In August last year, General Paul Rader, former world leader of The Salvation Army, delivered the annual Coutts Memorial Lecture at Booth College in Sydney. The lecture appeared in Pipeline.
Reaching For Metaphors of Grace – part 1.
My parents were both preachers and winsome exemplars of holiness. I grew up with holiness teaching and example. My mother was a gentle spirit with a talent for loving. My father was a single minded, passionate evangelist to the last days of his long life; promoted to glory at 92 – a Salvationist zealot. He wanted those he won to Christ to survive, and more; to thrive in grace. Holiness was for them the only safe option, as he saw it. He had entered into the experience himself and fervently urged it upon his family and all who came under the influence of his ministry.
He had a joyful certainty about his message. It was all aglow with the possibilities of grace. We found it infectious, as did others. When he died, our children wrote tributes. Our eldest recalled how God had spoken to her so often through her grand-dad: “… through that booming, passionate, hopeful, edifying, loving voice. I’m still listening,” she said. And so are we.
He introduced his children from our teens to a wide range of holiness writers. Not all were Wesleyans. They included Hannah Whitehall Smith, Ruth Paxson, Norman Grubb, L E Maxwell, Paget Wilkes, Sidlow Baxter, Oswald Chambers.
The Army has from the start been a holiness movement and despite Major Alan Harley’s rather jeremiad assessment (he makes a convincing case in an article published in the May 2009 issue of Word and Deed, entitled “Is The Salvation Army really a holiness movement?” A question with which I resonate!), I believe the Army will continue to be a holiness movement.
With other holiness denominations, the Army has struggled with the issues of doctrinal clarity, effective articulation of essentials with contemporary relevance and unanimity of understanding. But the Army is still a vital part of the holiness movement, here (Australia) and around the world. Full salvation is emblazoned on our banner of blood and fire and we mean to keep it billowing.
Like many of you, I grew up in Sunday morning holiness meetings, singing holiness songs and choruses. I was weaned on Wesley’s holiness hymns. Early on, I began seeking the blessing of a clean heart with teenage passion and persistence. At Asbury College (in the United States), I was more thoroughly grounded in the theological foundations of holiness teaching. We had questions, but used to take comfort in the thought that what they could not explain about it on our side of the street (the college), they probably knew the answers to on the other side of the street where Asbury Theological Seminary was located. So I crossed the street. Meanwhile, I married the daughter of a holiness camp meeting evangelist, whose precious mother was the epitome of holy love.
So, in the interests of full disclosure, I confess to being a child of the holiness revival of the 19th century and schooled in the Wesleyan tradition of the 18th century. I have imbibed the perspectives of a broader range of holiness teachers of the 20th century – our own in the Army, and others, as well.
I now have been preaching and teaching the truth of scriptural holiness, so far as I have understood and internalised it, for 50 years. Across those years, I have been seeking to live out the reality of its truth in the context of family and our officership calling, most often in a cross-cultural context. And now, in this 21st century, I am still searching for more adequate metaphors to relate this truth to our time. Preaching to students during the six years of my presidency at a Christian college, I have worked at trying to make this truth accessible and compelling to this generation of students – the millennials. I think I understand some of the questions better than ever. I am quite sure that I don’t have the final answers.
The ‘Shorter Way’
Among the issues that have figured prominently in defining the saving work of Christ in the human heart is the question of when and how the experience of entire sanctification can be anticipated and appropriated. What is called the “Shorter Way” was taught by Phoebe Palmer who so directly influenced Catherine Booth.
For Palmer, the altar sanctifies the gift. Entire sanctification is realised when believers fully submit to the lordship of Christ and place themselves and all they are or hope to be on the altar and claim by faith God’s promise for heart-cleansing. Catherine Booth reflects this view in her own witness to a sanctifying experience of grace (Green 1996:103-107).
“The altar sanctifies the gift; Thy blood insures the boon divine; My outstretched hands to heaven I lift, And claim the Father’s promise mine.” - Francis Bottome (1823-94) 208 v. 4
The “Shorter Way” found definition in the heat of the 19th century awakening and the American Holiness Movement. In this view, writes Christopher Bounds, “entire sanctification is a simple synergism in which the work of consecration and faith by a Christian is met immediately with deliverance from the inner propensity to sin by the Holy Spirit” (Bounds 2005:2).
This view was dominant in the Army from the beginning and is represented perhaps
best in the writings of Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle, although care should be taken not to oversimplify Brengle’s understanding of the experience of sanctification and the life of holiness which he developed in his literary legacy of wise pastoral counsel.
