'second blessing,' 'a second work of grace,' 'the higher life,' and various phrases used in the perverted statements of the doctrines of sanctification and perfection" (pp. 31, 33), including such phrases as "entire sanctification" and "sinless perfection" (pp. 107, 139). He is hewing here, however, to a rather narrow line, for he does teach that there are two kinds of Christian, the "carnal" and the "spiritual," and he does teach that it is quite unnecessary for spiritual men to sin and that the way is fully open to them to live a life of unbroken victory if they choose to do so.

      Mr. Chafer opens his book with an exposition of the closing verses of the second and the opening verses of the third chapters of I Corinthians. Here he finds three classes of men contrasted, the "natural" or unregenerated man, and the "carnal" and "spiritual" men, both of whom are regenerated, but the latter of whom lives on a higher plane. "There are two great spiritual changes which are possible to human experience," he writes (p. 8), "the change from the 'natural' man to the saved man, and the change from the 'carnal' man to the 'spiritual' man. The former is divinely accomplished when there is a real faith in Christ; the latter is accomplished when there is a real adjustment to the Spirit. The 'spiritual' man is the divine ideal in life and ministry, in power with God and man, in unbroken fellowship and blessing." This teaching is indistinguishable from what is ordinarily understood by the doctrine of a "second blessing," "a second work of grace," "the higher life."

      The subsequent expositions only make the matter clearer. In them the changes are rung on the double salvation, on the one hand from the penalty of sin, on the other from the power of sin "salvation into safety" and "salvation into sanctity" (p. 109). And the book closes with a long-drawn-out "analogy" between these two salvations. This "analogy" is announced with this statement: "The Bible treats our deliverance from the bond-servitude to sin as a distinct form of salvation and there is an analogy between this and the more familiar aspect of salvation which is from the guilt and penalty of sin" (p. 141). It ends with this fuller summary:

      "There are a multitude of sinners for whom Christ has died who are not now saved. On the divine side, everything has been provided, and they have only to enter by faith into His saving grace as it is for them in Christ Jesus. Just so, there are a multitude of saints whose sin-nature has been perfectly judged and every provision made on the divine side for a life of victory and glory to God who are not now realizing a life of victory. They have only to enter by faith into the saving grace from the power and dominion of sin. . . Sinners are not saved until they trust the Saviour, and saints are not victorious until they trust the Deliverer. God has made this possible through the cross of His Son. Salvation from the power of sin must be claimed by faith" (p. 146).

      No doubt what we are first led to say of this is that here is the quintessence of Arminianism. God saves no one He only makes salvation possible for men. Whether it becomes actual or not depends absolutely on their own act. It is only by their act that it is made possible for God to save them. But it is equally true that here is the quintessence of the Higher Life teaching, which merely emphasizes that part of this Arminian scheme which refers to the specific matter of sanctification. "What He provides and bestows is in the fullest divine perfection; but our adjustment is human and therefore subject to constant improvement. The fact of our possible deliverance which depends on Him alone, does not change. We will have as much at any time as we make it possible for Him to bestow" (p. 148).

      When Mr. Chafer repels the doctrine of "sinless perfection" he means, first of all, that our sinful natures are not eradicated. Entering the old controversy waged among perfectionists between the "Eradicationists" and "Suppressionists," he ranges himself with the latter, only preferring to use the word "control." "The divine method of dealing with the sin-nature in the believer is by direct and unceasing control over that nature by the indwelling Spirit" (p. 134). One would think that this would yield at least a sinlessness of conduct; but that is to forget that, after all, in this scheme the divine action waits on man's. "The Bible teaches that, while the divine provision is one of perfection of life, the human appropriation is always faulty and therefore the results are imperfect at best" (p. 157). God's provisions only make it possible for us to live without sinning. The result is therefore only that we are under no necessity of sinning. But whether we shall actually sin or not is our own affair. "His provisions are always perfect, but our appropriation is always imperfect." "What he provides and bestows is in the fullest divine perfection, but our adjustment is human. . . The fact of our possible deliverance, which depends on Him alone, does not change. We will have as much at any time as we make it possible for Him to bestow" (pp. 118, 149).

      Thus it comes about that we can be told both that "the child of God and citizen of heaven may live a superhuman life, in harmony with his heavenly calling by an unbroken walk in the Spirit," that "more Christians may realize at once the heavenly virtues of Christ" (p. 39); and that, in point of fact, he does nothing of the kind, that "all Christians do sin" (p. 111). A possibility of not sinning which is unillustrated by a single example and will never be illustrated by a single example is, of course, a mere postulate extorted by a theory. It is without practical significance a universal effect is not accounted for by its possibility.

