Winter 1998 Newsletter: Holiness: Is it Possible?
Publish date:
Charles Fitch, a Methodist, at one time had agreed with his fellow Presbyterians that sin cannot be fully overcome during this life. When, around 1840, he discovered that “he who abides in Him sinneth not” (1 John 3:6) and similar promises, his ministerial brethren called his new belief “important and dangerous error” and put him out of the ministry. In response, he wrote two marvelous letters, one of which is given here, explaining to his brethren his radiant new hope. He went on to devise a Daniel 2 image that could be taken apart and to become perhaps the best loved of the top Millerite leaders.

Dear Brethren:
After being made acquainted with my views and feelings on the subject of sanctification, you have passed a resolution declaring them to be important and dangerous error, and admonishing me to preach them no more. I must therefore say, brethren, and I hope to do it with all meekness and humility, and lowliness of heart, that I cannot regard your admonition; and for the following reasons:

Reason One:
It is now several years since, after a season of spiritual gloom and sadness, I came fully to the conclusion, that there was something in the religion of Jesus Christ, to which I had been a stranger. I had seen myself to be a sinner before God, richly deserving His everlasting indignation…I had also seen in Christ a Saviour, who, after atoning for all mankind on the cross, was able, on the merits of the atonement, to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him; and on that Saviour I had cast myself as my only hope, and trusted in Him, and Him only, as my Deliverer from the wrath of God…

But I had come now to the full conviction that my religious state was very far from what it ought to be…

I came then to a settled determination to know, with the help of God, more of spiritual things. Since that time, which is now some years, I have, as never before, “cried after knowledge, and lifted up my voice for understanding, seeking her as silver, and searching for her as for hid treasure, that I might understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” (Prov 2:3-5)…

While I was thus crying after knowledge, and lifting up my voice for understanding, the Lord began to teach me more and more of the love of Christ, so that I was not only restored to my first love, but made to know, in my own experience, that “the path of the just is as he shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov 4:18)…and I had learned the blessed truth, that “all the promises of God in Christ are yea and in Him amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor 1:20)…

What has God promised?
I had then inquired what has God promised, and what is He willing to do for me, if I believe it in Christ. I examined the Bible with this principle in view, and found that God had said, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way thou shalt go. I will guide thee with Mine eye” (Ps 32:8)…When I read the promises on this subject, I found them full and explicit…

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and make you clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleans you, I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and… I will put My spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments and do them. And I will save you from your uncleanness” (Ezek 36:25-29)…

“Saith the Lord, I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb 10:16-17). I also found that Christ our Redeemer was called Jesus because “He would save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21); that “He was manifest to take away our sins, and that whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not” (1 John 3:5-6). I also found many other scriptures, equally full and explicit…

In the third chapter of the first Epistle of John we find it thus written: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law. And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins,” i.e. to take away our transgressions of the law, and leave us in a state of obedience. “And in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him” (1 John 3:4-6)…

In the first chapter of Luke, I find that Zacharias, being filled with the Holy Ghost, prophesied, saying – “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people; and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us, in the house of His servant David, and He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets which have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised unto our fathers, to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He sware unto our father Abraham, that He would grant unto us, that we being delivered 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 1:68-75). Now I believe, that he who “serves God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of his life, is saved from sin, all the days of his life. I believe that God “swore unto Abraham our father, that He would grant unto us, that we being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, before Him, all the days of our life”; and that He hath raised up a horn of salvation for us, to perform this mercy promised to our fathers, to remember this holy covenant, this oath which He swore.

I believe all this, on the testimony of a man filled with the Holy Ghost. Since, therefore, I believe that God’s oath can be relied on, especially since Christ came on purpose to fulfill that oath, and since that oath does pledge the grant of walking before God in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life, I am bound to believe it…

Why Are They Not Fulfilled?
When I inquired why are not these promises, so rich and full, made good in God’s people, I saw that as they were yea and amen only in Christ, they were to be fulfilled, like the promises pledging the pardon of sin, to those, and only those, who believed in Christ for their fulfillment…In this state of mind, I had one day taken my Testament, and a little work on “Christian Perfection” by Fletcher, and given myself up to reading, meditation and prayer on this subject.

If thou wilt absolutely come to mount Zion in a triumphal chariot, or make thine entrance into the new Jerusalem upon a prancing horse, thou art likely never to come there. Leave, then, all thy worldly misconceptions behind, and humbly follow the King, who makes His entry into the typical Jerusalem, meek and lowly, riding upon an ass, yea, upon a colt, the coal of an ass.