A “Middle Way” is more representative of John Wesley’s perspective as he refined his theology of sanctification over the long years of his preaching ministry. By pursuing the means of grace and attending to the Word of God, the heart is prepared to receive the grace necessary to claim the blessing of a clean heart. It is God who
creates in the heart of the believer the hunger for holiness and who beckons us onward toward that moment when in the encounter of faith and the word of promise the Spirit does the sanctifying work and, sooner or later, witnesses that the and Samuel Logan Brengle. Some were in the Keswick tradition. Brengle was the Army’s most effective and articulate proponent of scriptural holiness. He spoke at my parent’s wedding – in the days when they sometimes charged admission, took an offering and gave an invitation to receive Christ, too!
He was a prophet with a burden for the future. “The bridge the Army throws across the impassable gulf which separates the sinner from the Saviour, who pardons that
He may purify, who saves that He may sanctify, rests upon these two abutments;
the forgiveness of sins through simple, penitent, obedient faith in a crucified Redeemer, and the purifying of the heart and empowering of the soul through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, given by its risen and ascended Lord, and received not by works, but by faith.
Remove either of these abutments and the bridge falls; preserve them in strength and a world of lost and despairing sinners can be confidently invited and urged to come and be gloriously saved. It is this holiness that we must maintain, else we shall betray our trust; we shall lose our birthright ... our glory will depart ... we shall have no heritage of martyr-like sacrifice, of spiritual power, of daredevil faith, of pure, deep joy, of burning love, of holy triumph, to bequeath to [our children].” (Quoted Waldron 1987:109-111)
heart has been made pure. Usually some level of maturity is required before the need is felt for a deeper work of grace and a full and knowing consecration becomes possible. It is then, as God grants the grace to claim His promise, that the believer
is enabled to appropriate the blessing.
Indeed, not to do so is to back up on light and put the soul in jeopardy. It is the general demise of a confident proclamation of these understandings of entire sanctification in the teaching and preaching of the Army that Major Harley finds troubling.
The ‘Longer Way’
A third view has been gaining wide currency among holiness denominations, particularly since the mid-20th century. It understands entire sanctification to be appropriated only by a long process of growth. It is the “Longer Way”. The focus
is on a lengthy process of dying to self following on years of growing spiritual awareness. Few believers will attain the goal before death; most only when we are glorified.
All of these views have their advocates presently within the broader Wesleyan holiness tradition. They all posit a death to the self-life and a cleansing from the inner pollution of sin. They all affirm the possibility of living “self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope - the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:12-14 TNIV).
In his helpful survey of holiness teaching, Spiritual Breakthrough (1983), General
John Larsson describes the gradual modification of John Wesley’s original insights regarding entire sanctification.
Wesley himself revised his understanding over time from viewing the crisis of sanctification as available only to a few very near to the “summit of the mountain of holiness”, often only shortly before death.
Later, he affirmed the experience was available to believers earlier in their faith journey. His 19th century disciples confidently proclaimed that the crisis of cleansing and infilling of pure love for God and others is “necessary and attainable for all believers”.
It is this understanding that is reflected in our 10th doctrine: “We believe it is the privilege of all believers to be wholly sanctified ...”
Larsson concludes: “The crisis has become the gateway, not the goal. And the crisis is, therefore, not for the few athletes of the spirit who have nearly made it to the top. It is the way in to spiritual progress, and is, therefore, meant for everybody.” (1983:46). It is this view that was presented in the 1969 revision of the Handbook of Doctrine and further explicated in the extensive writings of General Frederick Coutts on the life of holiness.
He writes: “In penitent obedience, I yield up a forgiven life. In faith believing, I receive of His Spirit. That is the beginning ... a full surrender is the beginning of the life of holy living; the end of that experience I do not – I cannot – see ... In grace as in wisdom ‘hills peep o’er hills and alps on alps arise’. Spiritually, there is always the glory of going on and still to be.” (Coutts 1957:37).
“Our human nature, left to itself, always clings to the lower levels ... Few of us seize that banner with the strange device, “Holiness unto the Lord”, and are lost to sight making for the summit of the holy hill of God. Only Jesus can rouse us into making such an attempt. Then look to Him that He may quicken you with holy desire which, by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, may find its fullest expression in holy - that is to say, Christlike - living” (ibid., 21).
Critical place of crisis
Each of these views - the shorter, the middle and the longer way – contribute importantly to an understanding of the possibilities of grace and the way of holiness. Ultimately, the issue is how the experience is played out in the business
of living - in the depth of our devotion, the purity of our love toward God and others, and the consistency of our walk as the Lord Jesus lives His life in us and through us and we are transformed into His image.
What must not be lost in our engagement with the issues of purity and maturity, of crisis and process, is the critical place of the crisis. “The crisis must be followed by the process,” writes Coutts, and we agree. But then, this: “Any comprehensive view of holiness must have room for both. The experience can neither be explained, nor lived, without crisis and process.” (Coutts 1957: 37)
And let us make room for the experience of those whose progress in the life of holiness has involved a series of crises of various kinds. Indeed, E Stanley Jones averred, that “the soul gets on by a series of crises.”