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Progressive Meetness for Heaven

Category Book Excerpts
Date October 17, 2023

The following is excerpted from Help Heavenward: Guidance and Strength for the Christian’s Life Journey, by Octavius Winslow.

And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out
the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.
I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest
the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply
against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from
before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.
—Exod. 23:28-30

SANCTIFICATION, or heavenly meetness, is an initial work in the great process by which God prepares the soul for glory. Justification, that instantaneous act of his free grace by which the soul is brought into a state of divine acceptance, is a present and a complete work. The moment a believing sinner receives Christ and is clothed upon with his imputed righteousness, that moment he is in possession of the divine title-deed to the inheritance of the saints in light. Thus, justification, because it is an imputed, and sanctification, because it is an imparted act, though cognate doctrines, are distinct works and must not be considered as identical, as the Roman Catholics and many Protestants have done. By one act of faith in Christ we are justified; but it is by a gradual work of the Spirit that we are sanctified. It is a solemn declaration, ‘Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14). There is no vision of God either present or future, save through the medium of holiness. A holy God can only be seen with an enlightened and sanctified eye. The spiritual vision must be ‘anointed with eyesalve’. The divine Oculist must couch the moral cataract, must remove the film of sin, ignorance, and prejudice from the mental eye, ere one ray of divine holiness can dart in upon the retina of the soul. As one born blind cannot see the sun, so the soul morally blind cannot see God. Therefore our Lord said to Nicodemus, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ (John 3:3). He cannot see it, because he is not a subject of the new and second birth. We have remarked that this work of holiness is initiatory, and therefore not complete. It is real, but progressive; certain, but gradual; and although in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, God can fit the believer for heaven, it yet goes forward little and by little until it reaches the culminating point, and then the door of glory opens and receives to its bosom the soul fitted for its purity and bliss.

In supplying the reader with a few helps heavenward, we plant his feet upon one of the lowest rungs of the ladder, when we, at this early stage of our subject, direct his thoughts to progressive meetness for heaven. And we the more advisedly and earnestly do this because of the crude and imperfect views of heavenliness which many, especially young Christians, entertain, and in consequence of which are involved in much legality of mind and distress of soul. We have selected, as illustrating this important doctrine, an incident in the early settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. It was God’s arrangement that they should colonize the land amidst its many and idolatrous inhabitants; who, so far from sympathizing with their habits and worship, presented an antagonistic and formidable aspect: so that, while it was a land of rest and affluence, it was yet a scene of perpetual invasion and conflict, demanding on their part the watchful eye and the furbished weapon. Now the God who planted them in the promised land could as easily have exterminated their foes; but not so, for reasons which his wisdom would dictate and which his goodness would justify, he permitted the inhabitants to continue in possession, until, by a process gradual and progressive, Canaan should be decimated of its idolatrous population, and his own people should go up into its length and breadth and fully possess the land which the Lord their God gave them. ‘By little and little I will drive them out from before you’ (Exod. 23:30). How strikingly are the two cognate yet distinct doctrines of the glorious gospel—justification and sanctification—illustrated here. The planting of the children of Israel in Canaan illustrates the present justification of the Church of God; their protracted conquest of the land illustrates the gradual subjugation of the believer’s sinfulness to the supremacy of holiness, or, in other words, his progressive meetness for heaven.

Now let us trace more fully the analogy between this part of Israel’s history, and the spiritual experience of the Church of God and of every individual member of that Church. Oh that the divine Spirit may be our Teacher, his grace our anointing, Christ the first, the centre, and the last, and our advanced meetness for heaven the personal and happy result of our meditation upon this sacred truth! And if, child of God, heaven shall be brought nearer to your soul and your soul’s meetness for heaven be promoted, we shall thank our heavenly Father for this advanced step; and, strengthened and cheered, we shall seek another and yet another, and so ascend, until, reaching the highest rung, we find ourselves in heaven.

