by H. A. Ironside
WE must now notice, somewhat at length, what is practically the only remaining proof text for the theory we have been examining-that of perfection in the flesh. We turn to 1 John 3.
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law [or, doeth lawlessness; lit. trans.]; for sin is the transgression of the law [or, sin is lawlessness]. And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. in this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (vers. 4-10).
Let the reader note well two points at the outset: First, This passage speaks of what is characteristically true of all who are born of God. It does not contemplate any select, advanced coterie of Christians who have gone on to perfection or obtained a second blessing. And it is folly to argue, as some hard-driven controversialists have done–insubject alike to Scripture and to reason–that only advanced believers, who have attained to holiness, are born of God, the rest being but begotten! This position is not tenable for a moment in view of the plain declaration in the same epistle that “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”
Second, If the passage proves that all sanctified Christians live absolutely without sinning, it proves too much; for it also tells us that “whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him.” Are the perfectionists prepared to own that if any of their number lose the “blessing” and fall away, it proves that they never did know God at all, but were hypocrites all the days of their former profession? If unwilling to take this attitude toward their failed brethren and to place themselves in the same category when they fall (as they all do eventually), they must logically confess that “committeth sin” and “sinneth not” are not to be taken in an absolute sense, as though the one expression were “falls into sin,” and the other, “never commits a sin.”
A little attention to the opening verses of chapter 2, which have already been noticed in our previous paper, would deliver from radicalism in the understanding of the passage now before us. There, the possibility of a believer failing and sinning is clearly taught, and the advocacy of Christ presented to keep him from despair. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” No interpretation of the balance of the epistle contradictory to this clear statement can possibly be correct.
John’s epistle is one of sharp contrasts. He deals in abstract statements. Light and darkness we have already seen contrasted. No blending of these is hinted at. John knows no twilight. Love and hatred are similarly contrasted throughout the epistle. Lukewarmness in affection is not here suggested. All are either cold or hot.
So it is with sin and righteousness. It is what is characteristic that is presented for our consideration. The believer is characteristically righteous: he does righteousness, and sinneth not: that is, the whole bent of his life is good; he practises righteousness, and consequently he does not practise sin. With the unbeliever the opposite is the case. He may do many good acts (if we think only of their effect upon and his attitude toward his fellowmen), but his life is characterized by sin. He makes sin a practice. In this are manifested who are of God, and who are of Satan.
The essence of sin is–not the transgression of the law, but “lawlessness.” No scholar questions now the incorrectness of the Authorized Version here. Sin is doing one’s own will-that is lawlessness. This was what marked every man till grace reached him. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). He, the sinless One, was manifested to free us from our sins–both as to guilt and power. “In Him is no sin.” Of none save Him could words like these rightfully be used. “The prince of this world cometh,” He said, “and hath nothing in Me.”
We who have been subdued by His grace and won for Himself no longer practise sin. To every truly converted soul sin is now a foreign and hateful thing. “Whosoever practiseth sin [literal rendering] hath not seen Him, neither known Him.” This verse must not be lightly passed by. It is as absolute as any other portion of the passage. No one who has ever known Him can go on practising sin with indifference. Backsliding there may be–and, alas, often is. But the backslider is one under the hand of God in government, and He loves him too well to permit him to continue the practice of sin. He uses the rod of discipline; and if that be not enough, cuts short his career and leaves the case for final settlement at the judgment-seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15; 11:30-32, and 2 Cor. 5:10).
The point of John’s teaching is that one who deliberately goes on in unrighteousness is not, and never has been, a child of God. He who is by faith united to the Righteous One is himself a righteous man. The one persistently practising sin is of the devil, “for the devil sinneth from the beginning”–the entire course of the evil one has been sinful and wicked.
The 9th verse gets down to the root of the matter, and should make all plain: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit [or practise] sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin [or, be sinning], because he is born of God.” It is the believer looked at as characterized by the new nature who does not sin. True, he still has the old carnal, Adamic nature; and if controlled by it, he would still be sinning simultaneously. But the new nature, imparted when he was born again, “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible,” is now the controlling factor of his life. With this incorruptible seed abiding in him, he cannot practise sin. He becomes like the One whose child he is.
