1 Thessalonians 5:23
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly…
Short of being wholly surrendered to God, we are maimed and incomplete. Holiness is the science of making men whole and keeping them whole. Christ is not come to save bits of humanity, like spars of a floating wreck, men's souls only, but to restore the finished man which God fashioned at the first, entire and without blemish. And because this is our completed life, it is our only true life. Our true life can only be that in which all our faculties find room for their harmonious development. This differs greatly from some of the notions that have gathered about the doctrine which regard the body as an enemy and persecute it accordingly; or a weak effeminacy whose conscience is troubled as to the colour of a ribbon, the size of a feather, the metal of one's watch chain; a life in which everything is suspected a ghostly mystery, a thing alike loveless and useless. Let us gladly welcome the word — entire sanctification; not the privilege of a few adventurous and favoured souls, but the everyday life of ordinary men and women in the everyday work. The word "sanctification" means everywhere that which is claimed by God, given to God, used for God. Take its first use, "God rested on the seventh day...and sanctified it." What the Sabbath was amongst days, that man is to be amongst creatures.
I. THAT THIS IS OUR TRUE LIFE IS MANIFEST IN THE VERY NATURE OF MAN WHICH IS HERE REFERRED TO, BODY, SOUL, AND SPIRIT.
1. Man is a mystery, rent by two, we might say three, worlds.
(1) In common with the animals he has a body taken from the same earth, dependent on the same conditions, returning to the earth in the same way. And yet the beasts in following their instincts fulfil the purpose of their being, whilst man is a true man only as these instincts are checked. The reason must come in to control the appetites, but what if the passion be stronger than reason? Reason may bid the man to do right, but it does not bring the power. And, worse still, what if the reason itself drag down the man, lower the animal, and he who was sensual becomes devilish, the subject of envy, malice, pride, covetousness, revenge? What then?
(2) We turn to the other faculty — the spirit. That which looks out where reason cannot see, and listens where reason hears nothing, that which has the dread consciousness of a Presence at which reason may laugh, looking out into the dark to declare that there is nothing. But this faculty may contribute to the degradation of the man. To his other miseries this may add a thousand superstitions. Of all creatures man alone wants more than he needs, and in that one fact lies the source of man's misery. Of all animals man alone is the victim of excess. It is the infinite capacity of the spirit degraded and seeking its satisfaction through indulgence.
2. Such is this creature. In a world where all else fulfil their purpose and lie down in peace, he alone is distracted. He is too big for the world, with a mind that cannot fulfil its own ideal. Where can he find his true life, in which all that is within him can be made harmonious and balanced? Some have said, "Mutilate the body to save his nobler being." Others have said, "Blind the mind and mock the spirit, that the animal may be happy. Eat, drink, for tomorrow we die." But surely there is a power somewhere that can keep the creature whole. Think of a steamship, steam at full pressure, engines going, sails set, yet with no hand on the helm, no lookout, no eye on the compass, hurrying on in the darkness, none knows whither. Or think of such a ship manned, yet where the forces of steam are set to one end and the sails to another, where one part of the crew will make for the Southern Cross and another steer for the North Pole. What is the remedy?
3. Let the commander come on board with due authority, then shall all these antagonistic forces be brought into harmonious working. We, seeking for deliverance, turn instinctively to our Creator. He who made us at the first must understand these faculties and can restore them to their true ends and uses. In all gradations of life we find the need of the creature met with its supply. The higher capacities of man for friendship, service, brotherhood find room and satisfaction. And is it only in the highest that we are to be left deceived? Made conscious of the infinite, yet are we to be met with the finite? If that be so, then has all nature mocked us. Every instinct within us, everything about us, cries aloud that somewhere there is that which can set the man at rest. Instinctively we lift our hands upward, assured that help must come from God. The God of Peace, who made us for Himself, can adjust the wishes and aims to His will, and the man takes his true place in the world as one having dominion over it. Here is our only true life, a life of entire consecration.
II. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD MAKES THIS ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION OUR ONLY TRUE LIFE. In common with other creatures, we live and move and have our being in God.
1. But this wards us from all other creatures in the world, we can give to God. This it is which makes us capable of religion. According to our gift do we find our place in one of the three great classes which divide humanity. Only to give something that we have is the mark of the heathen. Only to give something that we do is the distinction of the Jew. To give that which we are is the privilege and glory of the Christian. "Take my goods and be no more angry with me," is the cry of the heathen. "Behold my righteousness and remember Thy promise," speaks the Jew. "I am not mine own, but Thine, live in me or I die," is the distinctive glory of the Christian.
