Nature & Holiness

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
~ Matthew 5:48

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
~ Philippians 3:12-15

To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
~ 1 Thessalonians 3:13

For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
~ 1 Thessalonians 4:7

To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
~ Hebrews 12:23

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
~ 1 Peter 5:10

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
~ Hebrews 12:14

Necessity of Holiness From Our Condition in this World, by John Owen. The following contains Chapter Five of Book Five of his work, “On the Holy Spirit (Pneumatologia)”.

Chapter V.

Necessity of holiness from our condition in this world.

Necessity of holiness further argued from our own state and condition in this world; with what is required of us with respect to our giving glory to Jesus Christ.

V. Another argument for the necessity of holiness may be taken from the consideration of ourselves, and our present state and condition; for it is hereby alone that the vicious distemper of our nature is or can be cured. I have declared and sufficiently confirmed before, that our nature is fearfully and universally depraved by the entrance of sin. And I will not consider it now as to the disability of living to God, nor the enmity toward him which has come upon us by this depravity, nor the future punishment which it renders us liable to. Rather, what I intend is the present misery we are under, unless this depravity is cured. For the mind of man is possessed with darkness, vanity, folly, and instability; the will is under the power of spiritual death, and it is stubborn and obstinate; and all the affections are carnal, sensual, and selfish. The whole soul is being hurried away from God. It is so out of its way, that it is perpetually filled with confusion and perplexing disorder. It is not unlike that description which Job gives of the grave: “A land of darkness, and of the shadow of death, without any order, where the light is like darkness,” Job 10.21-22. When Solomon sought out the causes of all the vanity and aggravation in the world, of all the troubles that the life of man is filled with, he says this was the sum of his discovery: “God made men upright, but they have discovered many inventions,” Ecc 7.29; that is, they have thrown themselves into endless entanglements and confusions. What sin is in its guilt, punishment is in its power — indeed, the greatest punishment men are liable to in this world. Thus, for the guilt of some sins, God penally gives many into the power of others, Rom 1.24, 26, 28; 2Thes 2.11-12.

And he does this not only to secure and aggravate their condemnation at the last day, but to give them a recompense in this world for their folly in themselves; for there is no greater misery or slavery than to be under the power of sin.

This proves the original depravation of our nature: The whole soul, filled with darkness, disorder, and confusion, is being brought under the power of various lusts and passions, captivating the mind and will to their interests, in the vilest drudgeries of servitude and bondage. No sooner does the mind begin to act suitably according to the small remainder of light in it, than it is immediately controlled by impetuous lusts and affections which darken its directions and silence its commands. Hence we have the common saying, which is not so common as what it signifies: “I see better things, and approve of them; but I follow worse.”

“Video meliora proboque,
Deteriora sequor.” — Ovid. Metam. lib. vii. 20.

Hence the whole soul is filled with fierce contradictions and conflicts. Vanity, instability, folly, sensual and irrational appetites, inordinate desires, self- disquieting and torturing passions, act continually in our depraved natures. See
the account of this in Rom 3.10-18. How full the world is of disorder, confusion, oppression, rapine, uncleanness, violence, and similar dreadful miseries! Alas! They are but a weak and imperfect representation of the evils that are in the minds of men by nature. For just as they all proceed from the heart, as our Savior declares in Mat 15.18-19, so the thousandth part of what is conceived, is never brought forth and acted out. “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and do not have: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you do not have,” Jas 4.1-2. All evils proceed from the impetuous lusts of the minds of men; and when they are acted out to the utmost, they are as unsatisfied as they were at the start. Hence the prophet Isaiah tells us that wicked men, under the power and disorder of a depraved nature, are like “the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters toss up mire and dirt” and have “no peace,” Isa 57.20-21. The heart is in continual motion, restless in its figments and imaginations, like the waters of the sea when it is stormy and troubled. They are all evil, “only evil continually,” Gen 6.5. In this state, it “tosses up mire and dirt.” Those who seem to have the greatest advantages above others, in power and opportunity to satisfy their lusts, only increase their own disquietude and miseries, Psa 69.14. For as these things are evil in themselves and to others, so they are penal to those in whom they work, especially those in whom they abound and reign. If their breasts were opened, it would appear by the confusion and horror they live in, that they are in the very confines of hell.

