Holy Living in Preparation for Christ's Appearing!
George Everard, 1884
"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!" 1 Thessalonians 5:23
"God saved us and called us to live a holy life!" 2 Timothy 1:9
Who can estimate too highly the value of a holy life? It is the purpose of Christ's redeeming work: He "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).
Holiness is absolutely essential to the enjoyment of true peace. Whatever doctrines persons hold, or spiritual feelings they may enjoy, they are of no real benefit to them unless they lead to a holy walk. Sin is like an aching tooth, and wherever it is permitted to abide, there can be no true rest or peace.
Moreover, holy living is one of the mightiest powers for good in the Church of Christ.
A congregation eminent for the holiness of its members is like a burning-glass manifesting the rays of the Divine glory, and having a power to set on fire the hearts of men, and to inflame them with zeal in God's service. A single Christian who is living a very holy and devoted life cannot fail to be a blessing wherever he lives, and the least word he speaks for Christ is mighty because backed up by his own example.
Therefore seek to be holy. You are God's representative in an evil world. You are to adorn the doctrine of Christ in all things. You are to strive to be a blessing to others. You desire to enjoy the peace of God which passes understanding. Therefore you must be holy. You must make it your distinct aim every day you live, to perfect holiness in the fear of God.
Look at the prayer of the Apostle at the heading of this address. Turn it into a petition for yourself. Plead it before God in the name of Jesus in all its fullness of meaning.
"O God, the God of peace, I look unto You. I have no help but in You. You alone can make me holy by the power of Your good Spirit. Do Your work in me thoroughly. Let no evil thing remain. May every power of mind and body be set apart for Your service. Oh keep me and preserve me day by day. Make me blameless and without reproach. Prepare me to stand without fault before Christ at the great day of His coming, I ask this for Jesus' sake. Amen."
But if you wish to be holy and earnestly long to be made like Christ in all things — then you must weigh well the teaching of the Word of God. You must follow the light which that Word affords. I will name a few points of main importance.
You can only be sanctified by God as you know Him as the "God of peace." Before you can be made holy, you must be at peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. You must begin with free forgiveness and complete reconciliation through His blood. True holiness rests on the basis of a perfect justification, whereby you stand before God in Christ accounted righteous in His sight. There are some who try to climb up to justification and acceptance by their holiness or good works or good feelings. But they always fail. It is just the other way.
You are not to be holy that you may be forgiven — but you are to be forgiven and justified that you may become holy. You must begin on the lowest round of the ladder. You must take the place of the sinner, and then look to Christ to pardon and justify you freely through His blood and righteousness.
"Mine is the sin, but Yours the righteousness,
Mine is the guilt, but Yours the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace,
Your blood, Your righteousness, O Lord my God."
You can only be sanctified by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Remember the words of Paul. "God has chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth "(2 Thessalonians 2:13). It is only as the Holy Spirit the Comforter dwells within you, and reigns within you as a new power and a new life that you can in any way rise above your own evil nature and think or act aright. From the first desire to live a better life, to the first note of praise in glory — the whole work must be that of the Holy Spirit.
Hence you must by all means seek to realize and be filled with the constant presence of the Holy Spirit. Remind yourself frequently of your need of His power and grace. Let it be your persistent, believing cry that the Father would send the Spirit to work mightily in you. Let it be your greatest sorrow in any way to grieve that blessed Spirit, either by willful sin or by slighting His motions in your heart. Often breathe forth a longing desire for His humbling, comforting, enlightening ray.
"O most blessed Light Divine,
Shine within these hearts of Thine,
And our inmost being fill.
Where You are not, man has nothing,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill."
Very various and manifold are the agencies the Spirit employs. Very frequently, it is a season of suffering or sorrow. The soul is brought low in the valley of humiliation. Comforts are removed, and troubles increase. Then . . .
heavenly things become more real,
God is known more fully as a sure Refuge,
the promises stand out with clearer brightness.
As the late Dean Champneys put it, the railway light is only seen as you enter the dark tunnel. Just so, in the dark moments of adversity, the bright lamp of promise shines out with double glory. Never forget, Christian, that there are two promises which go side by side along the road to Zion. One is, "In the world you shall have tribulation," and the other, "In Me you might have peace" (John 16:31). And the Holy Spirit very frequently uses the first, to bring the second. It is by the teachings of sorrow, that a deeper and surer peace is wrought in the soul.
No less does the Holy Spirit use the Word of God as a great instrument of sanctification. Our Lord's prayer is being constantly fulfilled. "Sanctify them through Your truth — Your word is truth" (John 17:17). Every line of Holy Scripture teems with warning, promise, doctrine, or example that has a sanctifying tendency when it is received in meekness and obedience.
There is not a single passage bearing on the person, offices, or character of Christ, but has been used by the Spirit to draw souls closer to Him, and so detach them from the world.
There is not a precept but has been employed by the Spirit, to quicken some Christian in the way of God's commandments.
here is not a privilege revealed as the portion of God's children, but has been an instrument for encouraging some of God's saints in running the heavenly race.
There is not a view of God's holiness or justice or character, but has been useful in implanting or nourishing in some soul a godly fear which has been a wholesome restraint in the hour of temptation.
