SANCTIFICATION IS AN EXPERIENCE
Here we turn from God’s work to consider its effect upon man. This effect produces an experience. If there were no such distinct work, there would be no distinct experience, and the testimonies of the regenerated man and the man who claims sanctification would be the same. There would be no sharp dividing line, no distinguishing mark and trait by which one could be told from another.
I thank God there is such an experience, and thousands of people in the land, representing every disposition and temperament and age and walk in life, can and do attest the same fact that there is such an experience. The writer has known God as a Pardoner, and sweet was that knowledge; and God as his Saviour and Comforter, and gracious and blessed have been those experiences. But there is something better still, and that is to know him as one’s Sanctifier.
He that has not seen him in that light, and felt his power in that direction, has come short of the deepest and most gracious views and experiences of God, and continuing to live thus must undergo a loss that, to the mind, seems irreparable. Very briefly we sketch this experience: It is an experience of deep spiritual content and satisfaction. The old craving and yearning felt for something better in the religious life has been met and fulfilled in this blessing. The pearl of greatest price has been found, the good for which it had long sighed.
The clean heart, the restful heart, long prayed for, has come, and now there is an inward spiritual satisfaction most precious and indescribable. It is an experience of fullness. There is no afflicting sense of barrenness or emptiness. Salvation is felt within. The cup that was often half empty, and sometimes seemed altogether empty, is now a full cup. The loaves are always on the table of the heart, and there seems to be twelve loaves enough for self, and plenty to spare. A delightful fullness pervades the experience. It is an experience of peculiar joy. I refer not to ecstasies. Great floods of joy come to the regenerated and sanctified alike at times. But I speak here of the joy of salvation–a sweet, quiet, holy joy that nestles in the center of the soul, and never leaves.
“Woman,” said Christ, “if you had asked me I would have given you a blessing that would have been like a well of water, springing up continually within you.” He spoke of sanctification. And the joy I refer to here and the water Christ spoke of to the woman mean one and the same thing. Truly you cannot better describe this joy than by likening it to a fountain or well of water springing up within you. An experience of joy is one thing; the joy of salvation, another. The former comes and goes; the latter abides continually.
It is this abiding joy of salvation that enables the possessor to do what seems impossible to many Christians, although Paul exhorts to this end, and that is to “rejoice always.” The frequent “praise the Lord’s” of the sanctified man may appear mechanical and parrot-like to many Christians; but, so far from that, these praises and verbal rejoicings arise as naturally to the lips as the waters of an inexhaustible spring gurgle up from its clear depths and flow over its pebbly brim.
The writer praises God this morning for the quiet, tender joy of salvation that, like a fountain hidden away in the depths of his soul, has been flowing for nearly a year. Morning, noon, and night; on the street, at home or in the study; in company or alone, the joy of salvation–a full salvation–is always there. The fountain was there before, but choked by the great stone of inbred sin. This is now removed, and so, without an obstruction, the spiritual spring flows on and up into the heart and voice and face and life. The blessing promised the Samaritan woman has come. The well of water, springing up, keeps the soul from thirst, and imparts a freshness and gladness to the experience and life that may well be described even on earth as “everlasting life.” It is an experience of constant and easy victory over sin. There are temptations that beat on the sanctified heart. Satan tries to come in. He stirs up all kinds of adversaries against the soul, both fleshly and spiritual. But, to the delight of the man enjoying the blessing of sanctification, he finds that the old-time painfulness and difficulty of the struggle is gone. There is no inward convulsion; no war within, while victory comes swiftly and perfectly through the blood of the Lamb. Sometimes the conflict is protracted for hours, perhaps days; but, glory to God! during the entire time of resistance there is a consciousness of perfect ability to stand through Christ, a willingness to wait patiently on the Lord, and a certainty of triumph in the end that is blessed, and yet most difficult to describe. The difference of the spiritual conflicts in the regenerated and sanctified lives may be illustrated by the difference seen in the battles of the Israelites fought in the wilderness and those fought in the land of Canaan. Their enemies fairly melted away