A Dialogue Between Eusebius, a Christian Pastor, and Theophilus, an Earnest Disciple.
THEOPHILUS: How greatly have I looked forward to this meeting with you. I am filled with perplexity and dismay because I find my best moments are mixed with sin. I long to serve God perfectly, but cannot. When I would do good, evil is present with me. I long for holiness, yet in my own view, I seem only to increase in unholiness, and it fills me at times with such despair of myself, that I am constrained to cry out in the language of Paul in Romans, Chapter 7: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death.”
EUSEBIUS: Is it not enough to be as the apostle himself was?
THEOPHILUS: I am deprived even of that consolation, for I have been to convention meetings and conferences, and I have read sermons and books by leaders of our evangelical faith today, who combine almost with one voice, to tell me that when Paul writes “O wretched man that I AM”, we are to understand that he means “O wretched man that I WAS”; and when he says, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death”, we should' really understand him as saying, “Who HAS delivered me”. They tell me I must “get out of Romans Seven into Romans Eight”, whatever that may mean, for they assert that Romans Seven is not the experience of the normal Christian life; that it relates to a time in Paul’s life when he lived in defeat and misery and when the flesh, not the Spirit, had the upper hand in his life. What say you to this?
EUSEBIUS: In the first place the Scriptures are silent about any such period in the life of the apostle. We know more about the life of Paul than of any other person in the New Testament, save Christ Himself, and he tells us himself that from the time he first met Christ on the Damascus road, he was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision”. Moreover, why should Paul write in the present tense if he meant to be understood in the past tense?
THEOPHILUS: That is what I cannot. understand about these teachers, but I feel sure they must have some good reason for saying so, I have heard it said that three distinct periods are to be distinguished in Romans 7 and 8: first, Paul’s unregenerate days (Chapter 7, verses 7 to 13); second, his former Christian state when, though truly saved, he lived a sub-normal Christian life (verses 14-25); third, his present victorious state (Romans 8).
EUSEBIUS: That does not dispose of the difficulty of Paul’s tenses. Your first period is truly described in the past tense, but why should the apostle go on to speak in the present tense when he relates his experiences in your so-called second period?
THEOPHILUS: I cannot tell. But surely you would not believe it possible that Paul, an apostle, should write of himself as living in such a wretched a condition as he there describes – “The good that would I do not; the evil that I would not, that I do.”
EUSEBIUS: On, the contrary, that is the precise language which I should expect the apostle, as a highly spiritual man, to use.
THEOPHILUS: Explain yourself, my good Eusebius.
EUSEBIUS: Most willingly, do I, Theophilus. I make this most deliberate statement, that when Paul wrote, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” he not only was describing his life at the time of writing, but HE SOUNDED THE HIGHEST TONE OF SANCTIFIED EXPERIENCE THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN. This is not the cry of defeat, as you and many more have supposed, but the cry of the holiest of men, panting with vehement desire, after the divine perfection.
THEOPHILUS: You astonish me. How can such an agonised cry represent the highest attainment of the Christian in this life?
EUSEBIUS: Because sanctification can only keep pace with self-revelation. In other words, it is only as we discover more and more the depths of our inward corruption, that we realise more and more, our need for holiness. The spiritual mind can be content with nothing less than the divine perfection. It will not be fobbed off with theories of “the best attainable” in this life, for its aim is nothing less than the divine life.
Therefore, to the extent that it finds itself coming short in thought, word, deed, motive, intention, and will, of the stature of divine perfection, it will groan within itself, cry out in despair of itself, and vehemently reach forth to that which it has not yet attained. The nearer it gets to the divine image, the clearer it sees its own imperfections and infirmities, and the more vehemently it cries out for full and final deliverance.
THEOPHILUS: One can only conclude then, that those who reckon they have passed into this stage of the Christian experience, are self-deceived, and do not have the sense of sin which they ought to have.
EUSEBIUS: I greatly fear that such is the case. That which a man of lesser spiritual attainment would not be aware of, because he knows too little about himself, the more spiritual man would see as enormous wrongs, and blights, and diseases, and open, running sores. Things which might appear to be small and insignificant to the one, might be reckoned as mountainous iniquities by the other.
Hence it is that I say, this cry of Paul’s in Romans 7, so far from being the cry of a man in “fleshly bondage”, as some speak, is truly the highest tone of sanctified experience.
Think my dear Theophilus, how few ever reach the point where they cry, “O wretched man that I am.” I would that we heard more of it among Christian people.
THEOPHILUS: It seems to me, that if your interpretation is to be admitted, the whole of the present day outlook, by evangelicals, would need to be drastically revised, for most people I meet appear to act on the assumption that they have passed out of Romans 7 into some region of special privilege and security.
EUSEBIUS: There is no doubt in my own mind that untold harm has been done by this teaching. It has given many Christian people the idea that spirituality is attained by some act of faith, which automatically puts them on a higher plane, where, so long as they remain there, all is peace and rest and undisturbed victory. Indeed striving, struggling, conflict and warfare are regarded as inconsistent with this higher spirituality.