      Mr. Chafer conducts his discussion of these "two general theories as to the divine method of dealing with the sin-nature in believers" on the presumption that "both theories cannot be true, for they are contradictory" (p. 135). "The two theories are irreconcilable," he says (p. 139). "We are either to be delivered by the abrupt removal of all tendency to sin and so no longer need the enabling power of God to combat the power of sin, or we are to be delivered by the immediate and constant power of the indwelling Spirit." This irreducible "either-or" is unjustified. In point of fact, both "eradication" and "control" are true. God delivers us from our sinful nature not indeed by "abruptly" but by progressively eradicating it, and meanwhile controlling it. For the new nature which God gives us is not an absolutely new "somewhat" alien to our personality, inserted into us, but our old nature itself remade a veritable recreation, or making of all things new. Mr. Chafer is quite wrong when he says: "Salvation is not a so-called 'change of heart.' It is not a transformation of the old; it is a regeneration, or creation, of something wholly new, which is possessed in conjunction with the old so long as we are in the body" (p. 113). That this furnishes out each Christian with two conflicting natures does not appal him. He says, quite calmly: "The unregenerate have but one nature, while the regenerate have two" (p. 116). He does not seem to see that thus the man is not saved at all; a different, newly created, man is substituted for him. When the old man is got rid of -- and that the old man has to be ultimately got rid of he does not doubt the saved man that is left is not at all the old man that was to be saved but a new man that has never needed any saving.

      It is a temptation to a virtuoso in the interpretation of Scripture to show his mettle on hard places and in startling results. Mr. Chafer has not been superior to this temptation. Take but one example. "All Christian love," he tells us (p. 40) "according to the Scriptures, is distinctly a manifestation of divine love through the human heart" a quite unjustified assertion. But Mr. Chafer is ready with an illustration. "A statement of this is found," he declares, "at Rom. v, 5, because 'the love of God is shed abroad (lit., gushes forth) in our hearts by (produced, or caused by) the Holy Spirit, which is given unto us.'" Then he comments as follows: "This is not the working of the human affection; it is rather the direct manifestation of the 'love of God' passing through the heart of the believer out from the indwelling Spirit. It is the realization of the last petition of the High Priestly prayer of our Lord: 'That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them' (John xvii, 26). It is simply God's love working in and through the believer. It could not be humanly produced, or even imitated, and it of necessity goes out to the objects of divine affection and grace, rather than to the objects of human desire. A human heart cannot produce divine love, but it can experience it. To have a heart that feels the compassion of God is to drink of the wine of heaven."

      All this bizarre doctrine of the transference of God's love, in the sense of His active power of loving, to us, so that it works out from us again as new centres, is extracted from Paul's simple statement that by the Holy Spirit which God has given us His love to us is made richly real to our apprehension! Among the parenthetical philogical comments which Mr. Chafer has inserted into his quotation of the text, it is a pity that he did not include one noting that ekgeo is not eiskeo, and that Paul would no doubt have used eiskeo, had he meant to convey that idea.

      A haunting ambiguity is thrust upon Mr. Chafer's whole teaching by his hospitable entertainment of contradictory systems of thought. There is a passage near the beginning of his book, not well expressed it is true, but thoroughly sound in its fundamental conception, in which expression is given to a primary principle of the Evangelical system, which, had validity been given to it, would have preserved Mr. Chafer from his regrettable dalliance with the Higher Life formulas. "In the Bible," he writes, "the divine offer and condition for the cure of sin in an unsaved person is crystallized into the one word, 'believe'; for the forgiveness of sin with the unsaved is only offered as an indivisible part of the whole divine work of salvation. The saving work of God includes many mighty undertakings other than the forgiveness of sin, and salvation depends only upon believing. It is not possible to separate some one issue from the whole work of His saving grace, such as forgiveness, and claim this apart from the indivisible whole. It is, therefore, a grievous error to direct an unsaved person to seek forgiveness of his sins as a separate issue. A sinner minus his sins would not be a Christian; for salvation is more than subtraction, it is addition. 'I give unto them eternal life.' Thus the sin question with the unsaved will be cured as a part of, but never separate from, the whole divine work of salvation, and this salvation depends upon believing" (p. 62).

      If this passage means anything, it means that salvation is a unit, and that he who is united to Jesus Christ by faith receives in Him not only justification salvation from the penalty of sin but also sanctification salvation from the power of sin -- both "safety" and "sanctity." These things cannot be separated, and it is a grievous error to teach that a true believer in Christ can stop short in "carnality," and, though having the Spirit with him and in him, not have Him upon him to use a not very lucid play upon prepositions in which Mr. Chafer indulges.

      In his attempt to teach this, Mr. Chafer is betrayed (p. 29) into drawing out a long list of characteristics of the two classes of Christians, in which he assigns to the lower class practically all the marks of the unregenerate man. Salvation is a process; as Mr. Chafer loyally teaches, the flesh continues in the regenerate man and strives against the Spirit he is to be commended for preserving even to the Seventh Chapter of Romans its true reference but the remainders of the flesh in the Christian do not constitute his characteristic. He is in the Spirit and is walking, with however halting steps, by the Spirit, and it is to all Christians, not to some, that the great promise is given, "Sin shall not have dominion over you," and the great assurance is added, "Because ye are not under the law but under grace."

      He who believes in Jesus Christ is under grace, and his whole course, in its process and in its issue alike, is determined by grace, and therefore, having been predestined to be conformed to the image of God's Son, he is surely being conformed to that image, God Himself seeing to it that he is not only called and justified but also glorified. You may find Christians at every stage of this process, for it is a process through which all must pass; but you will find none who will not in God's own good time and way pass through every stage of it. There are not two kinds of Christians, although there are Christians at every conceivable stage of advancement towards the one goal to which all are bound and at which all shall arrive.

      Princeton.
      Benjamin B. Warfield.

      appeared in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. XVII, No. 2 (April, 1919).

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