By John Angell James, 1859


The apostle John has set this quality and operation before us in a clear and positive manner—"Every man that has this hope (in Christ), in him, purifies himself, even as he is pure," 1 John 3:3. Every view we can take of the work of redemption, shows its connection with holiness. The Father has "chosen us before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy." The Son did not die merely to save us from hell, and bring us to heaven—but to "redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works." The Spirit is given to "create us anew unto good works." If we are called, it is "with a holy calling." If we are afflicted, it is that we might "be partakers of God's holiness." If we possess the Scriptures, it is "that we might be sanctified by the truth."

Holiness is the image of God, stamped upon man's soul at his creation—which Satan marred, when his malignity could not reach the divine original. And to restore us to holiness, is the ultimate object of redeeming mercy. What would justification be without holiness—but like throwing a vestment of purple and gold over a leprous body? What is heaven—but the region, the home, the very center of holiness? Take away holiness from an angel, and he becomes a devil. Add holiness to the nature of a devil, and he becomes an angel. Were a man without holiness to enter heaven, its blessed inhabitants would run from him with horror and alarm—as we would run from a person with the plague! Without holiness, a soul in heaven would be like a nauseated man at a feast; he would desire nothing, taste nothing, relish nothing. Hence, therefore, the meaning and force of the apostle's declaration, that hope is the great purifier. Fear of hell may do something in this way—hope of heaven will do more!

The MODEL of Christian holiness is Christ, not merely in his divine—but in his human nature; and that nature, not only in its heavenly—but in its earthly state. Christ as the man of sorrows—as exposed to temptation—as subject to affliction—as the servant of God—as the Son learning obedience by the things which he suffered—as separate from sin and sinners, though dwelling in the midst of them. Here is our model; the infinite, eternal, almighty God, exhibited in the miniature form of the perfect man, presented in dimensions the eye can comprehend. In our zeal for Christ's divinity, let us not forget his humanity. The man Christ, the divine man, the model man, must be before us, and our eye must be ever upon our copy and our page.

"Every man who has this hope in him, purifies himself." While as a weak, ignorant and sinful creature, his dependence is to be upon the Spirit of God. But as a rational creature, he is to exert all his faculties of intellect, heart, will, conscience, memory, in this great work of moral purification. The apostle teaches us in this language that each individual's moral cleansing depends, under God, principally upon himself—not upon ministers, nor sermons, nor ordinances, nor books—but upon himself—upon his care to watch over the motions of his own heart—upon his vigilance to guard against temptations from without—upon his meditation upon Christ's example—upon his assiduity to seek, by prayer, the support of God's grace.

A man that would cleanse his person from defilement would not merely place himself beneath a falling shower of rain—but would collect the descending water and apply it to his body. He would purify himself—and so must we our souls.

Hope prompts to this purification; helps us in it; and gives energy and success to our endeavors. All men act as they hope—their desires and expectations dictate and ensure the appropriate conduct. This is an instinct of their nature, a moral necessity, an infallible result. If a man has before him any worldly object of desire and expectation—and there is some prerequisite which he must possess, in order to gain his ulterior end—he will labor to secure this prerequisite as absolutely indispensable. Now the Christian's desire and expectation are fixed upon heaven, his heart is upon heaven—but he is told "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Then he knows, he feels, he determines, that he must be holy.

If we have some cherished object of desire, and there is something which must fit us for enjoying it when it is possessed, we naturally labor to gain that preparedness. The Christian knows that he could not enjoy heaven without holiness, if he were admitted to its felicities—and therefore his hope sets him upon this personal purification as his "fitness for the inheritance of the saints in light." The desire and expectation of an earthly object makes us eager at once to get as much of it as we can, even before we come into full possession and fruition.

The Christian knows that the chief felicity of heaven consists in absolute sinless perfection. It is his bliss to think that there he shall, according to his measure, be as holy as God is holy. It would be no heaven to him—if he must take his sin with him. Holiness is the richest, ripest fruit that grows on the tree of life, in the midst of the paradise of God. The believer's hope therefore prompts him to hunger and thirst after righteousness, as a means of enjoying a pledge, a foretaste of heavenly bliss. Hope like the truehearted spies sent by Joshua to search the promised land, crosses the Jordan, and plucking the grapes of Eshcol, returns to bid the soul go forward.

When we are very intent on gaining an object, we are very glad to meet with evidence that we are in the right way to obtain it, and we search very diligently for as much proof as we can accumulate. What is the evidence, the only evidence, that can be depended on that we are going to heaven? Holiness—conformity to the example of Christ. Now he who is in earnest to reach the heavenly Canaan, whose heart is set on that sublime and glorious object, will feel an intense solicitude to know if he is in the way to it. A serious doubt on this subject is distressing to him. Knowing that holiness is the proof of safety, he will ever be anxious to conform himself to the example of Christ. He who is studying the life of Jesus, as a child studies his copy to do reproduce it, need not doubt his state. He may not, and will not be a perfect resemblance to Christ, any more than the boy at school will equal his copy—but the great Master will approve of the sincere and diligent attempt to do well, although there may be some defects, and dissimilarities, and the writing have some irregularities, and the page some blots.

Nor is this all; the very contemplation of heaven, in which hope indulges—has a transforming power. This passion naturally and necessarily assimilates the mind of the person who cherishes it, to the object which he has before him. The miser becomes more miserly; the sensualist more sensual; the ambitious man more ambitious; the warrior more warlike—by their hopes. Desire and expectation, in relation to earthly things, have a mighty power of assimilation, and may be carried to such an extent, that the man's soul becomes quite possessed with the object on which his heart is set. So is it, in rational measure, with the expectants of eternal glory.

What is heaven? We have again and again answered that question. It is not a Roman Elysium; nor a Mohammedan Paradise—but a state where we shall see Christ as he is, and be like him. It is the region of moral purity. Its inhabitants are holy—the holy Father, the holy Savior, the holy Spirit, holy angels, and holy men. Its occupations are holy—the service of God—the song of cherubim and seraphim, crying Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty; and all other things in harmony with this sacred employment and felicity.

Now every contemplation of this holy heavenly state tends to assimilate the soul to its likeness. While gazing upon it, delighting in it, longing for it—we grow in resemblance to it. Like as when a man turns his face to the sun, its rays fall and dwell upon his countenance; or as when a polished mirror is turned to the great luminary, it reflects its splendor—so the soul of the believer turned heavenwards, becomes heavenly.

If, then, hope produces holiness, how important is it to keep up the power of the cause—in order to the production of the effect. Despondency has a chilling, withering influence upon the holy energies of the soul, like the cold north wind on flowers and blossoms. While hope is the sunshine of the soul, which cherishes the moral vegetation, and makes it look verdant and flourishing. The Christian who would grow in grace, and make advances in spiritual purity, should keep up a good hope. His doubts and fears are not only hindrances to his happiness—but to his holiness also. Despondency is not only uncomfortable—but unholy.