THEOPHILUS: And is not that the case?
EUSEBIUS: It is a most dangerous state of soul for anyone to think that they have done with striving and conflict. The last counsel of the Saviour to his disciples in the garden was, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.”
THEOPHILUS: I have heard it put this way, that the Christian life is like the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. The crossing of the Red Sea was conversion; the journey through the wilderness was the Romans 7 experience, and the passage of the Jordan into Canaan was the entry into the Romans 8 experience, of rest and victory. We are told that no Christian should linger in the wilderness experience.
EUSEBIUS: I know that these things are said, and they show the deplorable state into which Bible knowledge and Bible teaching have fallen in our day. For it is plain from the New Testament that the wilderness journey is THE WHOLE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE, and the passage of the Jordan is the entry into God’s eternal rest through death. We are told in Hebrews, chapter 4, that there remaineth a rest to the people of God, and that we are to labour to enter therein, lest any of us fall after the example of unbelief shown by those who came out or Egypt with Moses. And how our friends who disagree with us love to sing “Let the fiery cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through” – a “wilderness” figure if ever there was one.
THEOPHILUS: Your arguments are very convincing, but is this not something new, which you put before me? And are we not to regard new teachings as something very suspicious, if not dangerous?
EUSEBIUS: You are right, Theophilus, to regard with the utmost suspicion, any teaching which has not been part of the historic deposit of truth in the Christian Church. That is why I bid you reject this “higher life” teaching which is troubling you. Our evangelical forefathers knew nothing of it, but sad to say it has almost captured the evangelical church today; and it is my opinion that true power and spirituality will not be restored until something is done to remove this utterly false and misleading conception of the Christian life.
THEOPHILUS: Is it indeed a fact that this teaching was unknown in former days?
EUSEBIUS: It is only too true, and indeed, those who teach this theory of the Christian life make no secret of the fact that they regard the historic theology as being defective to the extent to which it did not “discover”, or “recover”, this advanced “truth”.
THEOPHILUS: How long has this teaching been with us?
EUSEBIUS: It really took its rise in its modern form about a century ago, and like most modern religious theories, it appears to have begun in America, with a man named William Boardman, who wrote on the “Higher Life”. Before that, of course, John Wesley taught a new form of Christian perfection hitherto unheard of, but our present evangelical leaders usually reject Mr. Wesley’s advanced teaching. Mr. Wesley was much mistaken in some of his peculiar doctrines. In his soundest moments, however, his teaching was much more consistent with the historic deposit of Christian truth than many realise, for how many read Wesley’s sermons today?
THEOPHILUS: It astonishes me that a man of Wesley’s training, and keen logical mind, should not have seen that his theories of sanctification were a departure from historic Christian teaching.
EUSEBIUS: It was with Mr. Wesley mainly a question of terms, He believed as much in abiding sin in the believer as anyone else; and his description of the experience of what he called “Christian Perfection”, sounds suspiciously like the Seventh of Romans! In his famous sermon on Christian Perfection Mr. Wesley says, “The highest perfection which man can attain, while the soul dwells in the body, does not exclude ignorance and error and a thousand other infirmities. Now from wrong judgments, wrong words and actions will often necessarily flow ... This mistake in my judgment may not only occasion something wrong in my behaviour, but it may have a still deeper effect; it may occasion something wrong in my affection ... A thousand infirmities, in consequence of this, will attend my spirit, till it returns to God who gave it. And in numberless instances it comes short of doing the will of God. Hence the best of men may say from the heart,
Every moment, Lord, I need The merit of thy death, for innumerable violations of the Adamic as well as the angelic law”.
THEOPHILUS: I am astonished. It seems to me that, as you say, with Mr. Wesley it is mainly a question of terms. What we call sins, he calls “wrong judgments”, “mistakes,” and “infirmities”. Methinks Mr. Wesley’s Christian Perfection is, as you say, something not far removed from Romans 7 after all.
EUSEBIUS: [Note: The original has this paragraph coming from THEOPHILUS. The order of the exchange and the content seems to put it from EUSEBIUS.]
It may surprise many to be told that not only did Mr. Wesley have room in his perfectionism for a “thousand infirmities”, and for ‘innumerable violations” of the law, but he also taught that sanctification was a gradual work, and begins the very moment we start the Christian life. In his sermon on the New Birth, he writes, “Then we are born again, then our sanctification, our inward and outward holiness, begins. And thence forward, we are gradually to ‘grow up in him, who is our head.’ ” It is true that he also appears to have taught another sort of sanctification, but we can only regard this as one of those strange inconsistencies into which even the greatest of men fall. As in the case of many more, Mr. Wesley’s heart spoke more truly than his head!
THEOPHILUS: What does Mr. Wesley say about the importance of keeping to the old paths?
EUSEBIUS: He says, in his sermon on “Sin in Believers”, “Whatever doctrine is new MUST BE WRONG; for the old religion is the only true one. No doctrine can be right, unless it is the very same which was from the beginning.”
THEOPHILUS: And what is the verdict of historic religion on the subject of our talk?
