This entry is part 8 of 13 in the series Purity and Maturity

The fact that inbred sin is a unit, “an evil principle still infecting our nature,” as Dr. Hodge of Princeton calls it, is proof that we cannot obtain freedom from it by growth in grace.

Like error, inbred sin is a simple, uncompounded element or quality and continues unchangeably the same at all times and under all circumstances. It cannot be analyzed and is not subject to any change, and in its essential nature, it can never be made anything else. Hence it cannot be divided or subdivided and removed by parts. Though it may have a hundred varied manifestations, it is the same evil principle” in every form of its operations; and, while it may taint or impregnate the whole soul, it usually has its leading channels, and these varying in different persons.

St. Paul particularly describes the streams which flow from this fountain — “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness; . . . variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like.” Galatians 5:19-21

In speaking of regenerated but not entirely sanctified souls, Mr. Wesley says, “They now feel two principles in themselves plainly contrary to each other.” These principles he calls “nature” and “grace.” St. Paul calls them “the flesh” and “the spirit.” Mr. Wesley attributes feelings of pride, self-will, anger, unbelief, and all the unlawful appetites and tendencies to this “evil principle.” He says, “Sin remains in him (the justified and regenerate,) yea, the SEED OF ALL SIN, till he is sanctified throughout.” St. Paul says, — “If ye live after the FLESH ye shall die,” but “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Romans 8:13

This “principle,” or “flesh,” or “nature,” or “seed of all sin,” or “indwelling sin,” or, whatever it may be called, we maintain is not removed by any “new man” its gradual process. As grace, or the opposing principle of life, was not implanted gradually, neither is inbred sin, the antagonism of grace, exterminated gradually. “The way of the Lord” may be prepared, as we have seen in either case. These steps of preparation are receiving light and conviction, prayer, submission, and consecration.

We repeat, as there was a gradual process before the principle of life was implanted, so there may be a preparatory process before sin is exterminated. The preparatory, gradual process in the former did not break the power of sin and impart the “new life,” nor does the gradual preparatory work in the latter exterminate sin or purify the heart.

Dr. Steele says, “This spiritual development by growth is the necessary preparation for this destruction of inborn sin.” — Love Enthroned, p. 333.

Inherent sin can not be removed by drying up its leading channels. Striving to purify the heart by removing one corruption, and then another, and so on, is not the way to purity. Depravity may take any one of a hundred channels; We can not purify the fountain by working at the streams. And while the fountain is corrupt, it is liable to break out in any direction. If we dry up or close up one channel, it will only break out in another. So long as the “carnal mind” — the “root of sin” remains, it may spring up in any direction.

Dr. Adam Clarke says, “In no part of the Scriptures are we directed to seek holiness by gradation. We are to come to God as well for an instantaneous and complete purification from all sin, as for an instantaneous pardon. Neither the seriatim pardon nor the gradation purification exists in the Bible.” — Clarke’s Theology, p. 208. The reader will note this quotation from the celebrated commentator as clear and decided on this subject.

Purification being by faith, is of necessity instantaneous, the same as justification. The sinner does not repent of one sin at a time, and believe for the pardon of that sin, and then take up another, and so on, seriatim. He comes with all his sins and is justified (pardoned) freely and fully, all at once or instantaneously.

In purification, God does not cleanse one depraved appetite, and then another until inbred sin is all removed from the soul. This evil principle or carnal nature, as has been stated, lies back of these evil appetites or propensities and is their cause; and though these are subdued and subjected, the seat of the difficulty — the inbeing of this carnal nature is not reached. Though we may conquer a depraved appetite or passion, our depravity still retains its life and strength and often only works in a more concealed manner or takes a different direction.

While depravity is not a faculty of the soul, it does inhere in the soul, is developed to the soul’s consciousness and in the soul’s action, and has a positive entity as any other existence. Purity or impurity are as clearly states of consciousness as any — facts of consciousness. The inspired writers refer to bodily disease as their most striking illustration of it, and there must be a remarkable analogy between them to justify this mode of Scriptural teaching, so common all through the Bible. Disease not only deranges the action of the bodily organs but often pervades, inheres to, and affects the organs themselves. This is true of all constitutional diseases. Inbred sin is the soul’s disease. Christ is the great Physician. Holiness is spiritual health — freedom from moral disease. “By his stripes, we are HEALED.” Isaiah 53:5

Of this inborn impurity, Dr. Francis Hodgson says, “It is something which inheres in our moral constitution, and causes a deranged action of its powers.” — New Divinity Examined, chap. 8.