Canaan was a land of rest: it was that good land in which the Israelites were to terminate their long and wearisome march in sweet and delightsome repose. The moment a poor believing soul is brought to Jesus, he is brought to rest. ‘We which have believed do enter into rest’ (Heb. 4:3). The instant that he crosses the border that separates the covenant of works from the covenant of grace, the moment that he emerges from the wilderness of his doings and toil—his going about to establish a righteousness of his own—and enters believingly into Christ, he is at rest. The true Joshua has brought him into Canaan, has brought him to himself; and his long travelling, weary soul is at peace with God through Christ. ‘For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his’ (Heb. 4:10). Behold the rest! It is Jesus. His finished work, his blood and righteousness, his law-fulfilling obedience, and his justice-satisfying death, give perfect rest from guilt and condemnation and sorrow to him that simply enters, though it be but a border-touch of faith, into Jesus.

Oh, art thou a sin-burdened, a wilderness-wearied soul? Art thou seeking rest in the law, in convictions of sin, in pious duties, in churches and sacraments? Each one exclaims, ‘It is not in me!’ Turn from these, and bend your listening ear to the gentle voice of your gracious Saviour, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28). What wondrous words are these! Tell me not that you are too sinful and unworthy to come; that you are too vile to lay your head upon that sacred bosom; too guilty to bathe in that cleansing stream; too poor to clothe you in that divine righteousness. I reply, Jesus bids you come. Can you, dare you refuse? The instant that you cease to labour, and enter believingly, savingly into Christ, that instant you are safe within the City of Refuge, beyond the reach of sin, and condemnation, and the law’s curse, and the uplifted arm of the avenger of blood. ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom. 5:1). Note the present tense here: we have peace.

But notwithstanding this perfect state of pardon, justification, and rest, into which the believing soul is brought, is sin utterly and totally extirpated from his bosom? In other words, because forgiveness is complete and acceptance is complete, is sanctification complete? Far from it, beloved. It is a good land and a wealthy, a land of peace and rest, into which grace has led us, but it is, nevertheless, a land besieged by foes—for the Canaanites still dwell therein— and of consequent warfare. The believer has to fight his way to heaven. In the soul, in the centre of the very heart where perfect rest and peace are experienced, there dwell innate and powerful corruptions, ever invading our peaceful possessions, seeking to disturb our repose and to bring us into subjection. ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ (Rom. 7:24)

Observe, too, these inhabitants of the land interposed a powerful barrier between the Israelites and their full possession. They were at best but borderers. They had indeed passed the confines of the desert and pressed the soil of the promised land, but how small a portion of the vast territory did they as yet occupy! Far beyond them, stretching in luxuriant beauty, were vine-clad hills, and flowing rivers, acres of wheat and barley and pomegranates, fountains and depths that spring out of valleys which they had not as yet explored.

Is not this a picture of our spiritual state? How much interposes between us and our spiritual possessions! What keeps us from the ‘abundant entrance’ into the kingdom of grace, but our ever-present and ever sleepless enemy, unbelief? What prevents a more full and cordial acceptance of the righteousness of Christ, but a constant dealing with our own unrighteousness? What keeps us from enjoying more of heaven upon earth, but the too-absorbing influence of the world? What causes us to live so far below the privilege of our high vocation, dwarfs our Christianity, lowers our profession, shades the lustre and impairs the vigour of our holy religion, but the depravity, the corruption, the sin that dwells in us? These are the spiritual Canaanites which prevent our going up to possess the good land in its length and breadth. What an evidence this is, that though our Lord Jesus has put us into a state of present and complete acceptance, we have not as yet attained unto a state of perfect and future holiness—the Canaanites still dwell in the land! We are called to ‘fight the good fight of faith’ (1 Tim. 6:12). Not only do we war with flesh and blood, but we wrestle ‘against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’ (Eph. 6:12).