EUSEBIUS: It condemns with one voice, this present day teaching, so common in evangelicalism, on sanctification. Read anywhere in the writings of Augustine, Luther and the Reformers, our Puritan or Scottish Presbyterian fathers, John Bunyan, Thomas Chalmers, Robert McCheyne, Samuel Rutherford, or any other of the standard divines of former times -- men who, under God, have left their mark on history - and you will discover that it was unknown to them that Paul in Romans 7 was to be understood in any other sense or tense than the present. Let me take one outstanding instance - John. Bunyan. No one doubts that Bunyan was a man of vast knowledge and experience of the Christian life. He has dramatised that life for us in that masterpiece of English prose and divine wisdom, “The Pilgrim's Progress” - which everyone agrees is really the story of his own spiritual life. What a record that is of how holiness grows only out of experience, and is a thing of constant defeats, conflicts, setbacks, victories, despairs, humiliations, snares and deliverances! Bunyan knew nothing of a “two-phase” Christian life.
Today, our evangelical teachers have abolished the wilderness journey as a type of the Christian life, and have incidentally proved John Bunyan to be the tinker that he always was! - with his outmoded nonsense of a Christian life made up of arduous struggling, failure and breakdown, ups and doors, and constant bitter proof of inward corruption! Instead we now hurdle into Canaan over the consecration altar! The thing is done in a moment of time - and we even forget that Canaan was anything but a type of constant victory to the army which went in with Joshua. Alas, I greatly fear that Bunyan, along with Richard Baxter, John Owen, Martin Luther, and Augustine himself, would be bundled off our convention platforms today, as men of very inferior enlightenment on the subject of what the Christian life is, and how it, should be lived.
THEOPHILUS: You do not believe, then, in sanctification by faith?
EUSEBIUS: No more than any of these I have mentioned. For neither is sanctification by faith alone, nor yet is salvation itself. Else where should we put the doctrine of repentance?
THEOPHILUS: How then are we sanctified?
EUSEBIUS: By faith and works, that is, the works of faith, as Paul tells us, “Faith, which worketh by love”.
THEOPHILUS: What are the works of faith?
EUSEBIUS: Watchings and prayings, self-denial, self-examination, obedience, patience, submission, groaning, longing, penitence, self-buffeting, and self-discovery. What think you of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27? There he tells us that the Christian life is one of running, striving, and fighting - the very words which are anathema to those, who hold the new theories of holiness.
Moreover, he says “I keep under, (or ‘buffet’ - R.V.) my body, and bring it into subjection”. Paul evidently did not think that “victory” in the Christian life was a matter of faith alone, and of reposeful trust. He realised he had a raging enemy within, which faith alone without works could not keep down. So he buffeted himself by fasting, and prayer, and by penitential watchings. His greatest fights were not with wild beasts at Ephesus, but with the wild beasts of his own lusts, which ever raged within, and could be restrained only by carefulness, tears, diligent self-examination, and constant self-denial.
THEOPHILUS: But, my good Eusebius, this is revolutionary! This is contrary to all I hear being taught at the conventions and in evangelical literature today.
EUSEBIUS: So much the worse for the meetings and the books you refer to. It is the doctrine of Paul, and the doctrine of the Fathers. It is the doctrine of the Reformers and of the Puritans. As for its being revolutionary, I fail to see how our evangelicalism is to be saved today unless some sort of revolution is caused in the minds and hearts of teachers and people.
THEOPHILUS: Perhaps the position is not so serious as you think. May it not, be that with many,with Mr. Wesley, it is largely a question of terms, and though the theology may be defective yet the good sense and good heart of these teachers keeps them sound in their experience?
EUSEBIUS: I most thankfully acknowledge that this is frequently the case. Again, there are many who would speak out, but they fear to cause a tumult, and think it best to hold their peace, and to adjust themselves to the prevailing conditions. But the situation will not much longer admit of such a policy of, “let be”. So many people have been persuaded by these teachings (that it is possible -if not usual - to live a “fleshly” Christian life and yet be saved in the end), that many are living in a false state of security. Others have ceased to listen well to the true voice of conscience because they love to persuade themselves that their holiness theories have done for them what the teachers have taught them, and no one likes to be disillusioned. Many in consequence, are in that state of security, in which they ignore the facts of their own experience. I say most solemnly, out of the abundance of my experience of men and women today, that many have altogether ceased to strive, to seek, to weep, to groan, to deny themselves, to take up the cross daily, because, lulled by these teachings, they believe that faith alone is enough, and they will be all right in the end. Mr. Wesley, with a truer instinct, called this “antinomianism.” No man was more of an ethical teacher than Wesley, and it was this which saved so many of his followers from shipwreck. But how many ethical preachers do we have in the evangelical world today?
THEOPHILUS: Is then the present teaching “antinomian”?
