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CHURCH CALLED TO SANCTIFICATION [SM578]
"This is the will of God, even your sanctification."-- 1 Thess. 4:3.
Christians alone, the fully consecrated, are here addressed by the Apostle Paul. He is inciting them to full development as God's children, to their full setting apart for God. He would remind them that it is not sufficient to make a profession of consecration, to promise to live a sanctified life merely; but that it is of the utmost importance to fulfil their vows to the Lord, to day by day pay that which they have covenanted. Christians are to abound more and more in the fruits of the Spirit, as the context enjoins. The word sanctification means a setting apart to holy service. God is holy; and any instrument that He would use and recognize must also be holy. "Be ye holy, for I am holy," He says to us.
The Only Begotten of the Father was holy; else He could not have been man's Redeemer. The Church must be holy; else God would never deal with them. This principle also applies to the angels; they must be holy in order to have the favor of Jehovah. And so mankind must become holy before they can be pleasing to the Father or have any fellowship with Him. God has a will for the sanctification of the whole world of mankind. But He is not exercising that will at present; He is now seeking only the class which is to compose the glorified Church of the future.
The world cannot be sanctified without the great Mediator. Hence God has provided for them the Mediatorial Kingdom, through which His blessings will be received. The willing and obedient will finally attain to full holiness, full separateness from sin. As many as during the Messianic Reign will take hold of the opportunities then granted will be made blameless by the close
[SM579] of that period; and if they then stand their final test, they will be wholly acceptable to the Father. It is because the Father cannot accept them until they have been made perfect, and then have been tested as to their establishment in righteousness, that He now keeps the world at arm's length and cut off from fellowship with Himself. Only the sanctified can be granted communion with God and recognition from Him. THE CHURCH'S SETTING APART DIFFERENT
The setting apart of the Church is different from the setting apart to righteousness which will be the world's experience during the next Age. The Church's setting apart, or sanctification, requires the grace of God in large measure; for they are called to a sacrificial death, and nothing but a perfect sacrifice could be accepted. That they may be able to thus sacrifice themselves, a special provision for the covering of their blemishes is necessary. So their perfection is reckoned, not actual. The difficulty with our setting apart at this time lies in the fact that it means to go contrary to our own preferences, because of the present disordered condition of things in the world in which we live--a condition which is manifested in ourselves as human beings. Hence, the sanctification for which God now calls is the doing of His will under unfavorable circumstances, within and without. Those who do His will under these unfavorable circumstances have set before them the high reward of becoming joined in heirship with Christ in His Kingdom, sharers of His glory and power.
This sanctification which begins in us at the time when we consecrate ourselves to the Lord and when we are accepted of the Father by the begetting of the Holy Spirit, thus bringing us into the anointed Body, must increase more and more. As we progress, our sanctification should take in a broader and deeper scope. As a Christian matures, there should be more of him, so
[SM580] to speak. Day by day the Lord shows us more fully His will--things which we did not see at all at the beginning of our sanctification--because we are growing in grace and in knowledge. This increase in knowledge is not only a good sign that we have made progress in grace, but also an indication that we are more fully set apart to sacrifice. Thus we have still more grace, then more knowledge, then more sacrifice. The Christian way leads onward to fullness of character development; and the rugged way grows dearer and sweeter as the pilgrim toils along, clasping the hand of his unseen Guide.
Our daily experiences are testing our hearts; and this is by the will of the Lord. He knows that if our hearts are loyal, we will do the best we can to control our flesh; and it is our earnest endeavor, our fixity of will to walk faithfully in the narrow way, that He is watching to see. After we have been set apart, sanctified, as a babe in Christ, we gradually become sanctified on a much larger scale. We become developed in this process of sanctification, growing more and more like our Lord.