before them in the Holy Land. Songs, shouts, praises to God and steady advances were all that was needed in most cases in Canaan. And so in the sanctified life, on account of the perpetual sprinkling of the blood of Christ on the heart, and the constant reliance on the blood by that heart, there is a consequence of confidence, boldness, gladness, songfulness, and aggressiveness that is simply irresistible and all-conquering. I press an additional feature as a distinguishing characteristic of the victory ending the spiritual conflicts of the sanctified. And that is, while often in the regenerated life the battle ended with an experience of inward discomfort and twinges of condemnation, such is not the case with the sanctified man. With him the conflict begins, continues, and ends with a happy consciousness of purity and power, with the heart’s approval and with God’s approval. It is an experience of glad testifying. Does the reader know what it is to wish for a spiritual lamp that burns all the while, whose oil never gives out; but, being connected with the heavenly olive-trees, would be fed continually, and therefore burn steadily? Has the reader ever sat still in an experience-meeting with a cold heart, and waited until sufficiently warmed up by hymn or testimony of other people before giving his experience? If so, have you not wished for a deeper and more permanent work of grace; one that would enable you at all times and at any time to arise and give a bright, glad testimony about the Saviour’s work in your soul? This, thank God! is one of the peculiar marks of the sanctified life–the power of a constant, glad testifying. Hundreds of times the writer has been impressed with this attribute, or characteristic, of the sanctified. They don’t wait to be warmed up–don’t have to wait–for the full salvation is in them. There is no harp-hanging on willow-trees, no lamentation over inward sins and corruptions, no deploring over or confessing to a proneness to depart from God. There is a notable absence of all this in the testimony of a sanctified man, but, instead, the gladness, the preciousness, and the blessedness of a full and present salvation gives a ring to the voice, a freshness to the experience, a light to the face, and a triumph to the soul that is evident to all, and profoundly impresses all that hear. It is an experience of perfect submission to God. After the full surrender of the will to God in the act of consecration, and after the fall of the sanctifying fire, that will becomes harmonized and sweetly accordant with that of God. No reluctance now to do God’s will–no struggle to do it – but an instant yielding and a quick flying to do the divine behest the moment that the command of desire is revealed.
It is an experience of natural meekness. My meaning is that the meekness of the sanctified man is not the result of a strong restraint upon the feelings, but is a genuine quietness and longsuffering of spirit as natural as breathing. Sanctification has taken out that spiritual gunpowder that ignited and exploded under the spark of provocation, and now there is both deliverance from sudden out-bursts and from the smoldering fire of resentment as well. The faculty or disposition that responded angrily to insult is dead. The swelling throat, mounting color, shaking voice, choking speech, and prickly, nettled feeling, spreading up from the spirit into the body itself, are things of the past. A great meekness that can endure long and be kind has settled upon the man and keeps him calm and unresentful. It is an experience of purity. Here is something that has to be felt to be understood. Many are skeptical in regard to it as a distinct experience. Happy in the sense of pardon, acceptance with God, and cleansing from personal guilt, they insist this is all. But it is not all, as the craving of their hearts often declare, and as the converting Spirit of God endeavors to impress upon them. There is an experience of purity as clearly distinct from the experience of pardon as one individual life is different from another. In all the fluctuations of mere emotion this delightful sense and consciousness of purity remains. The Holy Ghost constantly bears witness to his own work, saying, continuously and momentarily, “Child, you are clean;” while the soul, with a vision of its own, and with cognitions peculiar to itself, recognizes the work and the fact of purity as one would recognize the white-robed majesty of Mont Blanc towering before him. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” said the Saviour. So there must be such a state. He that has it not will not claim it; his tongue will cleave to the roof of his mouth, he will, stammer and hesitate and commentate and circumnavigate when asked: “Are you pure?” O it is hard to testify to a condition or possession to which the Holy Ghost has never borne witness. But when he speaks, then you can speak, and how gladly and exultantly you will testify even in the midst of lowering and unbelieving faces that the blood has made you pure!