EUSEBIUS: In all its varieties and extremes, yes. By “antinomian” we mean that idea that one can reach heaven without any particular striving against sin, without self-denial, and without cross-bearing. Is it not a fact that we often hear it said, that many “take Christ as Saviour, without taking Him as Lord”? Is not that the grossest form of antinomianism? Does it not clearly imply that man can be saved yet not submitted to Christ? And is not this a case of making Christ the minister of sin? Yet our convention speakers have for years taught this, and must go on teaching it so long, as they hold the theory that the man of Romans 7: 14-25 is a “fleshly, defeated Christian”, who does not yet know what it is to be submitted to Christ in true surrender. Once admit that conversion itself is submission to Christ; once admit that it is not possible for a man to be a Christian at all, unless he deny himself and take up the cross daily and follow Christ; once acknowledge that if a man does not forsake all that he has, and his own life also, he cannot be a disciple of Christ -once acknowledge these things, and the whole differentiation between Romans 7 and Romans 8 falls to the ground, and with it the whole scheme of holiness as taught by almost everyone of our evangelical divisions today.
THEOPHILUS: I have heard it said that to be saved is one thing and to be a disciple is another.
EUSEBIUS: Then you have heard antinomianism in its most unblushing and impertinent form. Flee from it.
THEOPHILUS: What then is the difference in Christian experience between Romans 7 and Romans 8?
EUSEBIUS: None whatever. Those who teach there is a difference, teach a complete fallacy. On what do they base their opinion?
THEOPHILUS: I have heard them say that in Romans 7 there is no reference to the Holy Spirit, but Paul refers to himself in the pronouns, I, me, my, no less than 40 times, whereas in Romans 8 the Holy Spirit is mentioned nearly 20 times.
EUSEBIUS: Do you not think that a theology which is based on arithmetic is unsafe?
THEOPHILUS: I had not thought of it that way.
EUSEBIUS: Have you never noticed that in Romans 6, which is supposed to be a great chapter on sanctification, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit whatever?
THEOPHILUS: I had not noticed that. I must admit that a theology based on the mere occurrence of words is most unsafe.
EUSEBIUS: And have you not observed that the Holy Spirit is, in fact, mentioned in Chapter 7 (v.6), and His presence and working are everywhere implied? Do we not read in verse 4 that we are united in spiritual marriage with Christ, so as to bring forth fruit unto God? Is it not the Holy Spirit who effects this spiritual union and produces this spiritual fruit? Again, Paul writes in connection with the experience which these teachers imagine relates to a “defeated” Christian life, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man”. How can one so delight in righteousness and true religion, except by the power, working, and presence of the Holy Spirit?
THEOPHILUS: I admit your point. This reliance on words and their recurrence, is completely misleading.
EUSEBIUS: Have you also noted that in Romans 8, in which these teachers profess to find the “higher life”, only two classes of person are mentioned - the saved and the unsaved? These classes are, those, who are fleshly-minded, and those who are spiritually-minded (verse 6). To the one, death is attributed, and to the other, life and peace. Again in verse 9, we are told that we are either “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit”. Even Mr. Wesley concedes that “in the flesh” means the unregenerate. There then are those Christians who are supposed to be neither the one nor the other? You see, when we come to an honest exegesis of Romans 8, we find that the chapter deals only with saved and unsaved, and how they may be detected. The question is simply whether a man is regenerate or unregenerate.
THEOPHILUS: I do not know how I can ever have failed to observe this. One has been so mesmerised by these arithmetical interpretations, that all I have done is count up words, and I have not weighed their meaning.
EUSEBIUS: And I assure you, dear Theophilus, that is all this wonderful theory of “out of Romans 7 into Romans 8” is made of. In so far as anyone says that Romans 8 gives the answer to the cry, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” they are quite correct. But in so far as they go on to say that this deliverance is in this present life, they but make themselves ridiculous, for, in the eighth chapter, after Paul has carefully distinguished between saved and unsaved, and taught us how we may prove the fact of our own regeneration by mortification of sin (13) and obedience to the Spirit (14) leading to a wholesome assurance that we are the children of God (16), he holds before us, to comfort and cheer and nerve and encourage us in all our trials, temptations, defeats, struggles and conflicts, that grand and glorious deliverance, still future to all of us - The RESURRECTION OF THE BODY. This is the burden of his message in Romans 8. Are we troubled by the corruptions of sin common to our bodily state? Then, says Paul, look up, and look forward to the time when, after the struggles of this present life are ended, we shall receive that final redemption, even that for which in this body we groan, namely, THE REDEMPTION OF OUR BODY (verse 23). For we are saved by hope, he says.
From verse 11 onwards, the theme of Romans 8 is the resurrection of the body, and all the glory which will flow therefrom. The opening verses deal exclusively with those who shall have a part in this blessed hope. NOTHING ELSE IS TAUGHT IN ROMANS 8. When the evangelical church learns this and acts upon it, we may expect a new sense of sin in the church, and a new aspiring after the world to come. Meanwhile, the way to revival is obstructed by teaching which ministers to spiritual fancies.
Now you see the full meaning of the apostle when he cried out by reason of the sinfulness, the loss, the restriction, the vanity of this bodily state, “O wretched man that I am. Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Then he concludes, the part of the verse which is never quoted by these convention teachers and writers, “So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, BUT WITH THE FLESH THE LAW OF SIN”.