Therefore, in the cultivation of holiness, let the quiet, meditative study of Scripture hold a high place. Consider it as one of Christ's pasture-fields, to which He would daily lead you, and there make you to taste afresh the sweetness of His grace.
Ponder the Scripture until it reaches the very depth of your heart. Do not leave the passage until you have found . . .
some kindling of love to Christ,
some thought to strengthen your faith,
some reminder of a precious promise,
some aspiration of a holier walk.
A few of the practical details of a holy life may be named as requiring continual watchfulness.
The careful use of TIME touches every part of the Christian life. A beautiful illustration has been given of this:
The hours are like a chain of little golden vessels passing before you day and night.
You cannot arrest their progress.
You can put something into each as it passes.
You can put in a good thought or word or deed — or a bad thought or word or deed.
Or you can let it go empty.
Once past, you cannot recall it.
Twenty-four vessels every day!
Eight of them pass while we are asleep — one-third of them empty.
Alas! how many more through our negligence and sloth every day pass empty!
Alas! for the contents of many of them!
Golden vessels filled with wood, hay, stubble!
Some of them filled with what is worse than worthless — evil thoughts and words and deeds.
But they pass on continually until they come before the throne of God.
And there account is taken of their contents.
Of how many are you satisfied that God should note their contents?
"Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time!" Ephesians 5:15-16
"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom!" Psalm 90:12
In order to live a holy life — the CONSCIENCE must he kept tender and sensitive. When the soul is in a healthy condition, the conscience will ever be mindful of the approach of sin, and shrink from it in whatever form it may present itself. Sin may come under the guise of an angel. It may profess a good end, or plead the example of some saint of God. It may hide its deformity or its danger, by calling itself only a natural infirmity. But the eagle eye of the Spirit-taught Christian will discern the cloven foot, will mark the covert disobedience, the evil from which Christ would have turned away, and will abhor it and detest it as an abominable thing which God hates! You must be in sympathy with God in detecting hidden forms of evil, in trying the things that differ, in that wise and godly fear that will always refuse the persuasion to act or speak amiss, however it may be disguised.
"Ah, give me, Lord, the tender heart
That trembles at the approach of sin!
A godly fear of sin impart,
Implant and root it deep within,
That I may fear Your gracious power,
And never dare to offend You more."
In order to live a holy life — the WILL must be yielded up entirely to God. The chief sin of man is to set up his will against God's will, and to go on his way quite irrespective of that which God has commanded.
But in conversion, the will is given up to God. "Teach me to do Your will," is the believer's prayer. "Lord, what will You have me to do?" is the genuine expression of the heart renewed by the Spirit. And the more this purpose is followed out, the more holy will the Christian be.
What is our will when rebelling against God — but the source of endless trouble and remorse? Is not God's will the truest will, the best will, the will that leads to peace and rest, as well as holiness and Heaven?
When there comes a great temptation to follow our own way through a prospect of gain or passing pleasure, if we hearken to the same, does it not invariably bring its own bitter punishment after it? But if we deny self, and do that which we know to be right, have we not found again and again a great reward? Has not, perchance, the comfort or blessing we desired become our own, without the sting of a guilty conscience, which would have marred all its enjoyment?
And in times of sorrow and bereavement and disappointment, when we have accepted the trial in meekness as from God's hand, and have humbled ourselves under the blow at His footstool — has there not always come something of that heavenly calm, which took from the trial more than half its bitterness? O that we could always seek to have our crooked wills made after the straight and all-wise will of God! Would that we could ever be satisfied that all things mysterious now, will prove to God's children the right path to the kingdom! Would that we could ever say, "Your will be done," and cling to Jesus in our grief!
"On earth below, in Heaven above,
There is no rest but in His love;
All else must fail the weary heart,
But His is peace that won't depart."
To help us to endure cheerfully whatever may happen to us, let us be firmly persuaded that the hand of Infinite Love is ordering and directing all things for our profit and His glory.
Some time ago two ladies were in a pony carriage, when the reins happened to fall, and the pony started running off! It marvelously escaped from any serious danger, turning safely two sharp corners, and finally stopping at a door where it had often previously stood. In the midst of the apparent danger, one lady said to the other, "God holds the reins!" And so it proved, for they were safely brought through the hour of peril.
Christian, remember this, "God holds the reins!"
He who made all things and preserve all;
He whose hand is mighty to save;
He who knows the end from the beginning;
He who wisely orders every footstep —
He holds the reins, and will guide all events and circumstances to our highest and eternal welfare!
Another important element in a holy life, is the exercise of control over the temper. Often the temper is like a fiery steed that will rush heedlessly into the fray, or over the side of a precipice. If you wish to follow Christ, you must put on the bridle, and know how to keep in check all haste and passion and irritability. A single outburst of temper may do yourself and others an amount of injury that weeks and months may scarcely undo. To avoid this evil, you must learn to live always in the presence of God. The holy calm of nearness to God, is the very best preservative from yielding to an unruly spirit.
His eye is upon you.
His ear is open to you.
His heart is your pillow.
