This entry is part 7 of 13 in the series Purity and Maturity

The opinion has become somewhat prevalent among Christian people that deliverance from indwelling sin — a state of purity of heart — can be obtained by the ordinary process of growth in grace. This we regard as a serious mistake and productive of much evil. We view it as unscriptural and anti-Wesleyan.

The sin remaining in the regenerated believer, who is not entirely sanctified, as has been maintained, consists of inbred corruption. This is not sin, strictly speaking, which is “the transgression of the law,” incurring guilt, but original depravity, the soul’s natural tendency to sin; — an inherited, inborn, inward inclination, the natural effect of sin, derived from Adam, and augmented by actual sin.

“Sin committed and depravity felt (says Bishop Foster) are very different; the one is an action, the other a state of the affections. The regenerate believer is saved from the one, and he has grace to enable him to have the victory over the other; but the disposition itself, to some extent, remains under the control of a stronger, gracious power implanted, but still making resistance, and indicating actual presence, and needing to be entirely sanctified.” — Christian Purity, p. 111.

“These (sin and depravity) are coupled together as if they were the same thing. But they are not the same thing. The guilt is one thing, the power another, and the being yet another.” — Wesley’s Sermons, vol i. p. 113.

Rev. Dr. Steele, in “Love Enthroned,” says: “The spirit of sin, or inbred sin, technically called original sin, because it is inherited from Adam, is the state of heart out of which acts of sin either actually flow or tend to flow. Until this state is changed, the conquest of love over the soul is incomplete. Regeneration introduces a power which checks the outbreaking of original into actual sin, except occasional and almost involuntary sallies in moments of weakness or unwatchfulness.”—P. 37.

The reader will bear in mind the terms “inbred inherent sin,” and all sin, indwelling sin, and other significant of inward pollution are not used in this work as signifying sin strictly speaking but as alluding to the inward defilement or depravity of the unsanctified heart, which is not to be pardoned like sin proper, but is to be extirpated or cleansed from the soul.

This carnal nature is inborn — inbred and is a constitutional disease, like a family afflicted with a particular disease for a hundred generations, which is in their constitution, and is transmitted from parent to child, from generation to generation. This depravity remains in the heart, subsequently to regeneration, as we have seen, and manifesting itself in the form of perverted passions, propensities, and appetites, at times struggles for indulgence and mastery —to regain its lost dominion. It does not involve guilt until it is assented to, yielded to, or cherished; condemnation being consequent only upon actual transgression in the sin of either omission or commission.

The justified state involves grace to hold under control the remaining sinful tendencies. Depravity does not reign; if it did, sin would be committed, justification forfeited, and a foundation laid for repentance from dead works. While the soul may be pained and afflicted by its inbeing and its struggles for ascendency, if it maintains its integrity and the will remains right, no sin is committed, however much depravity may be felt.

While the merely regenerate loves God supremely —above all else or every other object (to do less would be idolatry), he cannot love God with all his heart until he is entirely sanctified, or so long as this remaining carnality, or “inbred sin,” as it is usually called, is not removed. This inward foe— the “carnal mind,” which is “enmity against God,” must be expelled before perfect love can be possessed or enjoyed.

We admit growth in grace, culture, development, and sanctified habit will secure increasing light and afford increasing power to overcome and hold in subjection to remaining inbred sin, though they do not eradicate it or cleanse the heart. They may abate its force but can neither change its nature nor remove it from the soul. Nothing can change the nature of sin or pollution; it must be destroyed. The old leaven must be purged out.

Growth in grace involves no more than its terms indicate; an increase of our present grace, but not the extermination of remaining impurity. We are to grow in grace but never into it.

By every act and effort of the soul in resisting temptation from without or the risings of depravity within, it gains increasing strength, which affords easier victories over depravity but does not exterminate it or cleanse the soul. So long as the regenerate soul retains its justified state—no actual sin is committed —its light, strength, and life will increase, though its inbred sin is not removed — simply conquered — subjected.

