First of all. Holiness is not necessarily a state in which there is perpetual rapturous joy. Isaiah liii. 3 tells us that Jesus was 'a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,' and Paul tells us of himself that he had continual sorrow and great heaviness because of the rejection of Jesus by his kinsmen after the flesh. Joy is the normal state of a holy man, but it may be mingled with sorrow and grief and perplexities and heaviness on account of manifold temptations. The low water mark, however, in the experience of a holy person is one of perfect peace -- the high water mark is up in the third heaven somewhere; however, this third heaven experience is not likely to be constantly maintained. Jesus and the disciples had to come down off the Mount of Transfiguration and go to casting out devils, and Paul returned from the third heaven to be buffeted of Satan, and stoned and whipped, and imprisoned of men.
II. Holiness is not a state of freedom from temptation. This is a world of trial, and conflict with principalities and powers, darknesses and terrible evils, and the holy soul who is in the forefront of the conflict may expect the fiercest assaults of the devil, and the heaviest and most perplexing and prolonged temptations. Our Blessed Lord was tried and tempted for forty days and forty nights of the devil, and the servant must not be surprised if he is as his Master.
Paul tells us that Jesus was tempted in all points as we are, and that He is able to succor us when we are tempted. It is no sin to be tempted; in fact, the Apostle James tells us to rejoice when we are subjected to all manner of temptations for the resulting trial of our faith will produce in us strength and force of holy character, so that we shall be lacking in nothing (Jas. i. 2-4).
III. Holiness is not a state of freedom from infirmities. It does not produce a perfect head, but rather a perfect heart! The saints have always been compassed about with infirmities that have proved a source of great trial, but when patiently endured for His dear sake have also proved a source of great blessing. Paul had a thorn in the flesh, an infirmity, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. Possibly it was weak eyes, for he was once stoned and dragged out of the city and left for dead, and in writing to the Galatians, he tells them they would have plucked out their eyes and given them to him had it been possible. Or it may have been a stammering tongue, for he tells us he was accounted rude of speech. Anyway, it was an infirmity which he longed to be rid of; doubtless feeling that it interfered with his usefulness, and three times he prayed to the Lord for deliverance, but instead of getting the prayed-for deliverance, the Lord said to him, 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness' (2 Cor. xii. 9).
Then Paul cried out, 'Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong' (2 Cor. xii. 9-10)
In the Epistle to the Hebrews iv. 15 we are told that Jesus was 'touched of our infirmities.' We may be faulty in memory, in judgment, in understanding; we may have manifold infirmities of body and mind; but God looks upon the purity of the heart, the singleness of the eye, and the loyalty of our affection, and if He does not find us faulty there, He counts us perfect men. It is not in the mere natural perfection that the power and glory of God are manifested, but rather in goodness and purity and patience and love and meekness and long-suffering shining forth through infirmities of flesh and imperfections of mind.
IV. Holiness is not a state of freedom from affliction. The saints of all ages have been chosen 'in the furnace of affliction' (Isa. xlviii. 10). Job and Jeremiah and Daniel and Paul and the mighty army of martyrs have, and shall always, come up through great tribulations. It is not God's purpose to take us to heaven on flowery beds of ease, clothe us in purple and fine linen, and keep a sugar plum in our mouths all the time. That would not develop strength of character, nor cultivate simplicity and purity of heart: nor in that case could we really know Jesus, and the fellowship of His sufferings. It is in the furnace of fire, the lion's den, and the dungeon cell that He most freely reveals Himself to His people.
Other things being equal, the holy man is less liable to afflictions than the sinner. He does not run into the same excesses that the sinner does; he is free from the pride, the temper, the jealousies, the vaulting ambitions, and selfishness, that plunge so many sinners into terrible affliction and ruin; and yet he must not presume that he will get through the world without heavy trials, sore temptations and afflictions. Job was a perfect man, but he lost all his property and his children, and, in a day was made a childless pauper; but he proved his perfection by giving God glory. Then when his wife bade him curse God and die, he said unto her, 'Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?' (Job ii. 10). And when his three friends were undermining his faith, he looked up from off his ash heap, and out of his awful sorrow and desolation, and fierce pain, and cried out, 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him ' (Job x iii. 15).
Joseph is one of the few men in the Bible against whom nothing is recorded, but like Daniel his very holiness and righteousness led to the terrible trials he endured in Egypt. And so it may be, and is, with the saints to-day. But while we may be afflicted, yet we can comfort ourselves with David's assurance, 'Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all' (Ps. xxxiv. 19). A friend of mine said he would rather have a thousand afflictions and be delivered out of them all, than to have half a dozen and get stuck in the midst of them.