The doctrine of the two natures is frequently stated and always implied in Scripture. If not grasped, the mind must ever be in confusion as to the reasons for the conflict which every believer knows within himself, sooner or later.
This conflict is definitely declared to go on in every Christian, in Gal. 5:16, 17. After various exhortations, which are utterly meaningless if addressed to sinless men and women, we read, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust [or desire] of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth [or desireth] against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot [or might not] do the things that ye would.” The flesh here is not the body of the believer, but the carnal nature. It was so designated by the Lord Himself when He said to Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said, unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:6, 7). The two natures are there, as in Galntians, placed in sharp contrast. The flesh is ever opposed to the Spirit. The new nature is born of the Spirit, and controlled by the Spirit; hence it is described according to its character. Agreement between the two there can never be; nevertheless, there is no instruction as to how the flesh may be eliminated. The Christian is simply told to walk in the Spirit; and if he does, he will not be found fulfilling the desires of the flesh. This is the man who “sinneth not.”
The nature of the conflict is fully described in a typical case–probably the apostle’s own at one time–in Rom. 7, which has already been before us. The man therein depicted is undoubtedly r child of God, though many have questioned it. Some suppose him to be a Jew seeking justification by the law. But the subject of justification is all taken up and settled in the first five chapters of the epistle. From chapter 6 on, it is deliverance from sin’s power that is the theme. Moreover, the man of Rom. 7 “delights in the law of God after the inward man.” What unconverted soul could speak like this? The “inward man” is the new nature. No Christless soul delights in what is of God. The “inward man” is opposed to “another law in my members,” which can only be the power of the old nature, the flesh.
These two are here, as in John 3 and in Gal. 5, placed in sharp contrast. Paul is describing the inevitable conflict that every believer knows when he undertakes to lead a holy life on the principle of legality. He feels instinctively that the law is spiritual, but that he himself, for some unexplained reason, is fleshly, or carnal, in bondage to sin. This discovery is one of the most heart-breaking a Christian ever made. Yet each one must and does make it for himself at some time in his experience. He finds himself doing things he knows to be wrong, and which his inmost desires are opposed to; while what he yearns to do he fails to accomplish, and does, instead, what he hates.
But this is the first part of a great lesson which all must learn who would matriculate in God’s school. It is the lesson of “no confidence in the flesh”; and until it is learned there can be no true progress in holiness. The incorrigibility of the flesh must be realized before one is ready to turn altogether from self to Christ for sanctification, as he has already done for justification. Two conclusions are therefore drawn (in vers. 16, 17) as a result of carefully weighing the first part of this great lesson.
First, I consent that the law is good; and, in the second place, I begin to realize that I myself am on the side of that law, but there is a power within me, with which I have no desire to be identified, which keeps me from doing what I acknowledge to be good. Thus I have learned to distinguish “sin that dwelleth in me” from myself. It is a hateful intruder, albeit once my master in all things.
So I have got this far (in verse 18), that I know there are two natures in me; but still, “how to perform that which is good I find not.” Mere knowledge does not help. I still do the evil I hate, and I have no ability to do the good I desire. Nevertheless I am a long way toward my deliverance when i am able to distinguish the two laws, or controlling powers, of the two natures within my being.
After the inward man, I delight in the holy law of God. “But I see another law (or controlling power) in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (ver. 23).
So wretched am I made by repeated failure, that I feel like a poor prisoner chained to a dead body–which nevertheless has over me a terrible control. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” This is the cry that brings the help I need.
I have been trying to deliver myself. I now realize the impossibility of this, and I cry for a Deliverer outside myself. In a moment He is revealed to my soul, and I see that He alone, who saved me at the beginning, can keep me from sins power. “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He must be my sanctification as well as my redemption and my righteousness.
In myself, with the mind, or the new nature, I serve the law of God: but with the flesh, the old nature, the law of sin. But when I look away from self to Christ, I see that there is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (chap. 8:1, 2).
I will not therefore struggle to be holy. I will look up to the blessed Christ of God and walk in the Spirit, assured of victory while occupied thus with Him who is my all. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (vers. 3, 4).