2. But what we give to God is altogether the result of our knowledge of Him. If we know God only as Creator and Controller, who touches us only from without, we give that which is only from without. But if we know God as our Father, as Love — then is there but one offering which can satisfy Him or satisfy us, body, soul, and spirit wholly given up to Him. Before this demand of our complete surrender, there comes the revelation of God. The Epistle begins with, "Grace and peace from God our Father," etc. It is in this revelation of God's love to us that this claim finds its force. If He have given Himself to us there can be no other return than our whole being to Him. Amongst us the claims of love are such that true love is hurt and injured with less than love. If love be lacking, gifts, obedience, service do but affront and insult love. If the measure of God's love to us be nothing less than the shame and agony and death of the Son of God, then to give Him less than our body, soul, and spirit is to make religion itself only another bewilderment.
III. CONSIDER THIS LIFE AS THE SUBJECT OF OUR PRAYER. "May the God of Peace Himself sanctify you wholly." This great work is to be done for us by God. What years of weary and wasted endeavour it would save us if we were willing to accept so obvious a truth! We linger about theories of sanctification. In seeking to make this life our own it will help us to dwell upon the three stages of sanctification as set forth in the Old Testament, the picture book of the New.
1. Sanctification is the surrender of that which is claimed. "Sanctify unto me," or as it is in the original, "Cause to pass over unto us." That is where sanctification begins. The demand and command of God. We have thought so much about God's provision for our forgiveness that we have almost lost sight of the fact that forgiveness has this purpose, our perfect obedience to His will. Jesus Christ is come not to be Saviour only, but Lord. Holiness is obedience, and the beauty of Holiness is the beauty of a completed obedience. Religion may borrow the loftiest titles, and swell with the sublimest aspiration, and yet be a thing of flabby sentimentalism, without the strong pillars and girders of God's authority. Let this surrender to God be a definite act. Our fathers often made this surrender in writing, and it is a distinct gain to make the act visible and tangible. And the process of writing gives one leisure to see into the greatness of God's claim, and into the sincerity of our response. This is the first step we must bring into our life, the great, strong authority of God. There was an age in which the authority of God was so set forth that it concealed His love, and it produced men stern, perhaps, but grandly true, men all backbones and ribs. Let us beware lest by concealing the authority of God in His love we grow creatures without any backbones or ribs at all.
2. The second step in our sanctification is the cleansing blood. Nothing else could give such solemnity to the offering, nothing else so completely set it apart for God. This was the crimson seal upon the deed of gift. The Church of today has gone away from the Church of the first ages. The death of Christ is the ground of our salvation, that and nothing more. With them it was the resistless claim. Our answer is, "Go on your happy way to heaven"; theirs was, "Glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are His." The blood meant ransom, redemption, but the deliverance found its purpose only in the service of God. That is the measure of the Cross of Christ — not safety only from the destroying angel, but deliverance from the bondage of sin, our victory over the world and the flesh. And that not simply as the natural effect upon us of Christ's love. It is more than a passionate hatred of sin kindled by the sight of our crucified Lord; more than an enthusiastic devotion fired and sustained by the memory of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. As surely as the Cross of Christ has put me into a new relationship to God, and made it possible for Him to be just and the Justifier of him that believeth, so has that Cross put me into a new relation to the world. This is the great salvation which is provided for us. Now, in the name of Jesus Christ are we to rise to find the chains fall off, the bondage ended, the doors of the prison open, the jealous foes powerless to hold us. Redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, now are we free indeed, that in everything we may be His faithful soldiers and servants until our lives' end.
3. The last stage in sanctification is the Divine indwelling. Everything led up to that. Everything that was claimed was cleansed. When Moses had done all that God commanded him, then God came down and filled the place with His glorious Presence. Earth had no more to ask, and heaven no more to bestow. Up to that point God is ever seeking to lead us. Just as earth led up to man, and found its use and completeness in his coming, so was it that man led up to God. And when man came God rested from His labours, here was his resting place and home. His work was at an end, and with that indwelling all things found their finish and completion. And up to this all the great provisions of grace lead. We stand and look down through the ages and see God coming nearer to earth, until at last there cometh One who standeth and knocketh, saying, "Open unto Me." Then, when He cometh in to dwell with us, paradise is restored. Once more God hath found His rest, and we have found ours, and there comes again the Sabbath calm, for that all is very good.
(M. G. Pearse.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.