V. Holiness is not a state in which there is no further development. When the heart is purified it develops more rapidly than ever before. Spiritual development comes through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the heart, and the holy soul is in a condition to receive such revelations constantly, and since the finite can never exhaust the infinite, these revelations will continue for ever and prove an increasing and never-ending source of development. It would be as wise to say that a child afflicted with rickets would grow no more when its blood was purified; or that corn would grow no more when the weeds were destroyed, as to say that a soul will cease to grow in grace when it is made holy.
VI. Holiness is not a state from which we cannot fall. Paul tells us that we stand by faith (Rom. xi. 16-22), and he says, 'Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall' (I Cor. x. 12). It is an unscriptural and dangerous doctrine that there is any state of grace in this world from which we cannot fall. Probation does not end the moment we believe on Jesus, but rather the moment we quit the body. It is only those who endure to the end who shall be saved. While here, we are in the enemy's country, and must watch and pray and daily examine ourselves, and keep ourselves in the love of God, lest we fall from His grace and make shipwreck of our faith. But while we may fall, thank God holiness is a state from which we need not fall, in fact it is a state which Paul calls, 'this grace wherein we stand' (Rom. V.2).
Some have asked the question, 'How can a holy soul be tempted or how can it fall?' I will ask the question, how could the angels fall? And how could Adam, just fresh from the hands of his Maker in whose image he was made, fall? And I will ask the more startling question still, how could Jesus, the blessed incarnate himself be tempted? We have our five senses and various bodily appetites, none of which are in themselves sinful, but each of which may become an avenue by which the holy soul may be solicited to evil. Each must be regulated by the word of God and dominated by the love of Jesus, if we wish to keep a holy heart, and 'stand perfect and complete in all the will of God' (Col. iv. 12).
Finally holiness is a state of conformity to the divine nature. God is love and there is a sense in which a holy man can be said to be love. He is like God, not in God's natural perfection of power and wisdom and knowledge and omnipresence, but in patience, humility, self-control, purity of heart and love. As the drop out of the ocean is like the ocean not in its bigness but in it's essence so is the holy soul like God. As the branch is like the vine, not in its self-sufficiency, but in its nature its sap, it's fruitfulness, its beauty, so is he that is holy like God.
This is unspeakable blessing is provided for us by our compassionate Heavenly Father through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and is received through a complete renunciation of all sin, an uttermost consecration to all the known will of God, importunate prayer, and child-like faith. Fifteen years ago I obtained this crowning blessing of the gospel through the conscious incoming of the Holy Spirit when I believed, after weeks of earnest seeking. Bless God! He still abides with me and my peace and joy increase and abound. Many have been my afflictions, and fierce and perplexing and prolonged have been my temptations, but with a daredevil faith I have pressed on, claiming victory through the Blood, testifying to what I claimed by faith, and proving day by day this grace to be sufficient while the path shines more and more unto the perfect day. Glory be to God for ever!
'Covet earnestly the best gifts,' wrote Paul to his Officers and Soldiers at Corinth. Not the highest promotions, not the best positions, but 'the best gifts,' those gifts which God bestows upon the people who earnestly covet them and diligently seek Him.
Nero sat upon the throne of the world; he held the highest position in the reach of man; but a poor, despised Jew in a dungeon in Rome, whose head Nero cut off as a dog's head, possessed the best gifts; and while Nero's name rots, Paul's name and works are a foundation upon which the righteous build for centuries and millenniums.
There were deacons, archdeacons, and venerable archdeacons, bishops, and archbishops in England, some hundreds of years ago, who held high places and power, and to whom other men bowed low; but a poor, despised tinker in the filthy Bedford jail had coveted earnestly and received 'the best gifts'; and while these church dignitaries are forgotten by the mass of men, the world knows and loves the saintly tinker, John Bunyan, and is ever being made better and lifted nearer to God by his wise works and words.
Comrades, you and I should seek these 'best gifts' with all our hearts, and we should be satisfied with nothing short of them. It makes but little difference what our position and rank; if we have these gifts we shall have a name and bless the world; but without them we shall prove to be only sham -- painted fire and hollow mockery; and the greater our position and the higher our rank, the greater shams we are, and the greater will be our shame in God's great day of reckoning.
What are these gifts?
There is one which in a sense includes them all, the germ of them all is in that -- the gift of the Holy Ghost. Have you received the Holy Ghost? Is He dwelling in your heart? Covet Him. Live not a day without His blessed presence in you.
Then there is the gift of wisdom. Covet this. The world is full of foolish men and women who don't know how to save themselves, nor how to promote salvation and peace among their fellow foolish ones who miss the way, who stumble along in darkness and perish in their folly. The world needs wise men, men who know when to speak and what to say; who know when to be silent; who know God and His way, and walk in it.
God gives wisdom to those that seek Him. ' If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,....and it shall be given him' -- if he ask in faith without wavering. (James i.5.) Nothing will so distinguish a man and exalt him among his fellows as fullness of wisdom.