THEOPHILUS: I take it then, that you can offer me no further relief in my Christian problems, and that I must go on to make my daily groan, “O wretched man that I am”?
EUSEBIUS: I can offer you no more than Christ offered all His disciples -blood and toil and sweat and tears; a cross on which your own self must be crucified day by day, loss and pain, trial and disappointment. Through much tribulation must you enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But with it all, if you be earnestly bent on running the race which is set before you, you will have rewards in this life - consolations, hope, peace, contentment, an ever growing and flowering holiness, and in the world to come, you shall receive the crown of life,
THEOPHILUS: There is then, no short cut to holiness?
EUSEBIUS: How could there possible be? Be content, dear Theophilus, to tread the lowly path of humility and repentance. Learn by the things you suffer. Give diligence to make your calling and election sure. You will find many compensations, and joys undreamed of before, as Christ comes to you and reveals Himself to your soul. The increasing sense of your own wretchedness through your inner corruptions, will arise from your increasing victory over them. Gerhard Groot, the young Dutchman who laboured so fruitfully for God a century before the Reformation, wrote truthfully these words, “The farther a man knows himself to be from perfection, so much the nearer he is to it. As long as a man finds something about him to amend, he is in a good state”.
Let us close on that note.
THE WAY OF HOLINESS (EUSEBIUS and THEOPHILUS are joined by ZELOTES, a young Christian zealot.)
EUSEBIUS: Welcome, Zelotes! Your long absence gave us much anxiety, but I see from your countenance that our fears were unnecessary.
ZELOTES: Truly I return in health of body and mind. I have been traveling in heavenly regions..
EUSEBIUS: This is good news indeed. How mean you, in, heavenly regions.
ZELOTES: I have been at those special gatherings for disciples, at which personal holiness has been the theme, and I have entered into a new experience of joy, and peace, and spiritual power.
EUSEBIUS: And ready to share your new experience with others, I’ll be bound.
ZELOTES: You have spoken my very thoughts.
EUSEBIUS: Let us then begin. You could not have arrived at a better time, for here is our good Theophilus beside me, with sad and perplexed countenance. We have been conversing on the problems and methods of personal holiness, and you may help him in his difficulties.
ZELOTES: I sincerely trust so. My advice to Theophilus is that he should instantly get rid of his burdens by making a full surrender of himself to God, thereupon he will be immediately filled with the Spirit, and will have this fulness of power and joy which I received last week.
THEOPHILUS: Alas, Zelotes, your method does not seem to work in my case. There is nothing I so much desire as to walk before the Lord in true and perfect obedience, and for this I would give all I possess. Every day I dedicate myself afresh. to God, but still I cannot speak of such an experience as you and others avow.
ZELOTES: I omitted to add, good Theophilus, that in addition to making a full surrender of ourselves, we must believe that God CAN and WILL fill us with His Spirit, then, by an act of faith similar to that which you exercise at your conversion, you TAKE the gift of the Holy Spirit.
THEOPHILUS: No more does this work in my case, Zelotes, for I too have been to similar gatherings on many occasions, have heard similar addresses, and done all these things, yet will my conscience not allow me to claim that I have this “victory” or “power” of which you speak so confidently.
ZELOTES: I cannot understand your case. There must be some mistake somewhere.
EUSEBIUS: Perhaps the mistake is in the teaching. It is well known to pastors and ministers, who labour and suffer and pray with their flock in the day-to-day lives which Christians live, that very little of this “victory” and “power” seems to remain with ordinary Christians once the influence of the special meetings has passed away.
ZELOTES: Surely this is an indictment of the Christians themselves.
EUSEBIUS: That is unkind and unfeeling. It is more likely to be an indictment of that teaching which is so far above the common experience of earnest souls.
ZELOTES: But what about my experience last week?
EUSEBIUS: I would rather speak about that NEXT week, or next month, when time and testing have done their work. Meanwhile you will help us if you will show us plainly from Scripture how a full surrender, with an accompanying act of faith, produces in an instant, a life of holiness and power.
ZELOTES: We are exhorted in Romans 6 to “yield ourselves to God”.
EUSEBIUS: You have told us nothing to the point for your whole case rests upon the idea that holiness, “victory” and “power” come by a crisis, whereas Romans 6 is addressed to advanced and mature Christians whose faith was already spoken of throughout the whole world, and who may be presumed to have been already in the enjoyment of any special experience such as you describe. Yet Paul addresses to them a general exhortation to be yielded to God. He was not introducing them to some new spiritual crisis. Moreover nothing is said in this chapter about any special results in the way of holiness or power which are to follow this “yielding”, so your point is no point at all.
ZELOTES: I see that this “yielding” is not an isolated act, but a rule of life, but you will surely admit it had to have a beginning somewhere.
EUSEBIUS: Precisely. Its beginning was our conversion. Think you that anyone is ever truly converted who does not sincerely yield to God?
ZELOTES: This also I concede. But surely some conditions are necessary if we are to enjoy the fulness of the Holy Spirit.
EUSEBIUS: Name these conditions.