NOT CALLED TO LIVE IN A CLOISTER
To be sanctified does not mean, as some have mistakenly thought, that we must separate ourselves entirely from every one else in the world, avoiding any contact with them. Such would have a very improper idea of our real Calling. Their opportunities of service would be very circumscribed; and they would have little or no opportunity to cultivate sympathy with the sinful, suffering world, whom the Church are to judge and assist in the incoming Age.
To be sanctified does not mean the cutting of ourselves off from any contact with the world. If this had been our proper course, our Savior and Lord, would have so done. But on the contrary, He sought opportunity to assist and bless those about Him, to point them to the way of Life. He was the friend of "publicans and
[SM581] sinners." He never assumed a "holier than thou" attitude. Yet our Lord was sanctified, set apart for God, in the most absolute sense. Those who think they must withdraw themselves completely from their fellows have failed to get a true grasp of the Scriptures. We are to avoid sin as far as possible, but sin could find us in a monastery or in a convent as well as anywhere else.
The Master was constantly mingling with men, striving to uplift and instruct them, yet He was not of them. And so it is with the enlightened children of God, who are following in the Master's footsteps.
As Christians, our greatest work is in ourselves-- subduing our own flesh, conquering and uprooting our earthward tendencies and resolutely, persistently training them Heavenward. And we should be able to see in ourselves continued progress in this direction. The process of bending toward Heaven that which by nature bends toward earth and the things of earth is a painful one; and we often long for rest and complete deliverance. But let us cheer ourselves and one another with the thought that the struggle will soon be over and the victory won, if we faint not. How glad we are that the reign of Sin and Death is almost ended, and the full deliverance of the saints of God is so near!
TWO PARTS TO SANCTIFICATION
The words "sanctification" and "consecration" are not improperly used interchangeably. Both refer to a devotion of both heart and life to the Lord and His service. This devotion, this setting apart, is a continuous matter, which ends only when our sacrifice is consumed in death.
There are two parts to sanctification. The first part is our own, and the second part belongs to God. He sanctifies only those who sanctify themselves. "Sanctify yourselves," and "I will sanctify you." We must first give up our own will and accept His will, setting ourselves
[SM582] apart for the Lord. In such He is pleased to do a great work. The initial part of that work is the begetting of the Holy Spirit. This makes of us New Creatures in Christ, members of the Anointed Body. Our sanctification is then begun.
When the Master in His closing prayer with His disciples prayed for those "who should believe on Him through their word," He evidently had in mind those who would manifest their faith in Him by a consecration, dedication, of themselves to God. His petition, we see, was not that the Father would use some miraculous power to bring people in general to a conviction of the Truth and to a spirit of devotion to Him. This is not the thought; for those for whom He petitioned had previously reached that point. His time to deal with the world at large had not yet come.
When the work of sanctification has commenced in us, we are then prepared to grow, and not until then; for before that time there is no embryo New Creature, the new life has not even begun. But after the nucleus of the new nature is present in us, we are ready to make progress, both in grace and in knowledge. Having now come into the family of God, we are to learn of Him as dear children. We are to study--not the laws of gravitation, electricity, the sciences, etc., although all true law and science is of God--but concerning spiritual Truth. The Lord's people must be inducted into a knowledge of God's glorious character and of His will concerning us, His children. Through this knowledge we shall be enabled to grow up into the likeness of our glorious Pattern furnished us by the Father. Thus the work of development leads into all the avenues of our being. "This is the will of God, even your [complete] sanctification." The Spirit of the Lord is to abound in us.