Hence the life of man is full of vanity, trouble, disappointments, vexations, and endless self-dissatisfactions. Those who were wise among the heathens saw, complained of, and attempted in vain to find relief against it. All these things proceed from the depravation of our nature, and the disorder that has come upon us by sin. And if they are not cured and healed, just as they will assuredly issue in everlasting misery, so they are woeful and calamitous at present. True peace, rest, and tranquility of mind, are strangers to such souls. Alas! What are the perishing profits, pleasures, and satisfactions gained by them, which this world can afford? How unable the mind of man is to discover rest and peace in them, or from them! They quickly satiate and suffocate in their enjoyment; they come to find no relish in their varieties, which only heighten present vanity, and treasure up provision for future vexation. We therefore have no greater interest in the world than to inquire how this disorder may be cured, and to put a stop to this fountain of all abominations. What we intend will be clarified in the ensuing observations:

1. It is true that some are naturally of a more sedate and quiet temper and disposition than others. They do not fall into such outrages and excesses of outward sins as others do; indeed, their minds are not capable of such turbulent passions and affections as most are possessed with. These are comparatively peaceable and useful to their relations and others. Yet their minds and hearts are full of darkness and disorder: for so it is with all men by nature (as we proved), who do not have an almighty effectual cure worked on them. The less troublesome waves they have on the surface, the more mire and dirt they often have at the bottom.

2. Education, convictions, afflictions, illuminations, hope of a righteousness of their own, love of reputation, engagements into the society of good men, resolutions for secular ends, with other like means, often put great restraints on the actings and ebullitions of the evil imaginations and turbulent affections of the minds of men. Indeed, the frame of mind and course of life may be greatly changed by them — how, in what, and how far, is not our present business to declare.

3. Notwithstanding all that may be effected by these means, or any other of like nature, the disease is uncured; the soul still continues in its disorder and in all its inward confusion; for our original order, harmony, and rectitude consisted in the powers and inclinations of our minds, wills, and affections, to regular actings towards God as our end and reward.

From this proceeded all that order and peace which were in all their faculties and their actings.While we continued in due order towards God, it was impossible to be otherwise in ourselves; but having fallen away from God by sin, having lost our conformity and likeness to him, we fell into all the confusion and
disorder described before. Therefore —

4. The only cure and remedy for this evil condition is by holiness; it must be, and cannot be otherwise, than by the renovation of the image of God in us; for it is from the loss of this that all the evil mentioned springs and arises. Our souls are in some measure restored to their primitive order and rectitude by this; and without it, all attempts for inward peace, real tranquility of mind, with due order in our affections, will be in vain. It is the holy soul — the sanctified mind alone — that is composed into an orderly tendency towards the enjoyment of God. What we aim at is what we are directed to by our apostle in Eph 4.22-24. Our deliverance from the power of corrupt and deceitful lusts, which are the spring and cause of all the confusion mentioned, is by the renovation of the image of God in us, and not otherwise. Hence, a cogent argument and motive for holiness arises for all those who are not in love with their lusts and ruin.

But various things may be objected to this; such as, first —

“We admit and maintain that in all sanctified persons there are still certain remainders of our original depravation and disorder — that sin still abides in believers — indeed, that it works powerfully and effectively in them, leading them captive to the law of sin. From this ensue great and mighty wars and conflicts in the souls of regenerate persons who are truly sanctified. They suffer so far in this as to groan, complain, and cry out for deliverance. ‘The flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary.’ Therefore, it does not appear that this holiness heals and cures the sinful distempers of our minds as described. On the other side, men who are assumed to still be under the power of sin, who do not have that grace and holiness in the renovation of the image of God which is pleaded for, seem to have more peace and quietness in their minds. They do not have that inward conflict which others complain about, nor those groans for deliverance — indeed, they find satisfaction in their lusts and pleasures, relieving themselves by them against anything that occasions their trouble.”