What a relief it is, after the vain effort to eradicate sin from the flesh, when I learn that God has condemned it in the flesh, and will in His own good time free me from its presence, when at the Lords return He shall change these vile bodies and make them like His own glorious body. Then redemption will be complete. The redemption of my soul is past, and in it I rejoice. The redemption of my body is yet to come, when the Lord Jesus returns, and this mortal shall put on immortality.
For the present, walking in the Spirit, the believer sins not. His life is a righteous one. But he needs ever to watch and pray lest in a moment of spiritual drowsiness the old nature be allowed to act, and thus his testimony be marred and his Lord dishonored.
I conclude with an illustration often used, which may help to clear up any difficulty remaining as to the truth set forth in 1 John 3. A man has an orchard of seedling oranges. He wishes to grow Washington navels instead. He therefore decides to graft his trees. He cuts off all branches close to the parent stem and inserts in each one a piece taken from a Washington naval tree. The old fruit disappears entirely, and new fruit is now on the trees in keeping with the new nature of the Washington navel inserted in them. This is a picture of conversion.
A few years roll by and we are taken by this gentleman for a walk through his orchard. On every hand the trees are loaded with beautiful golden fruit.
“What kind of oranges are these?” we ask.
“These are all Washington navels,” is the answer.
“Do they not bear seedlings now?” we inquire.
“No,” is the reply; “a grafted tree cannot bear seedlings.”
But even as he speaks we catch sight of a small orange hanging on a shoot low down on the tree.
“What is that? is it not a seedling?” we ask.
“Ah,” he answers, “I see my man has been careless; he has allowed a shoot to grow from the old stem, and it is of the old nature of the tree. I must clip off that shoot;” and so saying, he uses the knife.
Would any one say he spoke untruthfully when he declared that a grafted tree bears Washington navels only? Surely not. All would understand that he was speaking of that which was characteristic.
And so it is with the believer. Having been born again, the old life, for him, is ended. The fruits of the flesh he is now ashamed of. The old ways he no longer walks in. His whole course of life is changed. The fruit of the Spirit is now manifested, and he cannot be sinning, for he is born of God.
But the pruning-knife of self-judgment is ever needed. Otherwise the old nature will begin to manifest itself; for it is no more eradicated than is the old nature of the seedling- tree after having been grafted. Hence the need of being ever in subjection to the word of God and of unsparing self-judgment. “Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation.” To deny the presence of the old nature is but to invite defeat. It would be like the orchardist who refuses to believe it possible that seedlings could he produced if shoots from the old trunk were allowed to grow on unchecked. The part of wisdom is to recognize the danger of neglecting the use of the pruning-knife. And so, for the believer, it is only folly to ignore that sin dwells in me. To do so is but to be deceived, and to expose myself to all manner of evil things because of my failure to recognize my need of daily dependence upon God. Only as I walk in the Spirit, looking unto Jesus in a self-judged and humble condition of soul, will my life be one of holiness.
“Whosoever Is Born Of God Doth Not Commit Sin”; or, THE BELIEVERS TWO NATURES by H. A. Ironside. Received from The Protestant Pulpit.
Meet the Author and part of your Christian heritage: Henry Allen “Harry” Ironside(October 14, 1876 – January 15, 1951) was a Canadian-American Bible teacher, preacher, theologian, pastor, and author.
ronside was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to John and Sophia (Stafford) Ironside, who were both active in the Plymouth Brethren. At birth, Harry was thought to be dead, so the attending nurses focused their attention on Sophia, who was dangerously ill. Only when a pulse was detected in Harry, 40 minutes later, was an attempt made to resuscitate the infant. When Harry was two years old, his father, John, died of typhoid, at the age of 27. From a very early age, Ironside showed a strong interest in evangelical Christianity and was active in the Salvation Army as a teenager before later joining the “Grant” section of the Plymouth Brethren.
The family then moved to Los Angeles, California, on December 12, 1886, and finding no Sunday school there for him to attend, Harry started his own at age 11. Gathering old burlap bags, Harry and his childhood friends sewed them together, producing a burlap tent that could accommodate up to 100 people. Unable to find an adult teacher, Ironside himself did the teaching, with attendance averaging 60 children—and a few adults—each week.