ZELOTES: Before the disciples were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost, they had to “tarry” — That, I take it, was an act of faith. We had a great sermon on this last week. If they had not tarried ....
EUSEBIUS: Why do you hesitate? Were you going to say that if they had not tarried there would have been no Pentecost?
ZELOTES: I do not like to put it that way, but that is what it looks like if the preacher last week was correct.
EUSEBIUS: In other words, there would have been no Church, no New Testament, Christ would have died in vain, and all prophecy shattered. Is that it?
ZELOTES: Oh, I aim in a great difficulty. Tell me, good Eusebius, what was the significance of this “tarrying”, upon which the preachers have laid such weight?
EUSEBIUS: No significance whatever. The tarrying of the disciples was devoid of any moral significance. They could to no other. Their way was completely closed up to one thing. To attach a theological doctrine to such a circumstance is the height of folly, and shows the theological bankruptcy of any who attempt to do so. Was it the obedience of men which brought about the gift of an atoning sacrifice at Calvary?
ZELOTES: Perish the thought!
EUSEBIUS: Amen. And let the thought also perish that Pentecost, the very crown of the Saviour’s work on the Cross, had ought to do with human agency. Like the Atonement itself, it is a Sovereign act of divine mercy towards men.
THEOPHILUS: Is it a gift bestowed on all Christians just as forgiveness of sin is theirs through Christ?
EUSEBIUS: Truly. It is the glory of Christ that the Church, which is His body, should be evermore anointed and indwelt by His Spirit. Sin estranged men from God. At last, through the merit and obedience of the Second Man, God has found a way to impart Himself in the full glory and blessedness of His Being, to human nature. In Christ first, by His merit, then in all Christ’s members by union with Himself in the Spirit. That is the order, and that is the true inner significance of Pentecost.
ZELOTES: You are lifting the whole subject to a level I had not previously understood, and I have a feeling my words have been trivial and unmeaning, but, if I may dare put another point, tell me, do you not admit there must be conditions for receiving the Holy Spirit?
EUSEBIUS: The only conditions indicated in the Acts of the Apostles, are repentance, conversion, and faith in Christ. See the cases of those who believed on the day of Pentecost, in Samaria, and in the household of Cornelius. Nothing was required of these people but that they should be converted.
ZELOTES: But surely we do not receive all when we are first converted?
EUSEBIUS: Nor do we receive all at any point of our subsequent lives. What do you mean by “all”?
ZELOTES: Complete power and victory, I suppose. I have heard them call it “full salvation”.
EUSEBIUS: Then you have heard them juggling with terms. There is only one “full salvation” and it is that which we shall attain at the Resurrection. This is what Paul tells us in Philippian 3: 10-14 – “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead”.
ZELOTES:What about Paul’s exhortation that we should be filled with the Spirit? Surely we cannot be filled till we are first emptied of the self-life. I remember last week we all sang with heads bowed:
“emptied that thou mayest fill me”.
EUSEBIUS: Are you “emptied of the self-life”, meaning there is not a vestige remaining?
ZELOTES: I did this by faith, last week.
EUSEBIUS: There lies the whole crux of your error, for the Holy Scriptures nowhere teach that by a sudden act of faith we can be “emptied” of self. On the contrary, the advanced and mature Christians at Rome were urged to “mortify” continually, the deeds of the flesh, and Paul relates to the Corinthians the example of his own experience in “keeping under” (or “buffeting”) his body, to bring it into subjection. If a mature Christian like Paul could only deal with his “self-life” by such rigorous means it does not seem as though he had disposed of his problem by some crisis or act of faith in his early days.
ZELOTES: I am more confused than ever, for it seems you are right. But my experience! You cannot rob me of that! I am “more than conqueror through him that loved me” (Romans 8: 37).
EUSEBIUS: Your “experience” is merely a mental state I am afraid. Your text - one of the most misused in the Bible - has to do with persecution, not sanctification. “We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter”, says Paul in the preceding verse. He is telling how God will bring His people through all trial and martyrdom in this world, so they will be more than conquerors over all their foes.
ZELOTES: This I see clearly. But tell me now about those most important words of Paul “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5: 18). Surely there are some conditions to be fulfilled by us before we can enjoy so great a blessing. It does not seem reasonable that God’s greatest blessings should come upon us automatically.
EUSEBIUS: But that is just what you have been trying to teach us yourself. You have been testifying today to an automatic holiness. All you do is perform an act of faith according to a set theological formula, -and immediately you are filled with “power”, “victory”, “joy”. What is this but an automatic process of holiness? Did not these teachers whom you heard last week, tell you that in order to obtain this “blessing” you must cease striving and struggling, and just believe that it was done?
ZELOTES: They did indeed. That was what they insisted upon most of all. They said that the entire secret of this experience of victory lay in NOT striving.
EUSEBIUS: Just as I expected, but where is this experience in the New Testament?
ZELOTES: I cannot give you an appropriate text. Surely it is a matter of logic that if we empty ourselves God will fill us with His Spirit.
EUSEBIUS: Show me in Scripture where this happens in a moment of time.