It is an experience of faith. By this I mean you find yourself believing, as it were, naturally. Where you formerly doubted, you now trust. Sanctification seems to place faith in the heart as a fixed state, and in the hand as a never-idle weapon. Faith becomes not a fitful exertion, but the attitude and movement of the soul. It becomes an experience. You can walk in it, live in it, in the midst of most trying circumstances, consciously sustained by it, as once in the regenerated life you were upheld by delightful experiences. It is an experience of perfect love. The love that follows the blessing of sanctification is perfect in that all anger and bitterness and unkindness of spirit is ejected. You can now love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and not only do kindly but feel kindly to those that despise and injure you. It is perfect in that no amount of opposition or persecution can embitter you; and, still more remarkable, that, no matter what may be the provocation, you are not conscious of an inward struggle with a spirit of wrath or hate before arriving at the point of pardon and love. Thank God that sanctification brings a love that can suffer long and still be kind; that can look across the table and see a man who is trying to injure you, and yet even, as Christ did, reach over to him and hand him a sop of kindness! It is an experience of unbroken inward rest. There is no feature of the sanctified life more marked than this. As you first become conscious of it, you hardly realize what a blessed treasure you have. But as days and weeks and months slide by, and it still remains, then the understanding begins to take in with a deeper appreciation the blessedness of the sanctified life. To your surprise and delight you discover that this rest goes with you as the pillar of fire did with the Israelites. When you go forth, it is with you; when you stop, it is with you. In company, in solitude, in the night, in the early morning, at the desk, in the midst of a Babel of voices–there
is this rest always abiding within. Like your shadow it goes with you–only it is any thing but a shadow. The reader will remember that one of Christ’s great promises to his people is rest. “I will give you rest!” Often in the alternations and fluctuations of my regenerated life I have wondered if this was what Christ referred to, if this was all that he could do and give. Thank God, I have found that I had done him great wrong; that he can give unbroken rest, and that, when he gives it, he does not propose to take the gift away. And to all who come as he directs will he give, as a second blessing, a rest that nothing can destroy! But, asks one, are there no experiences of sorrow? Is no trouble felt? Do temptations and bereavements cease to affect you? My reply is that sanctification does not destroy a single susceptibility or sensibility of the human nature God made. It only destroys sin. This being so, the sanctified man will weep as Christ wept, and groan as Christ did over certain things: There are times when he will say with his Lord, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful;” and the kiss of the betrayer will pierce like an arrow. And yet, marvelous and blessed to relate, the holy calm, that unbroken rest, still abides in the heart. Did you ever see it raining and the sun shining at the same time? “Behold, I show you a mystery.” And yet not a mystery unsolvable. For the Greek word “mystery” means “a secret that is to be revealed.” May you come into this secret speedily! Christ died to bring you within the veil, into the secret place. You will remember that I likened the joy of salvation to a fountain springing up within the heart. Now, over this fountain bend the balmy atmosphere and tranquil light of a deep spiritual rest. Then let a rainfall of sorrow descend like a shower through the light upon the face of the fountain. Now, what is the result? I have seen the answer in nature, and possess it daily in my soul. Here it is. The rainfall does not stop the flowing of the fountain, nor quench the light, nor destroy the balminess of the air. Then after a little the falling drops cease, the cloud passes away, but the fountain and the light and the atmosphere remain, and remain, as they had been all along, undisturbed and unchanged. There are two things in nature that, in a measure, describe the rest of sanctification. They came to me in answer to the question of my mind: How much will the unrest of this world affect the rest of a sanctified soul? There will be some natural movement through and upon the sensibilities; but how deep will it go? At once I obtained the answer on the sight of a tree caught in the grasp of the wind. I noticed that the top waved, but the trunk and roots were steady and still! Again, I thought of a body of water, whose surface may be agitated by the winds, but whose soundless depths are unmoved! The quiet, the stillness, the rest of untouched depths lay in unruffled tranquillity far beneath. There will be no gusty exhibition of grief, no boisterous outflow of a natural sorrow in the life of the sanctified. The unbroken calm and rest, deep within, will steal into the face, affect the voice, tranquilize the life, and, even in the midst of falling tears, enable him to say, with the light of heaven in the countenance: “It is the Lord, let him do whatsoever seemeth him good.” The Christian world knows well the severe trials that fell like a storm upon the Saviour the last night of his life. The light of the next morning revealed their effect upon flesh and blood in the pale, haggard, suffering countenance; but, blessed be God, the calm and peace of an indwelling holiness was still there! Nothing could destroy the soul-rest of Christ. It remained unbroken through a life and death unparalleled for suffering. This rest he offers Christian believers. It is the rest of a heart made holy by his blood and kept pure by his constant indwelling. He that obtains it will find that he has Christ’s own peace, the rest of purity and holiness which nothing can destroy.