Ans. 1. That peace and order which is pretended to be in the minds of men under the power of sin, who are not sanctified, is like that which is found in hell and the kingdom of darkness. Satan is not divided against himself; nor is there such confusion and disorder in his kingdom as to destroy it. Rather, it has a consistency ensuing from the common end of all that is in it — which is opposition to God and to all that is good.

There may be such peace and order in an unsanctified mind. There being no active principle in it longing for God and for what is spiritually good, everything works in one way, and all its troubled streams have the same course. Yet they continually “toss up mire and dirt.” There is only that peace in such minds which the “strong man armed” guards against; that is, in which Satan keeps his goods until someone stronger than he comes to bind him. If anyone thinks that such peace and order is sufficient for him, in which his mind in all its faculties acts uniformly against God (or acts for self, sin, and the world) without any opposition or contradiction, then he may find as much in hell when he comes there.

Ans. 2. There is a difference between anarchy and rebellion. Where there is anarchy in a state, all rule or government is dissolved, and everything is let loose to the utmost disorder and evil. But where the rule is firm and stable, there may be rebellions that give some parts and places disturbance and damage, yet the whole state is not disordered by it. So it is in the condition of a sanctified soul on account of the remainders of sin; there may be rebellion in it, but not anarchy. Grace keeps the rule in the mind and heart firm and stable, so there is peace and assurance for the whole state of the person, even though lusts and corruptions are rebelling and warring against it. Therefore the divine order of the soul — consisting in the rule of grace that subordinates everything to God in Christ — is never overthrown by the rebellion of sin at any time, however vigorous or prevalent it may be. But in the state of unsanctified persons, even though there is no rebellion, there nothing but anarchy. Sin has the rule and dominion in them; and however men may be pleased with it for a season, it is nothing but perfect disorder, because it is a continual opposition to God. It is a tyranny that overthrows all law, rule, and order with respect to our last and highest end.

Ans. 3. The soul of a believer has such satisfaction in this conflict, that its peace is not ordinarily disturbed, and it is never quite overthrown by it. Such a person knows sin is his enemy, knows its design, but he also knows the aids and assistances which are prepared for him against sin’s deceit and violence — and so, considering the nature and end of this contest, he is satisfied with it. Yes, the greatest hardships that sin can reduce a believer to, only move him to exercise those graces and duties in which he receives great spiritual satisfaction. Such are repentance, humiliation, godly sorrow, self-abasement and abhorrence, with fervent outcries for deliverance. Now, although these things seem to have what is grievous and dolorous prevailing in them, yet the graces of the Spirit of God being active in them, they are so suited to the nature of the new creature, and they so belong to the spiritual order of the soul, that it finds secret satisfaction in them all.

But the trouble non-believers meet with in their own hearts and minds on account of sin, is only from the severe reflections of their consciences; and they receive them only as certain presages and predictions of future and eternal misery.

4. A sanctified person is ensured of success in this conflict, which keeps blessed peace and order in his soul during its continuance. And there is a twofold success against the rebellious actings of the remainders of indwelling sin:

(1.) In particular instances; (2.) In the whole cause.

And in both these, we have sufficient assurance of success, if we are not lacking in ourselves.