But why should this thwart our advance? Why should the existence and ever-threatening attitude of our foes prevent us from living upon a full Christ, a present Christ, a loving Christ, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment? Clad in our invincible armour, why should we not carve our way through the serried ranks of our foes and penetrate into the heart of Canaan, pluck thence the grapes, gather the honey, drink of the fountains, and explore the hidden things which God has treasured for us in the covenant of grace, in the fulness of our Surety Head, in the infinite greatness of his own love, and in the unsearchable riches of his gospel, his revealed truth? Oh, how much of the good land remains yet to be possessed! Truly, ‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him’ (1 Cor. 2:9). Well might the grateful psalmist exclaim, and each believer in Jesus respond, ‘O how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee’ (Psa. 31:19)!

There is one view of this truth exceedingly helpful to Zion’s travellers; we refer to the fact that God is never unmindful of the trying and critical position of his people, dwelling in the midst of their enemies, and their enemies dwelling in the midst of them. He knows all your corruptions, your infirmities, your besetting sin, weakness, and frailty. He has, too, his unslumbering eye upon all the stratagems and assaults of Satan, never for an instant losing sight of or ceasing to control and check this subtle and sleepless foe. Never does thy Lord forget that the body he has redeemed is yet a ‘body of sin and death’ and that the soul he has ransomed with his most precious blood is still the seat of principles, passions, and thoughts inimical to its perfect holiness and ever seeking to subjugate it to the body. Did not Jesus recognize this truth when he said to his disciples, ‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves’ (Matt. 10:16)? What expressive words! Sheep in the midst of wolves! Who can save them? The Shepherd who gave his life for them, the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’—he will keep, shield, and preserve them. Oh, take the encouragement and comfort which this truth gives, that your Lord knows your exposure to and your conflict with the enemies of the land! You have on your side, allied with you in this spiritual warfare, his loving heart, his watchful eye, his outstretched arm, and all his legions of angels sent forth to encircle you with chariots of fire. Ah! the world may taunt you with your infirmities, the saints may chide you for your haltings, your own heart may condemn you for its secret declensions, but God, your Father, is very sympathetic and remembers that you are dust; and Jesus, your Advocate, is very compassionate and prays for you within the veil. The saints judge, the world censures, the heart is self-abased; but Christ says, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more’ (John 8:11).

But we have the promise of conquest. God assured the Israelites that he would drive out the Canaanites from before them. Have we an assurance less emphatic or a hope less joyous? What is the promise of this, which appears one of the brightest constellations in the glorious galaxy of the ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ of God (2 Pet. 1:4)? It is, ‘He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea’ (Mic. 7:19). What a largess, what an accumulation of blessings, what blest encouragement and heart-cheer to the downcast traveller! ‘He will turn again.’ Again! He has turned his loving eye, his outstretched hand, a thousand times over; what! will he ‘turn again’? After all my baseness and ingratitude; my sins without confession; my confession without repentance; my repentance without forsaking; my forsakings so reluctant, so partial, and so short—what! will he turn to me again, bend upon me once more that loving eye, that forgiving look, that dissolves my heart at his feet? Oh, who is a God like unto thee? And when he turns again, what will he do? He will drive out the Canaanites from before us. In other words, ‘He will subdue our iniquities’. What encouragement this is to fall down at his feet—the feet that never spurned a humble suppliant—and cry with his people of old, ‘Lord, we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee’ (2 Chron. 20:12). With such faith and such an appeal, what sin will not God pardon, what iniquity will not Christ subdue, against what confederate host will not the Spirit of the Lord lift up a standard?

