HOW I OBTAINED THE BLESSING OF SANCTIFICATION
I always believed in the doctrine in a general way, but not in the way particular. That is, I recognized it as being true in our standards and religious biographies; but was not so quick to see it in the life and experience of persons claiming the blessing. I was too loyal a Methodist to deny what my Church taught me to believe; but there must have been beams and motes that kept me from the enjoyment of a perfect vision of my brother. Perhaps I was prejudiced; or I had confounded ignorance and mental infirmity with sin; or, truer still, I was looking on a “hidden life,” as the Bible calls it, and, of course, could not but blunder in my judgments and conclusions, even as I had formerly erred as a sinner in my estimation of the converted man. Several years since I remember being thrown in the company of three ministers who were sanctified men, and their frequent “praise the Lords” was an offense to me. I saw nothing to justify such demonstrativeness. The fact entirely escaped me that a heart could be in such a condition that praise and rejoicing would be as natural as breathing; that the cause of joy rested not in any thing external, but in some fixed inward state or possession; that, therefore, perpetual praise could not only be possible, but natural, and in fact irrepressible. But at that time all this was hidden from me, except in a theoretic way, or as mistily beheld in distant lives of saints who walked with God on earth fifty or a hundred years ago.
In my early ministry I was never thrown with a sanctified preacher, nor have I ever heard a sermon on entire sanctification until this year. I beheld the promised life from a Pisgah distance, and came back from the view with a fear and feeling that I should never come into that goodly land. So, when I was being ordained at Conference, it was with considerable choking of voice and with not a few inward misgivings and qualms of conscience that I replied to the bishop’s questions, that I was “going on to perfection,” that I “expected to be made perfect in love in this life,” and that I “was groaning after it.” Perhaps the bishop himself was disturbed at the questions he asked. Perhaps he thought it was strange for a minister of God and father in Israel, whose life was almost concluded, to be asking a young preacher if he expected to obtain what he himself had never succeeded in getting. Stranger still if he asked the young prophet if he expected to attain what he really felt was unattainable! One thing I rejoice in being able to say: That although about that time, while surprised and grieved at the conduct of a man claiming the blessing of sanctification, and although doubts disturbed me then and even afterward, yet I thank God that I have never, in my heart or openly, denied an experience or warred against a doctrine that is the cardinal doctrine of the Methodist Church, and concerning which I solemnly declared to the bishop that I was groaning to obtain. God in his mercy has kept me from this inconsistency–this peculiar denial of my Church and my Lord. Let me further add that in spite of my indistinct views of sanctification all along, yet ever and anon during my life I have encountered religious people in whose faces I traced spiritual marks and lines–a divine handwriting not seen on every Christian countenance. There was an indefinable something about them, a gravity and yet sweetness of manner, a containedness and quietness of spirit, a restfulness and unearthliness, a far-awayness about them that made me feel and know that they had a life and experience that I had not; that they knew God as I did not, and that a secret of the Lord had been given to them which had not been committed to me. These faces and lives, in the absence of sanctified preachers and sermons on the subject, kept my faith in the doctrine, in a great degree I suppose, from utterly perishing.
Then there were convictions of my own heart all along in regard to what a minister’s life should be. Only this year, a full month before my sanctification, there was impressed upon me suddenly one day such a sense of the holiness and awfulness of the office and work that my soul fairly sickened under the consciousness of its own short-comings. and failures, and was made to cry out to God. Moreover, visions of an unbroken soul-rest, and a constant abiding spiritual power, again and again, have come up before the mind as a condition possible and imperative. A remarkable thing about it is that these impressions have steadily come to one who has enjoyed the peace of God daily for thirteen years. At the Sea-shore Camp-ground, in 1888, after having preached at 11 o’clock, the writer came forward to the altar as a penitent convicted afresh under his own sermon, that he was not what he should be, nor what God wanted him to be and, was able to make him. Many will remember the day and hour, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the time. I see now that my soul was reaching out even then, not for the hundredth or thousandth blessings (for these I had before obtained), but what is properly called the second blessing. I was even then convicted by the Holy Ghost in regard to the presence of inbred sin in a justified heart. Several months since I instituted a series of revival services in Carondelet Street Church, with the Rev. W. W. Hopper as my helper. At all the morning meetings the preacher presented the subject of entire sanctification. It was clearly and powerfully held up as being obtained instantaneously through consecration and faith.
