My early religious experience was variable, and for the most part consisted in,
“Sorrows and sins, and doubts and fears,
A howling wilderness.”
The personality of the Holy Spirit was an article of faith rather than a joyful realization. He had breathed life into me, but not the more abundant life. I was free from the guilt and dominion of sin, but not from strong inward tendencies thereto, which seemed to be part of my nature. In my early ministry, being hereditarily a Methodist in doctrine, I believed in the possibility that entire sanctification can be received instantaneously in this present life. How could I doubt it in the light of my mother’s exemplification of its reality? I sought it quite earnestly at times, but failed to find anything more than transient uplifts from the deadness of my Christian experience. One of these uplifts was so marked that it delivered me from doubts on the question of regeneration. These uplifts came when I earnestly sought entire sanctification as a distinct blessing, but when I embraced the theory that entire sanctification is gradual rather than instantaneous, these blessed uplifts ceased; for, seeing no definite line to cross, my faith ceased to put forth its strongest energies. I was in this condition for fifteen years, and I was exceedingly dissatisfied and spiritually hungry.
As I studied the Bible, I saw that the promised gift of the Holy Spirit signified far more than I had realized in the new birth, and that a personal “Pentecost” was waiting for me, and I earnestly sought it. The Holy Spirit showed me the evil that lurked in my human nature, such as preaching with mixed motives, and often preferring the honor that comes from men instead of the honor that comes from God.
I submitted to every test presented to me by the Holy Spirit, and publicly confessed what He had revealed. I was determined to walk alone with God rather than with the multitude in the world or in the Church. I immediately felt a strange freedom that increased daily, the cause of which I did not distinctly understand. I was led to seek the conscious and joyful presence of the Holy Spirit in my heart. Having settled the question that this was not just an apostolic blessing, but one that is for all ages, I laid hold of the promise, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John 16:23). For me, that word “verily” had all the strength of an oath. I wrote my name in that promise, not to exclude others, but to be sure that I included myself. I also wrote these words: “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). I found that my faith had three points to master: (1) the Holy Spirit, (2) for me, (3) now. I placed my faith in that promise and I claimed the Spirit as my right in the Name of Jesus. For several hours I clung to that promise by naked faith, praying and repeating Charles Wesley’s hymn,
“Jesus, thine all victorious love,
Shed in my heart abroad.”
I thought about the great facts of the life of Christ. I dwelt especially upon Gethsemane and Calvary, His ascension, His priesthood, and His atoning sacrifice. I suddenly became conscious of a mysterious power exerting itself upon my sensibilities. Though I am not of a nervous temperament, in good health, and I was alone and calm, my physical sensations were indescribable, as if an electric current passed through my body with painless shocks, melting my whole being into a fiery stream of love. The Son of God stood before my spiritual eyes in all His loveliness, and I realized for the first time “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” My reputation, friends, family and property all disappeared when eclipsed by the brightness of His manifestation. He seemed to say, “I have come to stay,” yet there was no uttered word or apparition. It was not a trance or a vision; my affections were the sphere of this wonderful phenomenon, best described as the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit. It seemed as if the attraction of Jesus was so strong that it would draw my spirit out of my body and upward into heaven. How vivid and real was all this to me! I was more certain that God loved me than I was of the earth and sun’s existence. I intuitively apprehended Christ, and the certainty of that apprehension has lost none of its strength and sweetness after more than seventeen years; in fact, it has become more real and blissful. I did not realize at first that this was entire sanctification. The positive part of my experience had eclipsed the negative: the elimination of the sin principle by the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit.
After seventeen years of life’s various experiences — in the trials and tribulations of life, in sickness and in health, at home and abroad, in honor and dishonor, in tests of exceeding severity, there has come up from the depths of my conscious or unconscious being nothing bearing the ugly features of sin. All that time Satan’s fiery darts had been thickly flying, but they fell harmlessly upon the invisible shield of faith in Jesus Christ.
In regard to the process of becoming established in holiness, the rule is: (1) an ever increasing faith in Christ (the heart being fertilized with the things that pertain to faith), (2) a knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and (3) a conscience that is trained to avoid not merely sinful and doubtful acts, but also those acts whose moral quality is beyond the reach of all ethical rules, and known to be evil only by their effect in dimming the manifestation of Christ within. I find that this rule must be sufficiently delicate enough to exclude those acts that bring the least blur over the spiritual eye. If any act disturbs my inner peace, be it ever so slightly, I give it a tremendous letting alone.
I have found the willingness to confess Christ in His uttermost salvation as being indispensable to the establishment of that perfect love, which casts out all fear. As no man could long keep sensitive guests in his house of whom he was ashamed before his neighbors, so no man can have for very long the company of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the temple of his heart while ashamed of their presence or their purifying work.
I testify that it is possible for believers to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that they can live many years in being conscious every day of a fitness for the inheritance of the saints in light, and ready for an instant translation into the society of the holy angels and into the presence of the holy God; and no shrinking back because of a heartfelt need of further inward cleansing. Yet I am still conscious of errors, ignorance, infirmities and defects, which, though consistent with perfect loyalty and love to God, need, and by faith receive, every moment, the merits of Christ’s death. In other words, the ground of my standing before God is not in a past perfect righteousness, neither in a faultless present service, but in the mercy of God as administered through Jesus Christ. Hence I pray daily, “Forgive us our debts.”
Taken from the book Forty Witnesses, revised and condensed.
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