(1.) Suppose the contest is considered with respect to any particular lust and corruption, and that lust is in conjunction with some powerful temptation. We have sufficient and blessed assurance that if we abide in the diligent use of the ways and means assigned to us, and in the improvement of the assistance provided in the covenant of grace, we will not fail to have actual success — lust will not conceive, bring forth, and finish sin, Jas 1.15. But if we are lacking in ourselves, negligent in our known duties and principal concerns, then it is no wonder if we are sometimes thrown into disorder, and foiled by the power of sin. But —

(2.) As to the general success in the whole cause — namely, that sin will not utterly deface the image of God in us, nor absolutely or finally ruin our souls (which is its end and tendency) — we have the covenant faithfulness of God for our security, which will not fail us, Rom 6.14. Therefore, notwithstanding this opposition and all that is ascribed to it, there is peace and order preserved by the power of holiness in a sanctified mind and soul.
But it will be further objected that, secondly —

“Many professors who highly pretend to sanctification and holiness, and whom you judge to partake of them, are nonetheless peevish, froward, morose, and unquiet in their minds, among their relations, and in the world. Indeed, there is much outward vanity and disorder (which you make tokens of the internal confusion of the minds of men and of the power of sin) that either proceed from them, or are carried on by them. Where then is the advantage pretended, that should render holiness so indispensably necessary to us?”

Ans. If there are any such believers, all the more shame for them, and they must bear their own judgment. These things are diametrically opposite to the work of holiness and the “fruit of the Spirit,” Gal 5.22; and, therefore, I say that —

1. Many are perhaps esteemed holy and sanctified, who indeed are not so. Though I will judge no man in particular, yet I would rather pass this judgment on any man, that he has no grace, than to say, on the other hand, that grace does not change our nature and renew the image of God in us.

2. Many who are really holy may have a double disadvantage: first, to be under circumstances that frequently expose their natural infirmities, and then to have them greatened and heightened in the sight of those with whom they deal. This was actually the case of David all his days, and of Hannah, 1Sam 1.6-7. I would far from countenance the sinful distempers of anyone; yet I do not doubt that the infirmities of many believers are represented by others out of envy and hatred of their profession of faith in Christ, to an undeserved disadvantage.

3. Wherever there is the seed of grace and holiness, an entrance is made upon the cure of all those sinful distempers — not only of the corrupt lusts of the flesh that are absolutely evil and vicious in their whole nature, but even of those natural infirmities and distempers of peevishness, moroseness, inclination to anger and passion, unsteadiness in resolution — which lust is apt to possess and use for evil and disorderly ends. And I am pressing for the necessity of holiness — that is, for its increase and growth — so that this work may be carried on to perfection. And through that, by the power of the grace of the gospel, the great promise may be accomplished which is recorded in Isa 11.6-9. A wandering, manipulative impostor, who pretended to judge men’s lives and manners by their physiognomy, beheld Socrates and pronounced from his countenance, that he was a person of a flagitious, sensual life. The people who knew of Socrates’ sober and virtuous conduct derided the man’s folly. But Socrates excused him, affirming that he would have been such a man, if he had not bridled his nature by his philosophy. How much more truly may it be said of multitudes, that they would have been eminent in nothing but untoward distempers of mind, if their souls had not been rectified and cured by the power of grace and holiness!

I find there is no end of arguments that offer their service to the purpose in hand. I will therefore waive many, which are of great importance and attended with unavoidable cogency, and close this discourse with one which must not be omitted: In our holiness consists the principal part of that revenue of glory and honor which the Lord Christ requires and expects from his disciples in this world. I suppose it is out of the question among us that Christ requires this of us indispensably, even though most who are called Christians live as if they had no other design than to cast all disgrace, reproach, and shame on him and his doctrine. But if we are indeed his disciples, then he has bought us with a price, and we are not our own but his. And because we are his, we are to glorify him in soul and body, 1Cor 6.19-20. He died for us, that we should not live to ourselves, but to him who died for us, and by virtue of whose death we live, 2Cor 5.15; Rom 14.7-9.

“He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a special people, zealous for good works,” Tit 2.14. But we need not insist on this. To deny that we ought to glorify and honor Christ in the world, is to renounce him and the gospel. The sole inquiry is, “How may we do so, and what does he require of us to that purpose?”