Mr. Wesley says, “You may obtain a growing victory over sin from the moment you are justified. But, THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. The body of sin, the carnal mind, must be destroyed; the old man must be slain, or we can not put on the new man, which is created after God (or which is the image of God), in righteousness and true holiness, and this is done in a moment, TO TALK OF THIS WORK BEING GRADUAL, would be nonsense, as much as if we talked of gradual justification.” —Journal of Mrs. H. A. Rogers, p.174.

It is clear that growth in grace has no fixed relation to purity in any way. Growth never changes the nature of anything. A believer can not grow pure on the same principle that a sinner can not grow into a saint — growth not changing the nature of things. That which is pure may grow, or that which is impure may grow, and mere growth does not change the one or the other. If anything is defiled, washing or cleansing will make it clean. So of the human heart, the cleansing energy of the Holy Spirit can eradicate all its impurity and make it clean through the blood of the Lamb.

All the changes by growth or gradual processes are in size or quantity and not in kind or quality. Purity pertains to quality and not to size or quantity.

Growth or gradualism is a pure naturalism. Purification is a supernaturalism and is instantaneous; it is by faith and, therefore, not by works.

Mr. Wesley says, “As to the manner, I believe this perfection is always wrought in the soul by a simple act of faith; consequently, in an instant.” We further say, “Look for it then every day, every hour, every moment! Why not this hour, this moment? Certainly, you may look for it now if you believe it is by faith. And by this token, you may surely know whether you seek it by faith or by works. If by works, you want something to be done first, before you are sanctified. You think, I must first be or do thus or thus. Then you are seeking it by works unto this day. If you seek it by faith, you may expect it as you are; and if as you are, then expect it now. It is important to observe that there is an inseparable connection between these three points, GeLepect it by faith, Expect it as you are, and Expect it now. TO DENY ONE OF THEM IS TO DENY THEM ALL.” —Sermons, vol. i. p. 391.

While Mr. Wesley says, “Sanctification is both preceded and followed by a gradual work,” he does not say that that which he calls “indwelling sin,” or “nature,” or the “carnal mind,” or the “seed of all sin,” is gradually taken away. ‘This he represents as an instantaneous work. The gradual growth in grace, as he taught, does not include nor exclude the instantaneous.

Dr. F. G. Hibbard says, — “It is hence Mr. Wesley, and also Mr. Fletcher, distinguish sanctification into two stages; the lowest degree is to be ‘emptied of all sin, the highest to be ‘filled with God.” To be emptied of all sin, to be ‘cleansed from all unrighteousness,’ is a work to be done by the Spirit of God immediately acting on the soul through the truth. It is done at once, according to the faith of the believer, through the meritorious blood and righteousness of the Redeemer. But to bring forth the Christian graces to the highest measure of maturity or perfection compatible with this earthly state, or with the moral capabilities of the believer, is a work of time, to be carried forward and performed till the day of Jesus Christ.” — N.C. Advocate.

Many in our churches make the serious blunder of confining their attention to the outer, to the neglect of the inner life. They work at the streams and fail to give their first and chief attention to their great necessity — purity at the fountain. They struggle in a life-long effort to raise the streams higher than the fountain or to purify the fountain by working at the streams. Their only success in this effort is to get the outward and apparent of their life out of all proportion or harmony with their inner and true character. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” —Job 14:4. Here the power to get a pure stream from a polluted fountain is positively denied us.

Rev. Daniel Wise says, “One chief reason (why many believers are not holy) is that such seekers too often labor to mend their religious characters, instead of aiming at the purification of their hearts; or, to express myself differently, they aim at the purification of their hearts by improving their characters, by striving to subdue particular sins.”

Retrenchment, pruning, and lopping off excrescences of the outer life purifies no man’s nature. Sour sap in a vine or tree can not be grown sweet or changed by any pruning process. Make the tree good, and the branches will be good; then they will bear good fruit. God begins at the heart and not at a man’s fingers to save him and make him a saint.

He does not begin at the outer man and cleanse his activities but goes directly to the heart — the fountain, whence all corrupt streams flow and cleanses it. Having done his work there, he says — “Now ARE YE CLEAN.”

The nature of inbred sin is such as to exclude the idea of its improvement in any sense. It is evil, and only evil, root and branch, bud, blossom, and fruit — an abominable, accursed thing which God hates; It is a thing to be got rid of, to be exterminated. While it remains, the best we can do is, by the grace of God, to resist it, keep it under, and maintain victory over it. It can not be improved by pruning, changing, directing, or correcting; IT MUST BE DESTROYED.