Before I received the blessing myself I could not but be struck with the presence and power of the Holy Ghost. While urging the doctrine one morning the preacher received such a baptism of glory that for minutes he was helpless; and while we were on our knees supplicating for this instantaneous sanctification the Holy Spirit fell here and there upon individuals in the assembly, and shouts of joy and cries of rapture went up from the kneeling congregation in a way never to be forgotten. The presence of God was felt so overwhelmingly and so remarkably that I could not but reason after this manner: Here is being presented the doctrine of instantaneous sanctification by faith. If it were a false doctrine, would God thus manifest himself ? Would the Holy Ghost descend with approving power upon a lie? Does he not invariably withdraw his presence from the preacher and people when false doctrine is presented! But here he is manifesting himself in a most remarkable manner. The meeting or hour that is devoted to this one subject is the most wonderful meeting and hour of all. The service fairly drips with unction. Shining faces abound. Christ is seen in every countenance. If entire sanctification obtained instantaneously is a false doctrine, is not the Holy Ghost actually misleading the people by granting his presence and favor, and showering his smiles at the time when this error or false doctrine is up for discussion and exposition? But would the Spirit thus deceive? Irresistibly and with growing certainty we were led to see that the truth was being presented from the pulpit, and that the Holy Ghost, who always honors the truth when preached, was falling upon sermon, preacher, and people, because it was the truth. And by the marvelous and frequent display of his presence and power at each and every sanctification meeting he was plainly setting to it the seal of his approval and endorsement, and declaring unmistakably that the doctrine that engrossed us was of heaven and was true. One morning a visitor–a man whom I admire and tenderly love–made a speech against entire sanctification, taking the ground that there was nothing but a perfect consecration and growth in grace to look for, that there was no second work or blessing to be experienced by the child of God. This was about the spirit and burden of his remarks. At once a chill fell upon the service that was noticed then and commented on afterward. The visitor was instantly replied to by one who had just received the blessing, and as immediately the presence of God was felt and manifested. And to the proposition made–that all who believed in an instantaneous and entire sanctification would please arise–at once the whole audience, with the exception of five or six individuals, arose simultaneously. It was during this week that the writer commenced seeking the blessing of sanctification.
According to direction, he laid every thing on the altar–body, soul, reputation, salary; indeed, every thing. Feeling at the time justified, having peace with God, he could not be said to have laid his sins on the altar; for, being forgiven at that moment, no sin was in sight. But he did this, however: he laid inbred sin upon the altar; a something that had troubled him all the days of his converted life–a something that was felt to be a disturbing element in his Christian experience and life. Who will name this something? It is called variously by the appellations of original sin, depravity, remains of sin, roots of bitterness and unbelief, and by Paul it is termed “the old man;” for, in writing to Christians, he exhorts them to put off “the old man,” which was corrupt. Very probably there will be a disagreement about the name, while there is perfect recognition of the existence of the thing itself. For lack of a title that will please all, I call the dark, disturbing, warring creature “that something.” It gives every converted man certain measures of inward disturbance and trouble. Mind you, I do not say that it compels him to sin, for this “something” can be kept in subjection by the regenerated man. But it always brings disturbance, and often leads to sin. It is a something that leads to hasty speeches, quick tempers, feelings of bitterness, doubts, suspicions, harsh judgments, love of praise, and fear of men. At times there is a momentary response to certain temptations that brings not merely a sense of discomfort, but a tinge and twinge of condemnation. All these may be, and are, in turn, conquered by the regenerated man; but there is battle, and wounds; and often after the battle a certain uncomfortable feeling within that it was not a perfect victory. It is a something that at times makes devotion a weariness, the Bible to be hastily read instead of devoured, and prayer a formal approach instead of a burning interview with God that closes with reluctance. It makes Church-going at times not to be a delight, is felt to be a foe to secret and spontaneous giving, causes religious experience to be spasmodic, and permits not within the soul a constant, abiding, and unbroken rest. Rest there is; but it is not continuous, unchanging, and permanent. It is a something that makes true and noble men of God, when appearing in the columns of a Christian newspaper in controversy, to make a strange mistake, and use gall instead of ink, and write with a sword instead of a pen. It is a something that makes religious assemblies sing with great emphasis and feeling: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.” It is an echo that is felt to be left in the heart, in which linger sounds that ought to die away forever. It is a thread or cord-like connection between the soul and the world, although the two have drifted far apart. It is a middle ground, a strange medium upon which Satan can and does operate, to the inward distress of the child of God, whose heart at the same time is loyal to his Saviour, and who feels that if he died even then he would be saved. Now that something I wanted out of me.