Increasing light will reveal more clearly the remaining deformity and impurity in the heart, though it does not remove it, as inbred sin cannot be shined out of the heart. An increase in patience will afford a more easy and complete victory over impatience, but that does not remove inbred sin — the cause of the tendency to impatience, which inheres to the soul and cannot be removed by the mere increase or improvement of any grace. An increase of Jove will secure a more easy and complete victory over all its antagonisms in the heart, but that does not destroy or remove the cause of these inward tendencies. The same is true of every other grace of the Christian life.

“Moral depravity (says Bishop Hamline) is not in action or deed, but is FARTHER BACK, and DEEPER DOWN in our nature, at the fountainhead of all activity and character. It is enmity to God, and like the fatal worm at the root of the vine, withers every green leaf.” — Sermon on Depravity.

This original, inborn sin cannot be imperceptibly grown out without a supernatural, conscious operation of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is no natural work; — is no inner process of nature like the growth of a tree, nor something which follows as a matter of course to the justified state. Dr. Steele says, — “It is the experience of the Christian world through all ages that the converted soul never outgrows this taint in its texture and substance.” — Love Enthroned, p. 332.

The difficulty which mere growth in grace does not reach—inherent depravity —lies deep in the soul and is manifested in the wrong leanings, unhallowed appetites, and propensities of the impure heart. In its essential nature, as stated, it is not vicious acts or passions but a corrupt state or condition of the soul, which develops itself in vicious acts or passions; just as purity, in its essential nature, is not holy acts or passions, but a pure state or condition of the soul, which develops itself in pure acts and tempers.

As stated in the first chapter, it is not holy actions, primarily, which make a man holy, but a holy heart which makes the actions holy. It is a mistake to suppose that evil tempers and wrong inclinations constitute inbred sin; they are its manifestations — proceeding from the unclean heart. The removal of this inborn corruption, the fruitful source of these unlawful risings, cravings, and tendencies, is, in whole and in part, a supernatural work wrought by the Almighty Spirit and the blood of Christ.

By growth in grace we may increase in knowledge; habits of virtue may strengthen; the graces of the Spirit to some extent may become more and more mature, established, and fortified, and thus “inbred sin may be stunned,” its power lessened, and its operations prevented; while the soul is yet unsaved from its inbeing and existence,

The subjugation of depravity is not its destruction or removal, and growth in grace, which contemplates the subjugation only of indwelling sin, is no definite approach to entire sanctification.

This removal is an instantaneous —not a gradual work, a divine, not a human work. The soul is passive in purification: —it is the subject, not the agent of the cleansing. It is active and cooperative with what precedes and what follows the cleansing, but the cleansing itself is something experienced and not something done by the soul.

In repentance, humiliation, consecration, faith, and all active duties, the powers of the soul are ‘called into exercise and are not passive. The soul is passive in being cleansed, as it was in regeneration. Both are God’s work. Both are supernatural. Both involve human agency. They are not accomplished by secondary causes or natural causes.

Purification is predominantly referred to the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures as his peculiar work.

Dr. George Smith, F.A., a distinguished author, says, — “And as we obtained pardon by simple faith in Jesus, so must we obtain purity. We are no more able to work out the latter in our own hearts than the former. One is as fully purchased for us by the blood of Jesus and as freely promised to us as the other. We must come then to the great and precious promises and exercise a faith precisely analogous to that by which we were justified. We must fully assent to what God hath said respecting the remains of sin and its removal.” — Lectures on Theology.

This is pertinent, clear, and definite and is in full harmony with Methodist teaching.

Rev. Dr. Hodge, in his very able work — Systematic Theology” — says of sanctification, it is not by a “mere process of moral culture, by moral means; it is as truly supernatural in its methods, as in its nature.” He further says it is by faith that God “becomes bound by his promise to accomplish the full salvation from sin of everyone who believes.” —Vol. iii. p. 220. The reader will find many choice truths in Dr. Hodge’s article on sanctification.

Rev. Timothy Merritt, in his “Manual on Christian Perfection,” replies to the idea of a gradual sanctification, obtained by growth in grace, little by little, as follows: — “’The work may be accomplished in one day or one hour, and yet be a gradual or progressive work, A long time is not necessary in order to a gradual work of this kind. The gradations may be as follows:

“1. Light is imparted to the soul.