There are several marks by which to know this heavenly wisdom. James tells us what they are. He says (James iii. 17): 'The wisdom that is from above is first --
'Pure.' The man who is truly wise will keep himself pure. He will flee from all impurity in thought, word, and act. Filthy habits of every kind are broken and put away by this heavenly wisdom.
'Then peaceable.' The man who has this gift and wisdom from God does not meddle with strife. He seeks peace and runs after it. (i Peter iii. 11.) He is essentially a peacemaker. He has learned the secret of the 'soft answer ' which turns away wrath. He is not quick to take offense.
'Gentle.' The man who lives in the Spirit of this world may be rough and boorish, but he who is wise from above is gentle and considerate; and this gentleness may exist in the same heart with lion-like strength and determination. Jesus was as 'a Lamb slain,' but He was also 'the Lion of the tribe of Judah.' He was gentle as a mother and at the same time immeasurably strong.
'Easy to be entreated.' Though he is sinned against seventy times seven in a day, yet this heavenly-wise man stands ready to forgive. (Matthew xviii. 21- 35.) His heart is an exhaustless fountain of good will. While, if it be his lot to rule, he rules 'with diligence ' (Romans xii. 8), and. if necessary, with vigor, yet he counts not his life dear unto himself, but is willing to lay it down for the good of his brethren. (Acts xx. 24; I John iii. 16.)
'Full of mercy and good fruits.' Like his Heavenly Father he is rich in mercy.' (Ephesians ii. 4.)
'Without partiality ' He is not a party man. He rises above party and class prejudice and is a lover of all men. He stands for 'the fair deal.'
'And without hypocrisy.' There is no guile in his heart, no white lies on his tongue, no double-dealing in his actions. He is square and open and above-board in all his ways and dealings. He lives in constant readiness for the Judgment Day. Blessed be God for such wisdom, which He waits to bestow upon all those who covet it and who ask for it in faith. Covet wisdom.
Then there is the gift of faith. Covet faith. In every man there is, in some measure, the power to believe, but added to this is a gift of faith which God bestows upon those who diligently seek Him. Covet this, O my comrades! Be steady, strong, intelligent believers. Cultivate faith. Stir it up in your hearts as you stir up the fire in your stove. Feed your faith on God's Word.
I once heard a mighty evangelist say that he used to pray and pray for faith, but one day he read: 'Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.' (Romans x. 17.) Then he began to study God's Word and hide it in his heart, and his faith began to grow and grow until through faith his works girded the globe. Covet faith.
Again, there is the gift of the spirit of prayer. Anybody can pray, if he will, but how few have the spirit of prayer! How few make a business of prayer, and wrestle with God for blessing and power and wisdom! Real prayer is something more than a form of words, or a hasty address to God just after breakfast, before the Meeting, or before going to bed at night. It is an intense, intelligent, persistent council with the Lord, in which we wait on Him, and reason and argue and plead our cause, and listen for His reply, and will not let Him go till He blesses us. But how few pray in this way ! Let us covet earnestly and cultivate diligently the spirit of prayer.
We should also covet the spirit of prophecy that is, the ability to speak to the hearts and minds of men so that they shall see and feel that God is in us and in our words. (I Corinthians xiv. 1-3.) We may not be able to preach like the General, but there is probably not one of us but might preach and prophesy far more pungently, powerfully and persuasively than we do if we earnestly coveted this gift and sought it in fervent prayer, faithful study, and constant and deep meditation. God would help us; and how greatly it would add to our power and usefulness! Let us earnestly covet this gift, asking God to touch our lips with fire and with grace. The people wondered at the gracious words of Jesus; and why should we not be such mouthpieces for Him that they shall wonder at our gracious words too!
Solomon said, 'He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.' And Paul said, 'Let your speech be always with grace.'
But, above all, covet a heart full and flaming and overflowing with love. Pray for love. Stir up what love you have; exercise love. It is good to take the Bible and, with a concordance, hunt out the word 'love' until we know all the Bible says on the subject. And then with a heart full of love, pour it out on the children, the Soldiers, backsliders, and cranky folks, and poor loveless sinners, until that wondrous text has its fulfillment in us Let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in His might.' (Judges v. 31.) How the frost and snows melt, the frozen earth thaws, the trees burst into bud and leaf, the flowers blossom, the birds sing, and all nature wakes to a revelry of life and joy when the sun goeth forth in his might!
And we may be so full of love and faith and power and the Holy Ghost that we shall be like that. Hallelujah! Then indeed we shall be a blessing. Souls dead in trespasses and sin shall come to life under our loving ministry and message; the weak shall be made strong, the sorrowing shall receive Divine comfort, the ignorant shall be taught, and heavenly light shall illumine those that are in darkness. Let us then 'covet earnestly the best gifts.'