ZELOTES: It is a self-evident truth, and needs no proof.
EUSEBIUS: There may be other things which are even more self-evident - as for instance, that sin remains, a problem in all believers; or, that our mortal bodies remain unredeemed, the ever open avenue of disease, death, lust, rage, pride, hate, and self, for we have not yet attained unto the redemption of the body which awaits the resurrection (Romans 8:21-23). But tell us what you mean by “emptying yourself”. Emptied of what?
ZELOTES: Of the self-life, of course.
EUSEBIUS: And think you this can be done in a moment of time, at one visit to the altar of consecration? Are you emptied of self? Be careful, now.
ZELOTES: I reckon myself dead to sin (Romans 6: 11).
EUSEBIUS: Nor is that text to your point, for it refers merely to the obligation which rests upon all the converted to renounce sin and live unto righteousness. It says nothing about being “emptied of self”.
ZELOTES: I am perplexed. I had taken all these texts for granted.
EUSEBIUS: I think you have also taken for granted that you have been “emptied” of the self-life.
ZELOTES: But “our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed; that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6).
EUSEBIUS: Is Paul telling us in that text to do something or is he telling us something which has been done?
ZELOTES: Something which has been done.
EUSEBIUS: Then what is your point in quoting it? Paul is simply telling us what salvation means for all the converted. Elsewhere says, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5: 24). You cite these texts as though they relate to one special class of believers, whereas they are common to all the converted.
ZELOTES: I are now in utter despair. Do you hold then, that it is impossible to be freed from, or emptied, of self, so long as we are in the body?
EUSEBIUS: This being “emptied of self” is nowhere taught in Scripture; secondly, it is not a fact of experience; thirdly, the way of holiness taught in the Bible is far otherwise.
ZELOTES: What is the scriptural way?
EUSEBIUS: That is the very point we had reached, Theophilus and I, when you came upon us today. Theophilus will speak first in answer to your request.
THEOPHILUS: I will try to put the position clearly. I am a man much burdened with the desire to have done with sin for ever, and to live wholly to God, but I have found by bitter experience, that holiness in the abstract is no remedy for my case.
ZELOTES: What mean you by “holiness in the abstract”?
THEOPHILUS: Holiness in the abstract is holiness in doctrine or in theory. When you speak of “self-emptying”, “victory”, “power”, and so forth, you are using abstract terms. You must reduce these words and phrases to concrete, practical terms of everyday living, otherwise holiness remains just an idea or a theory, with no relation to the problems of daily life. For instance, when we speak of the self-life we must explain precisely what it is, how it shows itself in daily living, what are its specific characteristics, its deceits and subtle transformations - or we shall be in danger of being completely deceived in our experience, and may comfort ourselves with the idea that self is destroyed or dethroned, when all the time it is reigning in a new and more deceptive form.
ZELOTES: What then is holiness in practical terms?
THEOPHILUS: This is what I want to know. Do you now, our good Eusebius, instruct us in practical holiness.
EUSEBIUS: With all my heart, my friends. Holiness has to do with the commonest actions of life - eating and drinking, sleeping and rising, toiling and conversing. Holiness cannot exist except in terms of what we do, think and say in the course of our humble, routine lives. To be “emptied of self” is not some isolated act by which we suddenly enter upon something which people call “full salvation” (whatever that may mean), but a life process of conflict, of self-discovery and self-discipline. Likewise we must see that to be “filled with the Spirit” is not some sudden experience, or some self-contained act, but a process capable of being reduced to the most practical of terms. We are filled with the Spirit just as a man may be filled with wine (the very figure which the apostle uses in Ephesians 5:18) - namely, by drinking.
We drink by walking and acting in obedience, faith, worship, mortification, meditation, prayer, endurance, patience, self-denial. It is a continuing and growing experience, which must be managed by carefulness, vigilance and humble submission to the divine providence and discipline. In short, HOLINESS is a process, a conflict, a warfare.
ZELOTES: Can you prove this?
EUSEBIUS: Very easily. Christ sums up the whole of the Christian life in terms of one great, all-embracing rule or commandment - THE LAW OF LOVE. He says, “A NEW COMMANDMENT I GIVE UNTO YOU, that ye love one another”. (John 13:34)
ZELOTES: I humbly acknowledge this.
EUSEBIUS: But how are we to learn and experience this law or rule of love? Love is not something which can be appropriated by some act of faith at the consecration altar. It is a thing of planting, growth, culture and fruition. Paul calls it a “fruit” of the Spirit, a word which suggests planting, germination, nurture, training and harvest. He tells us that there are at least four steps to its full development - trial, patience, experience, and hope (Romans 5: 3-5). Peter traces no fewer than seven steps to practical love - faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness and brotherly kindness. Do you not see that holiness is a thing of long and patient growth?
ZELOTES: I am sure you are right. I perceive there is a difference between a rule, considered as a command, and a rule as implying a spiritual law in our nature.