“2. Conviction is fastened upon the conscience.

“3. A desire springs up to be delivered from all sin.

“4, He confesses and prays for deliverance.

“5. He is convinced that he cannot cleanse his own heart and therefore casts himself upon the mercy of God for this.

“6. The work is wrought in him. Now, it is evident that these several actions may be performed in a short time.”

If this process is correct, as given by the sainted Merritt, and we maintain that it is, how clear is it that the soul is not being sanctified or purified at all during what is called the gradual process or during the first five items stated? Obtaining light, receiving conviction, hungering after purity, and confession and prayer, are in no sense the work of sanctifying the soul. They may each exist, and the soul remains unsanctified.

Receiving light does not cleanse us. Light is not given to wash the heart. The Scriptures nowhere teach that light has any cleansing properties for a corrupt soul. Defilement cannot be bleached out by shining light. It will shine away and dispel darkness, but not pollution. It reveals our inbred sin and the remedy for it, and while it cannot make us pure, it reveals the blood of Christ, which can. The items named precede purification, but they do not affect it (that is the work of the Holy Spirit,) and they certainly do not constitute its identity.

The sinner passes through a similar process before his regeneration, but no one claims that his receiving light and conviction and his confession, prayers, and repentance regenerate his soul. ‘They only precede that work, associated with its conditional cause. Bishop Foster says, — “This work is of God, entirely. Here, it means do nothing: they only bring you to God, and He sanctifies; without them, you can not come to God, and unless you come, he can not sanctify, but your coming does not sanctify; it brings you to him who does. You employ the means only to bring you in contact with the agency. It is the fire which refines the gold….. The fire does not refine the gold unless it is brought; the bringing does not refine; it must be brought, and the fire must exert its agency. The soul is not sanctified by means, nor in the absence of them.”’ — Christian Purity, p. 219.

Mr. Wesley says, — “God usually gives a considerable time for men to receive light, to grow in grace, to do and suffer his will, before they are either justified or sanctified.” Here Mr. Wesley teaches that the reception of light, growing in grace, and doing and. suffering God’s will, as a gradual process, usually precede both justification and sanctification, but this process no more sanctifies the soul than it regenerates it. He doubtless used the phrase “grow in grace” in a restricted sense, as a man cannot, properly speaking, grow in grace until he is justified. Regeneration, as we have seen, is the impartation of spiritual life to the soul. God is its author. God alone regenerates. It is instantaneously done and is the beginning of a new spiritual life. But this regenerated state admits of remaining carnality — some “unrighteousness” — hence the need for further cleansing.

While rites, ceremonies, sacraments, truths, and means of grace are all proper, necessary, and useful, they cannot cleanse the heart in whole or in part. Secondary causes and influences are utterly inefficient to purify the soul, which is God’s work. These secondary causes may help us to God and aid us in reaching the conditions of the divine work.

Will the reader please note carefully the following from Mr. Wesley: — “Indeed, this is so evident a truth, that well-nigh all the children of God scattered abroad, however they differ in other points, yet generally agree in this: that although we may, ‘by the spirit, mortify the deeds of the body;’ resist and conquer both outward and inward sin; although we may weaken our enemies day by day;— yet we cannot drive them out. By all the grace which is given at justification, we cannot extirpate them, ‘Though we watch and pray ever so much, we cannot wholly cleanse either our hearts or hands. Most sure we cannot till it shall please our Lord to speak to our hearts again, to speak the SECOND TIME, Be CLEAN; and then only the leprosy is cleansed. Then only the EVIL ROOT, the carnal mind, is destroyed; and inbred sin subsists no more. But if there be no such SECOND CHANGE, if there be no INSTANTANEOUS deliverance AFTER justification, if there be none but GRADUAL work of God (that there is a gradual work none denies), then we must be content, as well as we can, to remain full of sin till death.” — Sermons, vol. i. p. 122, This is clear and to the point.