I had before been laboring to rise above my sins, and thus leave them; now I felt willing to sink below them, into a depth of humility…felt then in my spirit a most sweet and heavenly sinking into the arms of my Saviour, below the reach of all my spiritual foes, when I had long been seeking in vain to escape them, by soaring above

It was attended with such a full and delightful submission in all things to the will of God; such a joy of heart, in the thought of being for life, and for death, and forever, altogether at God’s disposal; such a gladness in giving up earth in all its possessions and pleasures for Christ’s sake; such an overflow of humble, penitential, grateful love to my Redeemer; such a satisfaction in the thought of having Him as my only everlasting portion; such praise to His name that I might possess Him as the portion of my soul forever; such a full-hearted and unshrinking confidence in all His promises, and such a readiness to do and suffer all things, even to the laying down of life for His name’s sake, that I felt constrained to say, this is purity of heart…

Refusal to Testify
But I came to the conclusion not to say, even to my dearest friends, that I had ever thought myself to be cleansed from sin for even a moment…Herein I fell into sin. By denying what I had believed to have been wrought in me by the Spirit of God, I was now made to feel what I had lost…I know that denying that blessed work which the Lord did in me, and by denying it that I might have a reputation for humility with man, I brought leanness and darkness into my own soul.

To be like Christ
In this state, however, I was led to desire most earnestly, and to pray most fervently that I might be made like Christ. The burden of my petition was, that I might be made as much like Christ, as it was possible for a soul to become while in the body, and I felt that I could be satisfied with nothing short of this. After praying thus for a time, I saw most clearly that there was nothing which God was more willing to do, than to make me thus like Christ, and I felt a sweetness of assurance in him, that it should be granted me.

Now it was that the Lord showed me what must be the consequence of being like Christ and that I could not possibly have the likeness of Christ, without meeting these consequences. I saw that if I would live godly in Christ Jesus, I must suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12), and that I could not be like Christ without being willing to share in His reproach, the Holy Spirit now showed me the sin which I had committed, in denying what God had done for me soul, and I now saw that while with “my heart I believed unto righteousness, with my mouth I must make confession unto salvation” (Rom 10:10)… This I had not done. With my heart I had believed unto righteousness, but instead of making confession with my mouth, of the grace which God had shown me, and thereby being saved from the sin of denying it, I had refused to make the confession, and by so doing fell again into the hands of my spiritual foes…

I had now come truly to the plucking out of the right eye and the cutting off of the right hand—to the point where I must “forsake father and mother, and brethren and sisters, and wife and children for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s” (Matt 19:29). Could I make the sacrifice? Could I become an outcast from my brethren, and an alien from my mother’s children? Could I become as lost, to the friends I had loved most dearly, and have my name cast out as evil, by those whose kind regards I most wish to retain, in order to please my Saviour and enjoy His love, as for a little while He had permitted me to do? The struggle was severe. It cost me as much to make these sacrifices as it would cost any one of my brethren; but I could not long hesitate. I had prayed that I might continually enjoy the Saviour’s love, and He had now shown me, what it would cost me—and, blessed be His name, He gave me strength to make the choice of His love, at the sacrifice, if necessary, of everything that I held dear on earth…

In this state of mind, I took up the Word of God, and came to the following passage, in the words of Paul to the Romans, —“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:11)…

The love of the world was gone, no sinful indulgence had any charm for me. My whole heart was won by Christ, and filled with overflowing love to Him, and I feel that a thousand hearts, had they been mine, would have been most joyfully consecrated to His service. I had no will but His, and no desire of life or death or eternity, but to be disposed of in that way which would secure the highest possible praise to my Redeemer. I was now delivered from the fear of man, and as I had covenanted with the Lord, to confess His faithfulness to the world, when He should give me evidence on which I could rely, that I was redeemed from all iniquity, and as I had now found myself, and in a way so glorious and delightful beyond everything I had ever before conceived, made “dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God through Jesus Christ my Lord” (Rom 6:11), and had been so abundantly enlightened respecting the privilege of every Christian to be kept in that state by the faithfulness of the dear Redeemer, I could not for a moment hesitate that it was my duty to declare to the world, that by the power of the Holy Spirit given me by my own blessed saviour, I was made “dead indeed” unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ my Lord.”…

You ask me…concerning myself, Here, dear brother, I speak with unfeigned diffidence. I love to look at my Saviour, and to hold Him forth in all His fullness to my needy, perishing fellow men. But in myself, aside from what the grace of God has done, and shall do for me, I find nothing but the dark and perfect lineaments of Beelzebub, the prince of devils. I speak sincerely, my brother. I know that if God should withdraw His grace from me, and leave me to myself, there is not a sin within reach of my powers, which I would not instantly commit and practice forever…

I have my no means been all that I hope, or expect to be; for I see that it is the privilege of the Christian that has been redeemed from all iniquity, still to “forget the things which are behind, and reach forth unto those which are before” (Phil 3:13), and “beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, to be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of God” (2 Cor 3:18). I believe that to be cleansed from all unrighteousness is by no means the height of the Christian’s privilege on earth; that beyond that he may go on “to comprehend with all saints, what is the length and breadth and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge.” And be filled more and more “with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19)…

Reason Two:
I cannot desist from preaching the doctrine of sanctification, and from testifying to my own experience of it, for the very same reasons that you [my brethren] cannot desist from preaching the doctrine of regeneration [the new birth], and testifying to your own experience of that.

Suppose you were to insist that, “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), but when asked whether you or any one else had enjoyed that blessing, should say, “By no means. It is an important and dangerous error for any man to think so; it never takes place till death.” How much influence would such preaching exert? How many would be born again through such instrumentality? You feel yourselves under necessity, therefore, on that subject, to maintain that regeneration is a matter of experience, and that you and many others do enjoy it.