"How can I willingly break the charm of this happy fellowship and bring dishonor upon His name?" Such will be the thought of the Christian that thus lives in the consciousness of a Father's presence and love.
But we must not let the mention of these details of Christian holiness, lead us to imagine that it consists of various independent duties or virtues. There is a unity in the Christian life. The apostle prays that "the spirit and soul and body may be preserved entire." It is all one great principle and life. Touch one part — and you injure the whole. Your life is not to be as a patched coat, partly old and partly new. It is not to be as a vine, with some branches living and some dead; or as a human body maimed by accident or weakened by disease. Nay, the whole must be one. The new garment, the fair clothing of conformity to the will of God, must not be marred by the remnants of any willful disobedience. Every part of the soul is to be instinct with the life of the Spirit. Every virtue and grace is to find its due manifestation in your daily walk.
And what is this principle and life? It is neither more nor less than this — Christ taking possession of the whole man — Christ exercising supreme dominion over the conscience, the will, the affections, the temper, the words and actions of every day. It is Christ living over again in your soul, His own life in the world. It is Christ . . .
speaking through your life,
thinking through your thoughts,
working through your hands,
going hither and thither in the world by your feet,
and thus through you, manifesting Himself to those around you.
Oh, what a high and noble life this is! Would that Christian people were more perpetually living it out, and thus showing the mighty power of Christ to sanctify and save!
And by what means may it be so? There is one point I have not yet named, but which answers this question. It is in proportion to a Christian's faith — he can thus live.
By faith you must be sanctified — as well as justified. By faith it is that Christ must ever dwell in your heart, and thus influence your whole life.
But you must be careful here. You must be sanctified by faith, but by faith in what? There are some who seem to think they must have faith in sanctified self. They mistake the meaning of Scripture, and speak of the possession of a sinless heart, or of having been able to live so long without sin. They put their attainments forth, as if they must believe that God has already cleansed their nature from all defilement — instead of regarding the final aim of God's dealings with them, that now self and the evil principle within should be daily mortified and kept under control — and then when Christ appears, they should be like Him, for they shall see Him as He is.
To myself, any view of the kind seems a most dangerous and deadly error. It must lead to spiritual pride. It must lead to self-glorying. It must hinder that daily confession of sin and humiliation before God, which is so precious in His sight.
Very striking was the way in which a young lady who had held these erroneous views, very strongly repudiated them on her death-bed. Again and again before her death, with the utmost emphasis she repeated the words of John, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:6.)
And so it is. The more we see of God and His law and His holiness — the more shall we discover the treachery, the remaining deadness, coldness, unbelief, and worldliness of our own nature. The more shall we see how far we come below the standard of our Lord's life. The more shall we discern in our wandering thoughts when at prayer, in our unwillingness to bear the cross, in our many failures and shortcomings — that from first to last we can only hope to be saved as sinners washed in the blood of Christ, and having no righteousness or perfection of any kind except as we stand in Him, the holy and the sinless Redeemer.
Nevertheless, the great truth of sanctification by faith is not to be withheld because sometimes it is perverted and mistaken. You must never glory in self, but you must always glory in Christ, for power as well as for pardon and peace. You must continually, by the aid of the Spirit, stir up your faith in Christ and expect Him to do great things for you. You must look to Him, to keep the serpent in you chained and harmless. You must look to Him day by day, to keep you from the least willful outbreak of your own evil heart. You must look to Him to strengthen and raise up in you the new man, and to make every grace vigorous and active. You must look to Him for more light to know what the will of God is in everything — and then for the will and the power to act in accordance with it. If you wish to be holy, live upon Christ, lean upon Christ perpetually. Make Him the first to whom you go in the morning, and the last to whom you speak at night.
Remember His presence as being always near you.
Remember His love as being ever the same.
Remember Him as your Shepherd, your Advocate, your Guardian and your Guide.
Remember His faithful promises, and rest upon them.
Remember His loving care, and depend upon it.
Remembering Jesus, trusting in Jesus, glorying in Jesus, while ever remembering your own exceeding unworthiness and sinfulness — you will grow in grace and be preserved without blame until He comes.
The last point I would urge is this: Nothing is more helpful in holy living, than a vivid and constant recollection that Christ will soon return. It is not needful that you should be able clearly to see the sequence of events at His appearing. You may have many difficulties about the millennium and other theological concerns; but let one thought stand out clearly before you: Christ is returning in His glory, and I shall see Him and shall be like Him and with Him forever!
Cherish this hope amidst life's troubles and temptations. Let your soul be animated by the inspiring conviction that amidst all the confusion and evil and error that abound, Christ will come and put an end to all the sin under which the world groans.
Be assured that to every true Christian, the brightness and gladness of that day will be altogether beyond his utmost thoughts. Be assured that on that day, you will see the numberless answers to your prayers as you have never seen them here; and that all that has been dark and sorrowful and trying — will be manifested as among the all things that work together for your good.
"Oh quickly come, Great King of all,
Reign all around us and within;
Let sin no more our souls enthrall,
Let pain and sorrow die with sin:
Oh quickly come, for grief and pain,
Can never cloud Your glorious reign!"