The struggles of inbred sin for indulgence may gradually cease, and from this consideration, some believers have come to think their deliverance from sin a gradual process. While its efforts for the mastery or indulgence may gradually cease, it may still exist in the heart, in a stunned or dormant state. It may be brought under and kept under and yet be neither dead nor expelled from the heart.

Mr. Wesley says, “How naturally do those who experience such a change (regeneration) imagine that all sin is gone; that it is utterly rooted out of their heart, and has no more any place therein? How easily do they draw that inference, I feel no sin; therefore, I have none: it does not stir; therefore, it does not exist: it has no motion; therefore, it has no being. But it is seldom long before they are undeceived, finding sin was only suspended, not destroyed. Temptations return, and sin revives, showing it was but stunned before, not dead.” — Sermons, vol. i. p385.

The growing Christian may often have such complete victory over inbred sin, and it may remain so quiet in his heart as to lead him to think it has been removed while it is only in subjection; its struggles for indulgence having ceased for the time being. Depravity is a constitutional, hidden, and often a LATENT EVIL. This principle, or carnal nature, may remain when not active or in exercise.

Purity is the result of a cleansing wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit. It is wrought in the soul itself and not in its actions or exercises. The change is in the state or moral condition so that its inclinations are not sin-ward and corrupt but G’od-ward and pure. In this state, pure dispositions are natural to it, and the principle remains when the disposition is not in exercise. Purity exists as a state, a disposition — a condition, or quality of being. Though inherent, it is gracious and is supernaturally wrought.

“Justification,” says Dr. John Dick, “takes away the guilt of sin or the obligation to punishment. Sanctification cleanses us from its stain or pollution… Sanctification is a physical or moral act, or rather a series of such acts, by which a change is effected in the qualities of the soul.” —Lectures on Theology.

Growing in grace is not the process of securing this state or condition of the soul. Growth is not the process of refining, purging, or separating sin from the soul, either before or after entire sanctification. Dr. Hodge says, “Nor is sanctification to be confounded with the effects of moral culture or discipline.” —Systematic Theology, vol. iii. p. 220. Growing in grace secures an increasing abhorrence of sin, an increasing knowledge of God, of ourselves, and of our duty. It secures an increasing strength of all the graces of the Spirit, which numerically are perfect in the regenerate heart. It secures an increasing attachment to Christ and his cause. While all this does not extirpate indwelling sin, it keeps it under and renders victory over it more easy and complete.

“Depraved inclination in the justified soul,” says Dr. Steele, “is not outgrown by spiritual development, but killed by the power of the Holy Spirit through a specific act of faith.” — Love Enthroned, p. 333.

The soul must be sanctified by some other force than the natural laws of growth, as they are powerless to remove the carnal mind. No degree of growth can purify the heart; that involves a purgation, an ablution, an extermination, a destruction. Note the Scripture illustrations in Chapters III. and IV.

“Growth in grace, while accompanied by increasing power to abstain from actual sin, has no power to annihilate the spirit of sin, commonly called original sin.” — Love Enthroned, p. 331. While a believer may deny himself, strive to do all the will of God, maintain a watchful spirit, and. keep under his corruption so that it has no power over him, his heart is not being gradually cleansed. It is often the case while the believer is striving against his corruption with all his might, the more it opposes him, and the more he is conscious of its presence and power, and of his own inability to rid himself of it, and that this deliverance cannot be effected “by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”

It should be borne in mind the grace of purity is not achieved by the believer over outward enemies but is wrought in us by the removal of inherent depravity — a purification, not by warfare and successive victories over depravity, but by the Holy Spirit.

There is no Christian effort or exercise which can purge the soul from sin. The Scriptures nowhere teach that the gradual advances of a Christian by consecutive steps, or acts of obedience, are attended by a gradual cleansing of the heart, stain after stain departing, till every impurity is gone.

As our original and inherent sinfulness was derived from Adam, so our inwrought, inherent purification — our personal holiness must be derived from and wrought in us by Jesus Christ, our second Adam. Thus it takes supernatural, divine power to destroy this inborn sin and remove its root and branch so as to make an end of it.