EUSEBIUS: In fact, the Law of Love is the only true and perfect law. The Ten Commandments, considered as an external Law written in letters on tables of stone, could not produce righteousness. The glory of the gospel is that in regeneration this same eternal, unalterable, indestructible Law of God is written on our minds and hearts, and BECOMES THE VERY CONSTITUTION OF OUR NEW NATURE. Only love can obey the divine will. No other motive is acceptable.
ZELOTES: Tell me more, Eusebius. You are opening to me a new
EUSEBIUS: I am glad of your readiness to learn, Zelotes. But let me now point out that unless we are still bent on losing ourselves in the airy regions of theory and abstraction, we must reduce the concept of love to terms of common life - what it is, and how it reacts or shows itself in any of the given circumstances and conditions of life. Let me point out that the Sermon on the Mount is an exposition of the Law in terms of practical Christian living. It reduces the Law of Love to the simplest possible terms of everyday life - marriage, eating and drinking, the wearing of clothes, the simplicity of prayer, self denial, holy motive and intention, mercifulness in judgment, contentedness, compassion and truth-telling, and so forth. If all we required was some power within us to operate automatically in all circumstances, why should Christ have preached such a sermon, so filled with rules for daily living?
ZELOTES: Proceed, Eusebius, I am all eager attention.
EUSEBIUS: All this teaches us that if we would be holy, we must begin just where we are, and build up a holy life on the practical duties and accidents of everyday living.
Holy men of God have, down the ages, spent an immense amount of time on this question. It is one of the saddest features of our day that their books are pushed to one side in favour of ready made theories, and cheap “popular” books on devotion, easily written and easily read, something like Jonah’s gourd, which came up in a night, but which withered into nothing as soon as the sun of trial smote it.
ZELOTES: You do not seem to have much respect for the views of these men and women who have written books of devotion.
EUSEBIUS: For them, I may have every respect, but for their mistaken views, no, It is notorious that these writers have no respect whatever for the great saints of antiquity, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Jeremiah, Hezekiah and many others. They are most bitter and destructive in their treatment of these great men. Even the apostle Paul does not escape their invective. Let us beware of any man who waxes terribly indignant at the sins, or supposed, sins and weaknesses of others. No man is in a position to do so. The man who mocked at Noah was cursed by God. The men who reverently covered up the great man’s shame were blessed of God.
ZELOTES: You make me afraid for myself.
EUSEBIUS: I intend to do this. A man has only one person to criticise, and that is himself. If he will be as just with himself as he is ready to blame and curse the righteous, he is not far from the Kingdom of God.
ZELOTES: What a simpleton I am to think that I had obtained all this at once. I now see that I have scarcely begun to understand. What can I now do to proceed along the right road?
EUSEBIUS: Patience, Zelotes. You must learn to check your impulses first of all, and to begin where the Sermon on the Mount begins. The fount of all true life and holiness is the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Beatitudes, in their exquisite succession are the epitome of all true religion, and exhibit the ordered growth of the soul in true holiness. Out of the first three proceed the next four which mark the boundaries and limits of saving experience; from humility, meekness and mourning, spring greatness of soul in desire, charity, purity and character. Prepare your heart first by penitence and self-examination, for that is the first rule, one which cannot be moved out of its place.
THEOPHILUS: What do I do next?
EUSEBIUS: Consider your goal - divine love - and recognise that it is love which is the secret and the end of all. This love is not something which is poured into your heart in one sudden operation of self-surrender. You cannot plant a fully grown oak in a meadow. You will only attain to love by contemplating it and conforming yourself day by day to its laws. You must view God as Augustine did, in the wonder of His Triune Being, in the perfection of His Wisdom, and above all, in His inestimable grace in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. As the wonder and the glory of it gradually dawn upon your soul, the quality of love will germinate and begin to grow. There is no love without worship, and there is no love without a constant and increasing giving of ourselves to love’s object. You will have one end and aim - conformity to that divine image which you have come to love and admire. This is the single eye without which you cannot proceed. You will acquire it by the sackcloth of repentance and the garment of gratitude. “If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed”.
THEOPHILUS: Amen! Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.
ZELOTES: Alas my friends, what shall I do? I can discover no such emotion in my heart.
EUSEBIUS: It is no emotion, dear Zelotes. It is a principle of life - nay, it is life itself, an affinity of the human soul to the divine. Love is only begotten by love. We love Him because He first loved us. Your very dismay at your infirm and unfeeling condition is a good sign that your preference is for Christ; and that is the beginning of love. Nurture that seed, and bring it to a full fruition. “That which is to become great must begin small,” said Mathesius of Luther. John Wessel, forerunner of the Reformation, said, “All the great works of God have ever taken their rise from minute germs. The fig tree springs from one of the smallest seeds, as from the acorn does the mighty oak.”
THEOPHILUS: I perceive it is not in big meetings and by popular preachers that deliverance will be wrought for the Church in our day, but in circles of pious and earnest devotion.
EUSEBIUS: You are probably right. Methodism began with the Holy Club in Oxford, when a few earnest young men met together to encourage themselves in true devotion and practical living. In such circles of anxious and ready piety may lie the hope of the renovation of the beloved Church of our Lord Jesus Christ in our day.