But let us not mistake our true position in this holy contest. It is both aggressive and defensive. The children of Israel were not to allow the inhabitants of the land to remain intact. They were to go up armed and drive back the foe. Thus is it with us. When our Lord, the ‘Prince of peace’, commanded, ‘He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one’ (Luke 22:36), he doubtless intended that as significant for the spiritual conflict in which they were to be engaged; for the temporal sword he never authorized in defence or propagation of his truth. We are to be aggressive upon the territory of sin and of error, of ignorance and of the world. To these confederate hosts— the Canaanites of the church—we are to present a bold, united, antagonistic front. The Bible nowhere ignores, but on the contrary, everywhere recognizes, the individual responsibility of the Christian. What means the exhortation, ‘Put on the whole armour of God’ (Eph. 6:11)? What means the injunction, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12)? What but that, dwelling in an enemy’s land—the Canaanite, and the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, all combined against us—we are to ‘resist unto blood, striving against sin’, and ‘to fight the good fight of faith’, to ‘keep the body under, and bring it into subjection’, to ‘overcome the world’, to ‘resist the devil’, to ‘keep ourselves in the love of God’ and ‘having done all, to stand’ with girded loins, waiting and watching for the coming of our Captain. O child of God, be not cast down and discouraged in this holy war! The Lord, he it is that fights for you. By prayer, by vigilance, by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, by keeping out of temptation, by doubling the picket where you are the most exposed to the invasion of the foe, above all, by bearing your conflicts to Christ, linking your weakness with his strength, your infirmity with his grace, the erring of your heart, the faltering of your feet, the hidden conflict of your mind and will with evil, to his most tender, most reasonable, most forgiving love; thus will he teach your hands to war and your fingers to fight, and thus shall you exclaim, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Phil. 4:13).

We have arrived now at a deeply interesting and instructive part of this chapter, the progressive meetness of the believer for heaven. ‘By little and little I will drive them out from before thee’. If it so pleased him, God could as instantaneously mature our sanctification as he perfects our justification. By one stroke of his arm he could have extirpated the idolatrous inhabitants of Canaan and have caused his flock to lie down in quiet places. But it was his wisdom, love, and glory that they should be driven out ‘by little and little’. We must resolve the circumstance of God’s permissive will touching the indwelling of sin in the believer into the same view of his character. His wisdom appoints it; his will permits it; his love controls it. Where would be the display of his grace and power in the soul as it is now exhibited in the daily life of a child of God, but for the existence of a nature partially sanctified? How little should we learn of the mysteries of the life of faith, how imperfectly skilled in the heavenly war, how stagnant the well of living water within us, how dwarfed and paralyzed every grace of the soul, how partial our knowledge of God, how little our acquaintance with Christ, how small a measure of the indwelling power of the Holy Ghost, how little holy wrestling with the Angel of the Covenant, how faint the incense of prayer, and how distant and dim an object to our spiritual vision the cross of Christ, but for the gradual subduing of our iniquities, the driving from before us ‘by little and little’ our corruptions, the progressive advance of the soul in its holy, sanctified meetness for heaven!

Yes, it is ‘by little and little’ this holy work is done. Here the power of sin is weakened, there the spell of a temptation is broken; here an advancing foe is foiled, there a deep-laid plot is discovered; and thus ‘by little and little’, by a gradual process, aggressive and defensive, of spiritual encounter and extermination, the spiritual Canaanites are subdued and the soul becomes ‘meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light’ (Col. 1:12).

The subject presented in this chapter is replete with instruction, encouragement, and help heavenward. Many of the Lord’s people are looking for the full, the complete sanctification which the Lord has not appointed here and which is only attained when the last bond of corruption is severed. The more deeply the children of Israel explored the good land, the more intelligently and experimentally they became acquainted with the number and power of their enemies. Thus it is we are taught. Ignorance of our own heart, a false idea of the strength of our corruption, a blind, undue estimate of the number and tact of our indwelling sins, is not favourable to our growth in holiness. But the Holy Spirit leads us deeper and deeper into self-knowledge, shows us more and more of the hidden evil, unveils by little and little the chamber of imagery, teaches us ‘line upon line; here a little, and there a little’ (Isa. 28:10); and thus, by a gradual and progressive process, we are made meet for glory.

