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The Upward Way

By Rev. David Blunt

This Editorial was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 11, July-September 1998.

T HERE is a question which we should be asking ourselves more often than we do: Why am I not more holy than I am? Holiness after all is the great end to which the God of grace has appointed His people in the eternal counsel of predestination; "he hath chosen us....that we should be holy" (Eph. 1:4): if we are His then should it not be our decided aim to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (2 Cor. 7:1)? This is our serious duty, a calling which all the saints share.


What ample resources are granted to us in that covenant which is "ordered in all things, and sure" (2 Sam. 23:5) that we may indeed be made holy! Christ has made a purchase of grace for His people. By the wonder of an imputed righteousness the penalty of a broken law is revoked and we appear just before a holy God. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, to reign in the renewed heart (Rom. 5:20, 21). Our persons and services are now acceptable to God through Christ the Mediator. The Holy Scriptures are given to us that we may know infallibly that life which is pleasing to the Lord.

Yet the true Christian ever feels himself a failure in the face of all this. Rather than admire his own progress in sanctification he can only lament his leanness: he cannot find in himself what he wants to find; he is ever dissatisfied with his present attainments. While others within the church rest content with their form of godliness, the child of God falls upon his face when in the secret place – and mourns.


What light does Scripture shed on this experience? It is plain that the new birth, though it be the most profound change a soul may ever undergo, though it is the renewal of the whole man, a translation from the realm of spiritual death to that of life, is not the same thing as perfection. Paul, in writing to a congregation of faithful Christians, tells them regarding the operation of grace in their lives – it is but a beginning. Only the return of Christ will see God's special handiwork finished (Phil. 1:6). Only then shall He polish His jewels to perfection. Between regeneration and glorification lies the patient life of sanctification with its many sighs and groans.


The believer's greatest obstacle in the pathway of holiness is himself. He carries with him wherever he goes the old man, like those poor souls we have read of who, in a refinement of cruelty, were sentenced to be chained to a putrefying corpse which they must drag behind them. So the motion of the spiritual man is hindered, causing him often to be weary and to be nigh unto falling.

We discover that we have a traitor in the midst, even within our own bosom; our heart is a Judas that will quickly betray us to the camp of sin if we do not keep it with all diligence. Sin is lying always at the door like a voracious beast, seeking an opportunity to enter in and make of us its prey. Are we striving manfully against temptation in all its subtle forms and guises? This ceaseless conflict with the flesh caused the apostle Paul more grief than stoning and shipwreck, the lash and the prison cell.


Solomon, who visited both the mountain-tops of blessedness and the valleys of sinful backsliding in his walk with the Lord, teaches us that; "The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath." (Prov. 15:24). The direction sinners must take to escape eternal loss and gain the life that shall never end is an upward one. And to go onward in the Christian life, as we must, is to go ever upward and Godward – to be holy even as He is holy. Is it not clear that a power not our own must be at work if we are to rise above nature? Holiness is as foreign to fallen humanity as is life in another country and every development in conformity to Christ is made against our natural inclinations. As a new-born infant must constantly be fed in order to gain weight so the believer requires a continual supply of strength from the Spirit of Christ if he is to "grow up into him in all things" (Eph. 4:15). But do we desire the "sincere milk" of the Holy Scriptures and cry daily for deliverance from the power of sin? Our progress in holiness will be in proportion to our longings for the same. We may be as holy as we truly wish to be.

Our Adversary

We do not think that it is going beyond the bounds of Scripture to say that the devil is a greater foe today to the godly than he ever was. The angels are finite creatures: they may increase in knowledge. Those that did not fall but remained in heaven "desire to look into" the things which have been revealed to us but not to them (1 Pet. 1:12); they learn of God's wisdom by the salvation of the church (Eph. 3:10). So the evil angels, with Satan at their head, who were cast out of glory and down to the earth (Rev. 12:3, 4, 7-9) now go from place to place to gain intelligence on the church; not in order to admire the work of grace but if possible to destroy it (1 Pet. 5:8). The weak spots of believers are tirelessly sought out. Many testimonies have been ruined by the devil's devices. We must be vigilant if we would escape the fowler's snare.


We are probably more influenced by the spiritual environment in which we live than we realise. Ours is not a godly age. There is still plenty of religion to be found but grace is less common. The demeaning of the Most High God and all things holy, the casual attitudes to worship and the absence of a proper fear of the Lord – these attitudes are found in the world and increasingly within the church. In popular preaching, the biblical demand of repentance from sin has been replaced by an easier method of reconciliation with God in which the divine love, forgiveness and peace are pronounced indiscriminately – and quickly.

Grace is meant to distinguish God's people from others but we are like those creatures which have the ability to take on the general colour of their surroundings, blending in and going unnoticed. Is it not easier for us to "settle upon our lees" again like Moab (Jer. 48:11) than to "exercise ourselves unto godliness" (1 Tim. 4:7)? We surely need more of the Spirit of Christ and less of the spirit of the age. Then we shall make leaps and bounds heavenwards.


The rule which holds good regarding personal holiness is this: there are no gains without pains. Yet the struggling saint is not without encouragement in his pursuit. He has received a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1): will not the Word of grace lead him home, sanctified in Jesus?

We have a living and unbreakable union with Christ our Covenant Head (Rom. 8:38, 39). He is the true and fruitful Vine. In Him there is a fulness of grace sufficient to overcome all our prevailing sins. We are not to think that, redemption being accomplished, somehow it is then left to sinners to apply it to themselves. Our Saviour is still our Priest. He prays for us on the basis of His cross, sending His Spirit into our hearts to strengthen us in all those graces which belong to the new man. In this way we are saved by His life as well as by His death. And because like the mysterious Melchisedec this Priest has an endless life His intercession will never fail (Heb. 7:25): our sanctification and final salvation is secure.

How we need the Lord to apply the measuring-rod of His Word to our lives to discover our sins and humble us with a sense of our need! A need which He alone is able to supply. Are we travelling on this upward way?