“It is most true (says Mr. Wesley) that the root of religion lies in the heart, in the inmost soul; that this is the union of the soul with God, the life of God in the soul of man, But if this root is really in the heart, it cannot but put forth branches. And these are the several instances of outward obedience, which partake of the same nature with the root.” — Sermons, vol. i. p. 216.

It is admitted the strength and vitality of inbred sin may be more and more paralyzed and stunned. But it still remains the same in its essential nature, so long as it has any being or until it is extirpated. Until the living principle of grace is implanted in the soul at regeneration, no sinner becomes a Christian; and until the remaining opposing principle of inbred sin is removed from the regenerate heart, no Christian is entirely sanctified.

Christians can not grow into holiness from the fact that in their nature, growth, and holiness are distinct things; growth is development and enlargement; holiness is purity—freedom from sin. If we would have clear and correct views of this subject, it is necessary that we keep in mind the idea that GROWTH, PURITY, and MATURITY are distinct.

We may improve in habits of virtue, in resisting temptation, in treasuring up knowledge, and in overcoming, keeping under, and gaining easier victories over inbred sin, but all this neither improves, changes, nor exterminates it.

If Christianity can only hold a restraining or repressing power over our natural depravity and can not destroy it, what is it superior to human philosophy, natural cultivation, and discipline? If it can do no more than restrain the evil of our nature, does it not stand on the same level with human systems?

“We have the most indubitable evidence, (says Dr. Adam Clarke), that many of the heathen Philosophers had acquired, by mental discipline and cultivation, an entire ascendency over all their wonted vicious habits.” —Clarke’s Theology, p. 195.

Dr. George Peck clearly observes, “It will be remembered that we have found sanctification to imply both the death of sin and the life of righteousness. And when we speak of entire sanctification, as to the former part of it, we say it may be attained at once —it is an instantaneous work.” . . . “But in relation to the latter part of this great work, viz., the life of righteousness, embracing all holy affections, and pious efforts, it is regarded as entirely progressive.”

“The destruction of sin in the soul, and the growth of holiness, are two distinct things.” …. “The one is instantaneous, the other gradual; and hence it is that we sometimes say, with propriety, that the work of entire sanctification is both gradual and instantaneous.” — Peck’s Christian Perfection, p212. Here the death of sin is made instantaneous and the life of righteousness gradual by one of the purest and ablest Theologians of his day.

“We have already seen (says Bishop Jesse T. Peck) that there are two kinds of perfection — one in character, another in development. The first, applied to the body, means health; the second, full growth.”— Central Idea, p. 56.

Growth in grace is essentially the same before and after entire sanctification, the only difference being in the former case, the reign of grace is somewhat limited, having a powerful inward foe to antagonize in addition to enemies from without. In the latter, grace has unlimited dominion in the soul, and its growth is unimpeded by anything within the heart. It has obstacles to its growth from without and ever will have during probationship, but all is peaceful, friendly, and right within.

If growth in grace is growth in purity, it must follow that when the soul is wholly purified or cleansed, there can be thereafter no further growth in grace, since what is wholly pure can never become more pure. Every sanctified soul knows that after his purification, growth in grace is far more easy and rapid. The obstruction to growth in the partially purified heart is its inbred sin. This may be overcome but is nevertheless a hindrance. The holy Fletcher said, “A perfect Christian grows far more than a feeble believer, whose growth is still obstructed by the shady thorns of sin and by the draining suckers of iniquity.” Though this obstacle is overcome by the growing Christian, let it not be forgotten that it is not removed in this way: growth in grace not being the process of separating sin from the soul, either before or subsequently to purification.

Many appear to think increasing years must necessarily add to their personal holiness without especially seeking a positive renovation from God. Neither years, nor means of grace, nor afflictions, nor active public duties will necessarily improve our moral nature but rather dwarf it unless attended by the Holy Spirit of God.

The commands, exhortations, and promises of God teach that purity is not by growth in grace. God desires, commands, and expects instant obedience. This cannot be done if holiness is obtained by growth. God commands — “Be ye holy,” — “Be ye filled with the Spirit,” — “Be ye therefore perfect,” — “This is the will of God, even your sanctification,” —and “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” Just as surely as God desires and commands us now to “be holy;” now to “be perfect;” now to “be filled with the Spirit;” and now to “love him with all our heart;” so surely is sin’s destruction and heart purification instantaneous.

All the commands, invitations, and promises of God with respect to holiness are in the present tense. They are as clearly and definitely so as those regarding repentance, obedience, justification, and regeneration to the sinner. In point of time, their united language is, “Behold, Now is the accepted time, behold, Now IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.”