Now, the sum of all that the Lord Christ expects from us in this world may be reduced to these two heads:

1. That we should live holily to him;

2. That we should suffer patiently for him.

And he is glorified by us in these two things alone. He expects us to live holily at all times and in all things; suffering patiently is expected of us on particular occasions, as we are called to it by him. Where these two things are, where this revenue of glory is paid in and returned to him, he does not regret his purchase, nor the invaluable price he paid for us. Indeed, it says, “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a goodly heritage;” these are the words of Christ concerning the church, which is his lot and the “portion of his inheritance,” Psa 16.6. Now, among many others, we will consider but one way by which we glorify the Lord Christ by our holy obedience; and from this it will also appear how much we dishonor and reproach him when we come short of it.

The Lord Christ, coming into the world as the mediator between God and man, worked and accomplished a mighty work among us; and what he did may be referred to three heads:

1. The life which he led;
2. The doctrine which he taught; and,
3. The death which he underwent.

Concerning all these, there was ever a great contest in the world, and it continues yet. On the part of the world, it is managed under a double appearance: for some have openly maligned his life as unholy, his doctrine as foolish, and his death as justly deserved. This was the feeling of the Pagan world and the apostate Judaical church of old, as it is the feeling of many today. Others allow these to pass with some approval, pretending to own what is taught in the gospel concerning them. But in fact and in practice, they deny there is any such power and efficacy in them as they pretend to; and yet without it, they have no virtue. This is the way of carnal gospellers, and all idolatrous, superstitious worshippers among Christians. And lately there has risen up among us a generation who consider all that is said concerning Christ as mere fable. In opposition to this, the Lord Christ calls all his true disciples to bear witness and testimony to the holiness of his life, the wisdom and purity of his doctrine, the efficacy of his death to expiate sin — to make atonement and peace with God — along with the power of his whole mediation to renew the image of God in us, to restore us to God’s favor, and to bring us to the enjoyment of Him.

He calls all his disciples to avow and express this in the world; and by their doing so, he is glorified (and not otherwise) in a special manner. A testimony is to be given to and against the world, that his life was most holy, his doctrine most heavenly and pure, his death most precious and efficacious; and consequently, that he was sent by God to his great work, and was accepted by him in this. Now, all this is not done other than by obedience to him in holiness, as it is visible and fruitful; for —

1. We are obliged to profess that the life of Christ is our example. We are called to this in the first place, and every Christian virtually makes that profession. No man takes that holy name upon himself but the first thing he signifies by it, is that he makes the life of Christ his pattern, which it is his duty to express in his own life. The one who takes up Christianity on any other terms woefully deceives his own soul. How then may we yield a revenue of glory in this? How may we bear testimony to the holiness of his life against the blasphemies of the world and the unbelief of most, who have no regard for this? Can this be done in any other way than by holiness of heart and life, by conformity to God in our souls, and living to God in fruitful obedience? Can men devise a more effectual expedient to cast reproach on Christ than to live in sin, follow diverse lusts and pleasures, prefer the world and present things before eternity, and meantime profess that the life of Christ is their example — as all unholy professors and Christians do? Is this not to bear witness with the world against him, that indeed his life was unholy? Surely it is high time for such persons to either leave the name of Christian, or leave the life of sin. It is therefore only in conformity to Christ, in the holiness we press for, that we can give him any glory on account of his life being our example.

2. We can give him no glory unless we bear testimony to his doctrine — that it is holy, heavenly, filled with divine wisdom and grace — by making it our rule. And there is no other way by which this may be done than by holy obedience, expressing the nature, end, and usefulness of it, Tit 2.11- 12. Indeed, the holy obedience of believers, as declared at large before, is a thing of quite another kind than anything in the world which we are directed to or instructed in by the rules, principles, and light of nature. His doctrine is spiritual, heavenly, mysterious, filled with principles and actings of the same kind as those by which our communion with God will be maintained in glory to eternity. Now, the life of evangelical holiness is secret and hidden in its principle, form, and chief actings — hidden with Christ in God from the eyes of the world — so that the men of this world neither see, know, nor discern the spiritual life of a believer in its being, form, and power.