But while you tell your people that they ought to be free from sin, and are wholly inexcusable for not being so, and while you pray that they may be redeemed from all iniquity, they know perfectly well that you have no expectation that it will take place while they live, and hence all your exhortations and prayers are wholly lost. Your people know, that you expect that they will live along in sin until death, and that while you exhort them to be free from sin, you show them no way by which they may become so, and maintain that it would be an important and dangerous error for them to expect to be so until they die. Hence, all your efforts for the sanctification of God’s professing people are rendered perfectly [null and void].

For myself, therefore, I feel bound to tell professing Christians, that there is a way whereby they may “cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1); that it may be done through the promises of God, which “are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 1:20)…

I can say to Christians, “This is the will of God even your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3). “God hath not called us to uncleanness but to holiness” (1 Thess 4:3). “God hath not called us to uncleanness but to holiness” (1 Thess 4:3). “God hath not called us to uncleanness but to holiness” (1 Thess 4:7), while you by your own principles are obliged to tell them, that they are shut up, in some measure at least, to a life of sin. Brethren, I cannot stand on such ground, and therefore I must disregard your admonition…

Reason Three:
I cannot regard your admonition [that I stop preaching sanctification], because those scriptures on which you rely as testimony that no Christian ever does so “abide in Christ as to sin no more.” Seem to me to have no bearing that way. Take for example, the single passage quoted in the report of your committee, and adopted by you as ample proof of the correctness of your views.

There is not just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not” (Eccl 7:20).

Let us apply this to the experience of Paul. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).

What arrogant, presumptuous language has Paul here used! He must have been puffed up with spiritual pride! Did he not know that the Bible expressly declares “there is not just a man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not”? How dare ye say, “I have fought a good fight”?

But suppose Paul were allowed to step forth in his own defense, and taking the ground ascribed to him by those who regard the doctrine of entire sanctification by a faith in Christ as “an important and dangerous error”, should begin to say, “I acknowledge that there is much sin in my heart, and that my best actions are defiled with it, but still I think I have had some love to God, some desire to glorify Him by doing His will, some readiness to spend and be spent in His service, and laboured for the advancement of His cause.” We may come forward still and say, Paul, you are certainly mistaken; you think of yourself more highly than you ought to think; for it is a positive undeniable declaration of God’s own word, that “there is not just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not,” and therefore, Paul, your assumption that there is any good thing in you is forever silenced…

The truth is this, there is a large class of scripture texts which are designed to set for the truth that by nature and by practice until regeneration [the new birth], all mankind are “evil, only evil, and that continually” (Gen 6:5). But “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away, and all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17). The character of such a one is precisely what was not before; and those passages of scriptures which described his character before, cannot describe it now. Consequently we find that the scriptures used to describe the two characters, stand in direct opposition to each other.

Accordingly, while it is said that “there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Eccl 7:20), it is also said, that those who were some time “alienated and enemies in their minds by wicked works” shall be presented “holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight, if they continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col 1:21-23), that in fulfillment of the oath of God through Christ, their horn of salvation, it shall be granted them, “that they being delivered out of the hand of their enemies may serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of their lives” (Luke 1:74-75). That those who “abide in Christ sin not” (1 John 3:6), and that “He who hath called them is faithful to sanctify them wholly, and to preserve their whole spirit, and soul and body, blameless, unto the coming of Christ.” (1 Thess 5:23). “All the promises of God pledging their sanctification, are yea and amen in Christ unto the glory of God by them” (2 Cor 1:20), and when they believe in Christ for the fulfillment of these promises, they cannot fail…In the nature of the case, what is true of the one class, cannot be true of the other, for they are designedly set forth in the Bible as perfect opposites…

Reason Four:
I will now state one more reason, why I cannot give heed to your admonition [to stop preaching sanctification], and then I shall have done.

There is a dying bed a little before me, and a judgment seat where I expect to stand and give account [in the judgment] for all the actions of my life.

Can I tell the people of God that they have no Saviour from sin during their whole lives; that live as long as they may, and labor as hard as they may to find out the path of life, and pray as fervently as they may, and trust in their Saviour for the fulfillment of the promises as fully as they may, they are doomed hopelessly to sin more or less against the Redeemer they love, even to their dying hour; that all their cries and struggles for help are vain, and that they must be, to some extent rebels against the heart of infinite love, until the grim monster death appears for their deliverance?...

And now, brethren, I am done. I cannot, for the reasons I have named, and in view of my final account, I dare not, listen to your admonition for a moment. With my name you must do what you think right before God, and in view of an approaching judgment. I have no further defense to make…

That I hold the doctrine which you call important and dangerous error, and believe it to be the brightest glory of my bleeding Saviour’s gospel, is true: and I know that, if you knew the blessedness of trusting fully in Christ as your Redeemer from all iniquity, there is not a man of you, who would not choose that his tongue should perish, rather than be used to pronounce such a doctrine importantly and dangerously erroneous…

Now may the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.(Heb 12:21-22).

Yours in the gospel,

C. Fitch


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