What I desired was not the power of self-restraint (that I had already), but a spirit naturally and unconsciously meek. Not so much a power to keep from all sin, but a deadness to sin. I wanted to be able to turn upon sin and the world the eye and ear and heart of a dead man. I wanted perfect love to God and man, and a perfect rest in my soul all the time. This dark “something,” that prevented this life I laid on the altar, and asked God to consume it as by fire. I never asked God once at this time for pardon. That I had in my soul already. But it was cleansing, sin eradication I craved. My prayer was for sanctification. After the battle of consecration came the battle of faith. Both precede the perfect victory of sanctification. Vain is consecration without faith to secure the blessing. Hence men can be perfectly consecrated all their lives, and never know the blessing of sanctification. I must believe there is such a work in order to realize the grace. Here were the words of the Lord that proved a foundation for my faith: “Every devoted thing is most holy unto the Lord.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” Still again: “The altar sanctifieth the gift.” In this last quotation is a statement of a great fact. The altar is greater than the gift; and whatsoever is laid upon the altar becomes sanctified or holy. It is the altar that does the work. The question arises: Who and what is the altar? In Hebrews xiii. 10-12 we are told. Dr. Clarke, in commenting upon the passage, says the altar here mentioned is Jesus Christ. All who have studied attentively the life of our Lord cannot but be impressed with the fact that in his wondrous person is seen embraced the priest, the lamb, and the altar. He did the whole thing, there was no one to help. As the victim he died; as the priest he offered himself, and his divine nature was the altar upon which the sacrifice was made. The Saviour, then, is the Christian’s altar. Upon him I lay myself. The altar sanctifies the gift. The blood cleanses from all sin, personal and inbred. Can I believe that? Will I believe it? My unbelief is certain to shut me out of the blessing, my belief as certainly shuts me in. The instant we add a perfect faith to a perfect consecration the work is done and the blessing descends. As Paul says: “We which have believed do enter into rest.” All this happened to the writer. For nearly three days he lived in a constant state of faith and prayer. He believed God; he believed the work was done before the witness was given. On the morning of the third day–may God help me to tell it as it occurred!–the witness was given. It was about 9 o’clock in the morning. That morning had been spent from daylight in meditation and prayer. I was alone in my room in the spirit of prayer, in profound peace and love, and in the full expectancy of faith, when suddenly I felt that the blessing was coming. By some delicate instinct or intuition of soul I recognized the approach and descent of the Holy Ghost. My faith arose to meet the blessing. In another minute I was literally prostrated by the power of God. I called out again and again: “O my God! my God! and glory to God!” while billows of fire and glory rolled in upon my soul with steady, increasing force. The experience was one of fire. I recognized it all the while as the baptism of fire. I felt that I was being consumed. For several minutes I thought I would certainly die. I knew it was sanctification. I knew it as though the name was written across the face of the blessing and upon ever y wave of glory that rolled in upon my soul.
Cannot God witness to purity of heart as he does to pardon of sin? Are not his blessings self interpreting? He that impresses a man to preach, that moves him unerringly to the selection of texts and subjects, that testifies to a man that he is converted, can he not let a man know when he is sanctified?
I knew I was sanctified just as I knew fifteen years before that I was converted. I knew it not only because of the work itself in my soul, but through the Worker. He, the Holy Ghost, bore witness clearly, unmistakably and powerfully, to his own work; and, although months have passed away since that blessed morning, yet the witness of the Holy Spirit to the work has never left me for a moment, and is as clear today as it was then. In succeeding chapters I desire humbly to show that the blessing of sanctification may be clearly distinguished from other blessings; that it is an instantaneous work; that it is obtained by faith alone; that the Holy Ghost testifies distinctly and peculiarly to the work and life; that a man thus sanctified is under special pressure and command to declare the blessing, and that while thus testifying on all proper occasions that he is sanctified, may be humbler in spirit than a Christian who claims not the blessing.
These things I desire, in all love and tenderness and joy, to speak of as matters not of theory, but of experience. Especially would I call attention to the calm, undisturbed life; the perfect, unbroken rest of soul that follows the blessing of sanctification.
–Pastor Ward Clinton