Then, also, the children of God are to edify one another, to build one another up in the most holy Faith. The influence of the precious promises and of words of
[SM583] counsel have more and more a sanctifying effect upon our hearts and lives. This leads us to a still deeper appreciation of God and His love and of those who are His. Thus we grow in grace, in further knowledge, and in all the precious fruits of the Holy Spirit--"love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. Against such there is no law." (Gal. 5:22,23.) This is the complete sanctification which God purposes to accomplish in all those who set themselves apart for Him, providing that they keep their sacrifice firmly bound to the altar until it is completely consumed. DILIGENT COOPERATION ESSENTIAL
All this preparation is necessary, that the children of the Lord may make their "calling and election sure." It is not sufficient that at the beginning they say, "Here, Lord, I give myself to Thee." But it is absolutely essential that they develop a strong, enduring Christian character, a crystallized character, which cannot be injured either by the pestilential doctrines of error abounding in this "evil day" or by the fiercest winds of adversity. Thus only can we be fitted for the great work which the Lord has for this anointed class in the future-- beyond the veil. So we see clearly that unless this work of sanctification progresses to completion we shall not enter into the Kingdom.
In connection with the Word of Truth, which has such sanctifying power and without which we cannot attain a position with Christ on His Throne, the Lord gives us disciplinary experiences. These are to assist in keeping us in the "narrow way," that we turn not aside into a wrong course. They are also designed to call our attention to our weaknesses, in order that we may correct them as far as possible. They are to develop us, to prove us, to establish us in righteousness. These experiences cause us to realize more fully our need of the power of the Word and of the power of prayer. Thus they drive us to the Source whence all our help comes.
The more we absorb and assimilate the Word of God, the stronger we shall be in character. To the faithful, the Apostle Peter assures us, the Lord will minister "an abundant entrance into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Whoever neglects to use the means provided for his development is not making progress. The sanctifying power of the Word and of prayer must accomplish their designed work in us; otherwise, we shall never gain the promised reward of the faithful overcomer.
OUR ALL-SUFFICIENT GUIDE
Every child of God should beware of any teaching which is independent of the inspired Word of God, and which claims that Christ or the Holy Spirit speaks to advanced Christians directly. This is a dangerous delusion of the Adversary, which cultivates spiritual pride and boastfulness, rendering powerless the warnings and counsel of the Holy Scriptures. The deluded ones become possessed of the idea that they have progressed beyond the majority of God's children; and that now the voice of the Lord speaks to their inner ear, guiding them in all their affairs. Satan, taking advantage of this delusion, which he has brought upon them, leads them captive at his will. We have learned of just such cases. All the instruction which we receive from the Lord comes to us through the written Word. "The Word of God is sufficient," declares the Apostle, "that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:15-17.) "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word," again declares the same Apostle.--Eph. 5:25,26.
We are not ignorant of the devices of Satan and of all the "wicked spirits in high places," which would lead us astray to our downfall. Let us ever be on the alert, and keep close to the written Word, "which is able to
[SM585] make us wise unto salvation." We are told that God sanctifies the Church, and that the Spirit of God does this work in us. Both are true. It is the Holy Spirit, or power, of God operating through His Word that He has designed shall do this work in our hearts, in our characters.--2 Cor. 3:18.
In the contemplation of all that is lovely as embodied in Christ, of all that is pure and holy and beautiful--as shown in the Bible--we are changed little by little into the same blessed likeness, from glory to glory. Let this good work of sanctification go until every grace adorns the spotless robe of imputed righteousness given us by our Father through Christ. Let us mark well the love of the Master, His gentleness, His patience, His meekness, His zeal, His personal integrity, His self-sacrificing spirit. Mark well; then imitate His example.
It is by this means that we are sealed, impressed, with the image and likeness of our Lord. This seal, this impression, is to grow deeper as the days go by, until it has become so indelible that nothing can remove it. Let us take diligent heed that we do not by any means mar or blur this precious seal, but that it may remain clear and bright. Let us be very careful not to do anything that will bring smiting of conscience, nothing to wound our new mind. Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit of Christ in us. Let us keep close to the Heavenly Father by prayer and study of the Word. Thus shall we be wholly sanctified, and "made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light."
I want a godly fear,
A quick, discerning eye,
That looks to Thee when sin is near,
And sees the tempter fly;
A spirit still prepared,
And armed with jealous care;
Forever standing on its guard,
And watching unto prayer.