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Steps in Seeking Holiness

By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer


      Text: "But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul." Deut. 4:29.

      No one seeks God in vain, when he seeks intelligently. The leadings of the Spirit are very simple, yet very methodical. He does not work hap-hazardly. He takes the initial step and draws us with cords of love unto himself.

      There is a certain class of people who do not believe in the Personality of the Holy Ghost. They put the emphasis on water; they argue that the Word is the Spirit. Very well, while the Word is "spirit and life," yet the literal word of God never told any one that his sins were forgiven. Or, that he was called to preach. The Spirit of God did this.

      While we cannot dictate to the Holy Ghost how he shall lead a seeker, yet our observation for many years has led us to conclude that four steps are generally taken in our approach to God.

      In seeking pardon or purity the steps are the same, the only difference being, that when seeking pardon, we deal with actual sins, while when seeking purity, we deal with the hidden
      principle of sin. And what are these four steps?

      I. Conviction.
      II. Confession.
      III. Crucifixion.
      IV. Co-operating Faith.

      Let us consider these separately.

      I. Conviction.

      No one should seek holiness of heart, simply because there is such a grace; nor, because others profess it and his church stands for it. I fear some have sought and professed, largely because the evangelist pressed them into it by making certain tests, and, rather than be branded as stubborn, the candidate presented himself for prayers. This is a great mistake and such seeking will result in confusion, or a shallow profession. Such souls are not under conviction sufficient to pray through themselves and as a rule when they are sung or shouted through by others, it must be done over again. Mr. Wesley taught, that in order to be sanctified wholly, one must first get a sight of his depravity. And this new revelation should be so real, as to almost plunge him in despair. Hear him! "And now, for the first time do ye see the ground work of your heart, the depths of pride, self-will and hell. And no marvel that ye did not see it ere this, else the spirit would have failed before him who made it."

      Fletcher taught and believed the same. Hear him! "He whose heart is still full of indwelling sin has no more truly repented of indwelling sin than the man whose mouth is still defiled with filthy talking and jesting has truly repented of ribaldry. The deeper our sorrow for and detestation of indwelling sin are, the more penitently do we confess "the plague of our heart;" and, when we properly confess it we inherit the blessing promised in these words: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

      "To promote this deep repentance, consider how many spiritual evils still haunt your breast. Look into the inward "chamber of imagery," where assuming self-love, surrounded by a multitude of vain thoughts, keeps her court. Grieve that your heart, which should be all flesh, is yet partly stone; that your soul, which should be only a temple for the Holy Ghost, is yet so frequently turned into a den of thieves, a hole for the cockatrice, a nest for a brood of spiritual vipers, for the remains of envy, jealousy, fretfulness, anger, pride, impatience, peevishness, formality, sloth, prejudice, bigotry, carnal confidence, evil shame, self righteousness, tormenting fears, uncharitable suspicions, idolatrous love, and I know not how many of the evils which form the retinue of hypocrisy and unbelief. Through grace detect these evils, by a close attention to what passes in your heart at all times, but especially in an hour of temptation. By frequent and deep confession drag out all these abominations. These sins which would not have Christ to reign alone over you, bring before Him; place them in the light of His countenance and if you do it in faith, that light and the warmth of his love will kill them, as the light of the sun kills the worms which the plow turns up to the open air in a dry summer day.

      "Lament, as you are able, the darkness of your mind, the stiffness of your will, the dullness and exorbitancy of your affections, and importunately entreat the God of all grace to 'renew a right spirit within' you. If ye sorrow after this godly sort, what carefulness will be wrought in you! what indignation! what fear! what vehement desire! what zeal! yea, what revenge. Ye will then sing in faith what the imperfectionists sing in unbelief-

      "O how I hate these lusts of mine,
      That crucified my God;
      Those sins that pierced and nailed his flesh
      Fast to the fatal wood!

      "Yes, my Redeemer, they shall die,
      My heart hath so decreed;
      Nor will I spare those guilty things
      That made my Savior bleed.

      "While with a melting broken heart,
      My murdered Lord I view,
      I'll raise revenge against my sins,
      And slay the murderers too."

      Yes, to promote this deep conviction and repentance, just look back in your life a little way, and see how unkind and unlovely you have behaved at times; how touchy when reproved, or contradicted; how set in your ways, so that others were cramped and could not get along with you easily. Had you been more tender and melted, that neighbor, or loved one might have been won, instead of wounded. Yea, when the blazing light of God begins to pour in on your carnality and you see your real-old-self, you will then cease blaming others for your failures. You will then see and feel how ugly and mean you have been. This conviction will bring on such desperation that the only route to relief is to turn states evidence and tell on yourself.

      II. Confession.

      Right here is where most holiness teachers side-track the seeker. They instruct him to "lay all on the altar, make a full consecration of everything to God and claim the blessing by faith." He does so and receives a great blessing as any sincere soul would. But he is not after a great blessing. He wants purity. He wants deliverance from the carnal mind and the only method employed to effect such a deliverance is the route of confession.

      Adam Clarke says, "Guilt, to be forgiven must be confessed; and pollution, to be cleansed, must be confessed. Few are pardoned, because they do not feel and confess their sins; and few are sanctified, or cleansed from all sin, because they do not feel and confess their own sore, and the plague of their hearts."

      Job declared, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but not mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes." Yes, dear friend, you may have heard of holiness. Yes, you may have preached the theory and known all about it intellectually. But now, like Job you see the real cause of all the trouble you have ever had. And in seeing your carnal self, in contrast with the gentle, compassionate Lord, you loathe and bemoan your inward defilement.