Yet there are always such evident appearing fruits of it, as are sufficient for their conviction that the rule of it — which is the doctrine of Christ alone — is holy, wise, and heavenly. And multitudes in all ages have been won over to the obedience of the gospel, and faith in Christ Jesus, by the holy, fruitful, useful way of life of those who have expressed the power and purity of his doctrine in this kind.

3. The power and efficacy of the death of Christ for other ends is also required in this — to so “purify us from all iniquity,” and “purge our conscience from dead works, that we may serve the living God.” The world sometimes rises to such a height of pride and contemptuous atheism as to despise all appearance and profession of purity. But the truth is, if we are not cleansed from our sins in the blood of Christ, if we are not purified from iniquity by it, then we are an abomination to God, and we will be objects of his wrath forever. However, the Lord Christ requires no more of his disciples in this matter, to his glory, than to profess that his blood cleanses them from their sins, and that they evidence the truth of it by such ways and means as the gospel has appointed for that end. If their testimony as to the efficacy of his death is not received in this, or if it is despised by the world, and so at present no apparent glory redounds to him by his death, he is still satisfied with it. For he knows that the day is coming in which he will recall these things again, when rejecting this testimony will be an aggravation of condemnation for the unbelieving world.

I suppose the evidence of this last argument is plain and exposed to all. It is briefly this: without the holiness prescribed in the gospel, we give nothing of that glory to Jesus Christ which he indispensably requires. And if men are so senselessly foolish as to expect the greatest benefits and advantages by the mediation of Christ — namely, pardon of sin, salvation, life, and immortality — while they neglect and refuse to give him any revenue of glory for all he has done for them, then we may bewail their folly, but we cannot prevent their ruin. He saves us freely by his grace; but he requires that we express a sense of it, in ascribing to him the glory that is his due. And let no man think this is done in wordy expressions. It is not effected in any way other than by the power of a holy way of life, “showing forth the praises of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.” 1Pet 2.9 Indeed, there is even more in it. If anyone professes to be a Christian — that is, a disciple of Jesus Christ, following the example of his life, obeying his doctrine, expressing the efficacy of his death — and yet continues in an unholy life, then he is a false traitor to Christ, and gives his testimony on the side of the world against Christ and all that he has done for us.

It is indeed the flagitious lives of professed Christians that have brought the life, doctrine, and person of our Lord Jesus Christ into contempt in the world. I advise all who read or hear of these things to diligently and carefully study the gospel, that they may receive from it evidence of the power, truth, glory, and beauty of Christ and his ways. For that person who would use the conduct of men as his guide, will hardly be able to determine which he should choose — whether to be a Pagan, a Mohammedan, or a Christian. And will such persons, because of whom the name of Christ is continually dishonored and blasphemed, expect an advantage by him, or mercy from him? Will men think they may live in sensuality, pride, ambition, covetousness, malice, revenge, hatred of all good men, and contempt of purity, and yet enjoy life, immortality, and glory by Christ? Who can sufficiently bewail the dreadful effects of such a horrid infatuation?

God teach us all to duly consider that all the glory and honor of Jesus Christ in the world, with respect to us, depends on our holiness, and not on any other thing

that we are, have, or may do! If therefore we have any love for Christ, any spark of gratitude for his unspeakable love, grace, condescension, sufferings, and their eternal fruits; any care about or desire for his glory and honor in the world; if we would not be found at the last day to be the most hateful traitors to his crown, honor, and dignity; if we have any expectation of grace from him or advantage by him, here or hereafter — then let us labor to be “holy in all manner of conduct,” 1Pet 1.15 that we may thereby adorn his doctrine,Tit 2.10 express his virtues and praises,1Pet 2.9 and grow up into conformity and likeness to Him, Eph 4.15 who is the first-born and image of the invisible God.Col 1.15

Μόνῳ Θεῷ σωτῆρι δόξα!
To God our Savior alone be the glory!