Bishop Janes says, “We seek it, and seck it just as we sought our former attainment — by faith in Christ, we obtain it… God is just as ready to sanctify as he was to justify, and the power may come as instantaneously and as consciously as it did in our first happy experience, and we may be just as conscious that we are sanctified wholly as we are that we are pardoned freely.” — Guide, 1870, p. 181.

The sacrificial blood of Christ—his vicarious death is the efficacious and meritorious source of all purification. Evangelical faith, in that blood, on the part of the believer, is the procuring, proximate, conditional source of purity. The word of God is the divinely appointed instrumental source, while the Holy Spirit is the grand efficient Agent. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” If the work of purification is thus wrought according to the word of God, it can not be by growth, nor can it be a gradual work.;

There is a serious and irreconcilable discrepancy between the Bible teachings and a gradual process of -purification by growth in grace. Take the following precious promise and holy covenant as one of a thousand scriptures on this subject:— “The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered (not grown) out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, IN HOLINESS, and RIGHTEOUSNESS, BEFORE HIM, ALL. THE DAYS OF OUR LIFE.” Luke 1:73-75 This passage must be seen to be in direct conflict with the idea of being ten, twenty, or thirty years in attaining purity by a gradual process of indefinite, imperceptible growth.

All the terms and figures used in Scripture significant of purity— those used to define and enforce it— sustain the position that purification is a short and rapid work. They all imply rapidity and dispatch.

First. Death by crucifixion. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed,” &e. — Romans 6:6. Mr. Benson says,— Our old man signifies our entire depravity and corruption, which by nature spreads itself over the whole man, leaving no part uninfected.” Crucifixion is a short process.

Second. Death by mortification. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth,” &e. — Colossians 3:5. Let the process of mortification commence, and go forward, and it will soon lay its victim in the dust.

Third. It is represented as a process of creation, — “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and TRUE HOLINESS.” The process of creation, so far as we know, is instantaneous.

Fourth. The cleansing of the leper. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” Leprosy was incurable by human means, and its cure was only effected by a special work of God and effected in a moment. The cleansing of the leper was an emblem of the removal of sin and indicates an instantaneous work. The whole process was short. Christ said, — “I will be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” —Matthew 8:3

Fifth. The process of refining silver and gold. “I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin.” This is another rapid work in which Christ is likened to a “refiner and a purifier of silver.”

Sixth. The working of leaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until the whole was leavened.” Here is a short work, not exceeding twelve hours. The parable is plain, simple, and adapted to the weakest capacity.

Seventh. It represented as an ablution. “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.” This figure, so common and so significant, indicates a short process.

Bishop Peck, at Round Lake, said — “There is not a word of truth in it, and it is a serious mistake ‘ to trust to growing into a state of purity. God has exhausted the Bible symbols to get before us the idea that is exactly opposite of the process of growth} viz., that sin can be really taken out, and this is the reason why we are urging you to have it done today.” — Penuel, p. 313.

In harmony with these scriptures, Dr. Nathan Bangs says, “Those who teach that we are gradually to grow into a state of sanctification, without ever experiencing an instantaneous change from inbred sin to holiness— are to be repudiated as unsound — anti-scriptural and anti-Wesleyan.” —Article in Guide.

Regarding purity as a result of long years of growth in grace is a great and serious mistake of millions in the Church of God; and also, in regarding growth in grace as being chiefly between regeneration and entire sanctification, while duty and privilege demand it should be mainly subsequent to purification. These mistakes, I fear, have ruined millions. Vast multitudes in the Church seem to suppose that between regeneration and entire sanctification, there is to be a lifetime of growth in grace.

If, as all believe, in a moment, a work of such magnitude as regeneration is wrought, imparting spiritual life to the soul, dead in trespasses and sins, and removing its weight of guilt, grief, and doubt, may not the remains of impurity be washed out instantly by “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love and worthily magnify his holy name”?

This work is effected by the same Spirit; is wrought in the same soul; is conditioned alike by faith; and is likewise accomplished for the honor of God and the wellbeing of the same person.

Dr. Adam Clarke says, “For as the work of cleansing and renewing the heart is the work of God, his almighty power can perform it in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. And as it is this moment our duty to love God with all our heart, and we can not do this till he cleanses our hearts, consequently he is ready to do it this moment because he wills that we should at this moment love him. . . . This moment, therefore, we may be emptied of sin, filled with holiness, and become truly happy.” — Clarke’s Theology, p. 208.

Series Navigation<< Chapter 6 – Christian Purity is not obtained by Growth in Grace – part 1Chapter 8 – Christian Purity is not obtained by Growth in Grace – part 3 >>


  • 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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