In 1888, well-known evangelist Dwight L. Moody preached at a campaign in Los Angeles, with meetings held at Hazard’s Pavilion, (later known as “Temple Pavilion”) which could seat up to 4,000. This inspired Ironside, who hoped to also be able to preach to such crowds one day. In 1889, after a visit from evangelist Donald Munro, Ironside became convinced that he was not “born again,” and so gave up preaching at his Sunday school, spending the next six months wrestling with this spiritual problem. After an evening of prayer, in February 1890, Ironside, at age 13, accepted Christ. As he is quoted as saying years later, “I rested on the Word of God and confessed Christ as my Savior.” Ironside then returned to preaching, winning his first convert. Though he was taunted at school, he was undeterred from his mission to win souls. Later that year, his mother remarried, to William D. Watson. Ironside graduated from the eighth grade, began working as a part-time cobbler, and decided he had enough education (he never attended school again, which he later regretted).
During the days, young Ironside worked full-time at a photography studio, and at night he preached at Salvation Army meetings, becoming known as the “boy preacher.” At age 16, he left the photography business and became a preacher full-time with the Salvation Army. Commissioned a Lieutenant in the Salvation Army, Ironside was soon preaching over 500 sermons a year around Southern California. At 18, the grueling schedule had taken its toll on his health, and Ironside resigned from the Salvation Army, entering the Beulah Rest Home to recuperate.
In 1896, at 20, he moved to San Francisco, becoming associated again with the Plymouth Brethren. While there, he began helping at British evangelist Henry Varley’s meetings, and there met pianist Helen Schofield, daughter of a Presbyterian pastor in Oakland, California. The two soon married. In 1898, Ironside’s mother died, and less than a year later, Harry and Helen’s first son, Edmond Henry was born. The family moved across the bay to Oakland, where Harry resumed a nightly preaching schedule. They resided there until 1929.
In 1903, Ironside accepted his first East Coast preaching invitation, but on returning, the family only had enough funds to make it as far as Salt Lake City, Utah, where he spent the next ten days doing street preaching. Just as the last of their money for a hotel ran out, they received an anonymous envelope with $15, enough to return to Oakland. In 1905, a second son, John Schofield Ironside, was born.
During this time, Ironside also began his career as a writer, publishing several Bible commentary pamphlets. In 1914, he rented a storefront and established the Western Book and Tract Company, which operated successfully until the depression in the late 1920s. From 1916 to 1929, Ironside preached almost 7,000 sermons to over 1.25 million listeners. In 1918, he was associated with evangelist George McPherson; and in 1924, Ironside began preaching under the direction of the Moody Bible Institute. In 1926, he was invited to a full-time faculty position at the Dallas Theological Seminary, which he turned down, although he was frequently a visiting lecturer there from 1925 to 1943. After a series of sermons presented at the The Moody Church, in Chicago, he was invited to a one-year trial as head pastor there in 1929. Almost every Sunday that he preached there, the four thousand seat church was filled to capacity. While there, he continued traveling to other US cities during the week for preaching engagements. In 1932, he expanded his travels internationally. Ironside preached at the 1935 funeral of Billy Sunday, at Moody Church. In 1938, he toured England, Scotland and Ireland, preaching 142 times to crowds of upwards of two thousand. In 1942, he also became president of the missionary organization, Africa Inland Mission.
In 1930, Wheaton College presented Ironside with an honorary Doctorate of Letters degree, and in 1942 Bob Jones University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.
Bob Jones, Jr., wrote that although Ironside was considered a dignified man, when one got to know him, “he had a terrific sense of humor. Nothing was more fun than to have a good meal in a home somewhere when Dr. Ironside was present. After he was full—he could eat a lot, and he ate faster than any man I ever saw, and his plate would be empty before everyone else got served—he would sit back, push his chair back from the table, and begin to tell funny stories and personal experiences.”
A few months after he and his wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, Helen died on May 1, 1948. Ironside resigned as pastor of Moody Church on May 30 and retired to Winona Lake, Indiana. On October 9, 1949, he married Annie Turner Hightower, of Thomaston, Georgia, who became his constant companion. He suffered from failing vision, and after surgery to restore it, he set out on November 2, 1950, for a preaching tour of New Zealand, once more among Brethren assemblies, but died in Cambridge, New Zealand, on Jan 15, 1951 and was buried there.