Expecting by an imperceptible growth in grace to attain an entirely sanctified state is a snare of Satan and keeps thousands from obtaining the blessing of “a clean heart.” Growth appertains to the development of the “new man” and should not be mixed up with the supernatural process of purification in “perfecting the saints.”

We cannot grow clean. We can be washed clean. “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” We can grow in grace but not grow into grace, just as we can swim in water but can not swim into water. Growing up in a state we are already in and growing into it from some other state are quite different things. As has been stated, there is no such thing as growing into regeneration or sanctification, and we can no more grow pure or work ourselves pure than a sinner can grow or work himself into a regenerate state. Both are God’s work. Both are by simple faith. Neither are wrought by culture, expansion, or enlargement.

Rev. Wm. Readdy says, “This salvation is not reached by growing up into it, ‘nor by works, as the Pelagians do vainly talk.’ Weeds in a garden are not grown out by the growth of useful plants and vegetables; they must be dug or pulled up. Remaining sin in the heart is not removed by the growth of Christian virtues.” — Inside Views of Methodism, p. 61.

Dr. F. G. Hibbard, one of the most accurate Theologians of the Church, says, “It has long appeared to us that many who are seeking after entire holiness mistake the duty of a gradual growth in grace, and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, for a gradual growing out of sin. They seem to think that the two mutually involve each other, and that as they must always grow up into Christ in all things, so they must by degrees grow out of the bondage, guilt, and pollution of sin.” . . . “Now, to all such we would say one word of admonition. There is no gradual growing out of sin. All that partakes of the proper nature of sin in you must be forgiven and washed away through faith in the blood of the Lamb.

WHENEVER THIS IS DONE, IT IS AN INSTANTANEOUS WORK.” …. “Sin is not a thing to be grown out of, but a thing to be forgiven and to be cleansed away.” …. “In this view of perfection (the improvement and maturity of the graces of the Spirit,) there are degrees and progressive stages; but in the work of SIMPLY CLEANSING FROM ALL sin, both ‘of flesh and spirit,’ inbred and overt sin, there are NO DEGREES, NO PROGRESSIVE STAGES, but the work is complete at the first, and instantaneous as to time, performed by the Holy Spirit just at the moment when the burdened soul has faith to be made every whit whole.” —Editorial in N.C. Advocate,

Rev. Dr. Fuller of the Baptist Church, in an address of rare strength and clearness, before the Evangelical Alliance, says, “Yet for all this, it is true, that in subduing our depravities, one act of faith is worth a whole life of attempted faithfulness.” …. “But we forget that salvation from the power and. corruption of sin, from sin itself, must be in the same way, that is by faith, the same as we are.pardoned.” This from Dr. Fuller is a clear presentation of purity as obtained by faith and not attained by good works, spiritual growth, or Christian culture.

Mr. Wesley says, “Inquiring (in 1761) how it was that in all these parts we have had so few witnesses of full salvation, I constantly received one and the same answer: ‘ We see now we sought it by our works; we thought it was to come gradually; we never expected it to come in a moment, by simple faith, in the very same manner as we received justification.’ What wonder is it, then, that you have been fighting all these years as one that beateth the air!” — Works, vol. vii. p. 377.

Series Navigation<< Chapter 5 – Regeneration is Not Complete PurityChapter 7 – Christian Purity is not obtained by Growth in Grace – part 2 >>


  • Nathan Zipfel

    Ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene Pastor of the New Life Church of the Nazarene in Boswell, PA. Batchelor of Arts Pastoral Leadership, Nazarene Bible College Master of Arts, Ministry, Ohio Christian University Master of Social Work, Indiana Wesleyan University Behavioral Health Therapist, Certified Trauma Professional

By Nathan Zipfel

Ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene Pastor of the New Life Church of the Nazarene in Boswell, PA. Batchelor of Arts Pastoral Leadership, Nazarene Bible College Master of Arts, Ministry, Ohio Christian University Master of Social Work, Indiana Wesleyan University Behavioral Health Therapist, Certified Trauma Professional

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