      Years ago we were conducting a red hot holiness convention. A number of ministers with a host of laymen were kneeling in different parts of the hall, each one busily engaged in digging his well deeper. An old critic came in and, after listening for a while, got up and left, saying, ':I do not believe these brethren are as bad as they make out." He returned the next day when some of the brethren had struck oil. He arose and said, "There is something about this confession business that we do not like, perhaps because we ought to do a little of it ourselves" That is just it! Show me a person who does not believe in confessing out the traits of the "old man" and I will show you one whose old man is very much alive! Show me one who does not like to hear much said about restitution, tithing, or eternal hell and I will show you one who is crooked on one or more lines.

      III. Crucifixion.

      Paul had much to say about crucifixion. He testified, "I am crucified with Christ." This implied a painful process, but afterward a glorious resurrection.

      He did not say, "Knowing this, that our old man is" (consecrated or happified, but) "crucified, with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed."

      Again, "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." From these and many other passages, it is evident, that God's method is crucifixion, rather than consecration. We will not quarrel with those who use the terms "consecration," or "dedication," if they mean death to carnality. But these terms have been so cheapened and abused that I prefer the more Scriptural expressions and symbols.

      "What saith the Scripture? Cast out the bond-woman and her son," (Ishmael, a type of carnality).

      The angel held Jacob to confess his name, (depravity) before his nature and name were changed.

      Samuel, "hewed Agag (a type of the old man) to pieces before the Lord."

      "If ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."

      Brethren, let me speak plainly! I am convinced that many of the modern holiness leaders are entirely too shallow in their altar work. They have the theory down pat, and some of them preach it strong, but sad to say, spoil it all at the altar. They rush the seeker through to a profession by singing, or shouting and the result is, after the "Hurrah" dies down -- a dissatisfied soul. Then he concludes he has lost the blessing, or goes against his inward feelings and professes more loudly than before. Finally, he wearies of this and decides he needs his "Baptism" and away he goes to those who will encourage him in his seeking. Do not censure this hungry heart! Censure yourself, or those who "daubed him over with untempered mortar."

      I well remember my own experience when but a boy preacher. I awoke to the fact that though I had a measure of success in soul winning, I had doubts at times whether all unholy tempers were gone? When I told it to my brethren they tried to calm my fears by saying it was temptation," or "Human infirmities." They said I had the standard too high. During those six years I professed to have received the "blessing" a number of times. But I see now, my advisers side-tracked me. They meant well, but instead of teaching me that holiness of heart was an experience, an inward crucifixion, they held, as many do today that it was a great blessing. I was instructed to make a "complete consecration, lay all on the altar and believe the altar sanctified the gift." But this was not my trouble -- lack of consecration and abandonment to God. No! I was fully given up to God and delighted to do His will. I was not after a blessing, I wanted Purity. My good brethren diverted me from my trouble Within, to a blessing and more activity Without.

      Finally, I heard a mighty man of God tell his experience -- how he had preached and professed holiness for twenty-five years without it. But when the Holy Ghost revealed to him his depravity -- "The depths of pride, self will and hell," (as Wesley taught) he cried out "Let me die! Let me die!" He said he was three days confessing and deploring carnality, when suddenly the refining fire of God purified him through and through. When I heard this, immediately I said, this is the Bible route -- the death route.

      The Holy Ghost took me through step by step until I came to the end of myself, when the death stroke was given and the clear witness received that the precious Blood did now cleanse from all sin. O, praise His name!

      It was too bad that I did not get proper instruction sooner. And it is too bad today that many of our holiness evangelists fail at this important point. I fear that either they never died the death themselves, or they have gotten into a rut and cannot get out. O, brethren, let us do thorough work, remembering that when we let souls stop short, we are simply preparing more material for the Tongues, or some other Sidetrack Movement Let us stick to the old main line of Death to carnality and the infilling of the Holy Ghost. I submit to you that when we give souls time to go to the bottom they will get such a fiery baptism that all imitations will look like fox-fire in the presence of lightning.

      IV. Co-Operating Faith. But says the superficial worker, "Why put faith last, since it is by faith we are sanctified." We answer yes, everything we get is by faith, but no one can exercise saving, or sanctifying faith at will. Appropriating faith is a gift from God and can only be exercised when complete submission and surrender pervade the heart. There is a vast difference between general and appropriating faith. General faith starts the seeker after an experience while appropriating faith completes the contact with Christ. It cannot be sung, or shouted down. "With the heart (not the head) man believeth unto righteousness." It is useless to sing. "I can and I will and I do believe" over unconfessed and unrenounced carnality.

      "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, (general faith) and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek (appropriating faith) him."

      It is too bad that many times the fruit is all lost at the crucial point -- the altar. Preachers can preach sinners and saints under conviction, get them to the altar and then undo all their work by hurrying the seeker through to a mere profession. We have been pained at heart to see the human get in the way of the Divine, when if everyone had known how to mind the operation of the Spirit, there would have been no abortions.

      It does not pay to hurry up the work of God, any more than it pays to help a chick out of its shell. If it is not able to get out in nature's way, it will simply he a cripple, or a weakling if artificial methods are employed.

      Sometimes a verse or word may inspire faith, but every one must get to the end of himself, before he can couple on to God. "The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart and of a good conscience and of faith unfeigned."

      "What is our calling's glorious hope,
      But inward holiness;
      For this to Jesus I look up
      I calmly wait for this.

      "I wait till he shall touch me clean,
      Shall life and power impart;
      Give me the faith that casts out sin.
      And purifies the heart."
      -- Charles Wesley

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