Are you, beloved reader, like the children of Israel, conscious of impoverishment by the marauding incursions of the enemy? Then, do as they did, cry unto the Lord. Thus we read, ‘And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the Lord’ (Judg. 6:6). Oh, besiege the throne of grace, and your foes shall be driven back! Cry mightily unto Jesus, your Commander and Leader, the Captain of your salvation, and he will defeat their plots and deliver you from their power. Tell him that you hate sin and loathe yourselves because of its existence and taint. Tell him you long to be holy, pant to be delivered from the last remnant of corruption, and that the heavenly voice that bids you unclasp your wings and soar to a world of perfect purity will be the sweetest and the dearest that ever chimed upon your ear. O blessed moment! With what splendour has the hand of prophecy portrayed it before the eye: ‘In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and seethe therein: and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts’ (Zech. 14:20-21).

O blessed day when all false doctrine, and all superstitious worship, and all indwelling sin, and all worldly temptation, and all self-seeking, and iniquity of every name, and sorrow of every form, shall be utterly exterminated, and holiness to the Lord shall hallow every enjoyment and consecrate every thing, and enshrine every being! Speed, oh speed the day, blessed Redeemer, when every throb of my heart, and every faculty of my mind, and every power of my soul and every aspiration of my lips, and every glance of my eye, yea, every thought and word and deed, shall be holiness to the Lord! Oh, precious day of God, when will it arrive?

Shall the lover of Jesus be indeed delivered from all false pastors, all corrupt worship, and the Lord have turned to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent? Shall my soul indeed be freed, not only from all the sorrows, pains, evils, and afflictions of sin around me, but, what is infinitely better than all, from the very being and indwelling of sin within me? Shall the fountain of corruption, both of original and actual sin, be dried up, so that I shall never think a vain thought, nor speak an idle, sinful word any more? Is there such a day in which the Canaanites shall be wholly driven out? Oh, blessed, precious, precious promise! Oh, dearest Jesus, to what a blessed state hast thou begotten poor sinners of the earth by thy blood and righteousness! Hasten it, Lord. Cut short thy work, thou that art mighty to save, and take thy willing captive home from myself, and all the remaining Canaanites yet in the land, which are the very tyrants of my soul. Welcome, oh welcome, beloved, every circumstance, every dispensation, every trial that speeds you homeward and matures your soul for the heaven of glory Christ has gone to prepare for you! It is ‘by little and by little’, not all at once, that believers fight the battle and obtain the victory: ‘They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God’ (Psa. 84:7). Your path to glory shall be as the light, shining with ever-growing, ever-deepening, ever-brightening lustre of truth, grace, and holiness, until you find yourself lost amidst the splendours of a perfect and eternal day! Onward, traveller, onward! From an earthly, you are passing to a heavenly Canaan, in which no foe enters and from which no friend departs, where eternity will be prolonged, as time began, in a paradise of perfect purity and love, amidst whose verdant bowers lurks no subtle serpent and along whose sylvan windings treads no ensnaring Eve. Shudder not to pass the Jordan that divides the earthly from the heavenly Canaan. The Ark of the Covenant will go before you, upborne upon the shoulder of your great High Priest, cleaving the waters as you pass and conducting you, gently, softly, and triumphantly, home to God.

I saw an aged pilgrim,
Whose toilsome march was o’er,
With slow and painful footstep
Approaching Jordan’s shore:
He first his dusty vestment
And sandals cast aside,
Then, with an air of transport,
Enter’d the swelling tide.

I thought to see him shudder,
As cold the waters rose,
And fear’d lest o’er him, surging,
The murky stream should close;
But calmly and unshrinking,
The billowy path he trod,
And cheer’d with Jesus’ presence,
Pass’d o’er the raging flood.

On yonder shore to greet him,
I saw a shining throng;
Some just begun their praising,
Some had been praising long;
With joy they bade him welcome,
And struck their harps again,
While through the heavenly arches
Peal’d the triumphal strain.

Now in a robe of glory,
And with a starry crown,
I see the weary pilgrim
With kings and priests sit down;
With prophets, patriarchs, martyrs,
And saints, a countless throng,
He chants his great deliverance,
In never-ceasing song.


Featured Photo by Earl Wilcox on Unsplash

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