The Holiness Awakening
The decades of the sixties, seventies, and eighties of the last century witnessed a special revival of the doctrine of holiness, or sanctification. Sanctification was held as being a work of God’s grace wrought in the heart subsequent to pardon, and accomplishing for the individual, through consecration and faith in Christ, (1) restoration of the soul from innate depravity and uncleanness, the destruction of that carnal element which antagonizes the godly purpose of the soul, and (2) the infilling and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In short, it was the doctrine of Christian perfection, the state of loving God supremely and of living victorious over every form of sin.
This doctrine was nothing more nor less than one of the great Scriptural truths that had been obscured by the apostasy. It had been taught by the Wesleys, but through the denomination-building zeal of their followers it had become to a great extent a dead letter in their articles of faith. The bright spiritual lights of the world throughout the gospel dispensation were generally individual men and women who believed in and possessed the experience of sanctification; but now the time came, in the unfolding of God’s plan, for holiness to be given specific attention on a scale amounting to a general awakening in religious circles. The various Protestant sects had about reached the heyday of their deplorable rivalry, and it was but natural that the unifying influence of holiness, appearing in striking contrast to such rivalry, should appeal to all true Christians. The movement did indeed, as a rule, enlist the most spiritual members of the so-called churches.
This holiness awakening was a movement that should introduce a prophetic day. It was of God. It was not planned by human agency. Individuals here and there of the more earnest and spiritual class of Christians were led into the deeper experience altogether independent of each other. For some reason they felt impelled to give special emphasis to the doctrine of holiness. These tiny flames were by some unseen hand fanned into a great conflagration destined to sweep the country.
A few paragraphs from M. L. Haney’s The Inheritance Restored, published in 1880, are on this point.
A number of Christian farmers feel strangely moved to aid in the salvation of the perishing, and they plan a laymen’s camp meeting, in which the fires of holiness break out. This leads to the organization of a Laymen’s Holiness Association, and results in bringing many hundreds to the joys of pardoned sin and the experience of holiness. Three or four ministers are mutually impressed with the necessity of holding a holiness camp meeting. The seal of God’s approval of the service is so manifest that they are compelled to go farther. An association is formed for the purpose of holding a number of camp meetings for the promotion of holiness. The work enlarges till many earnest inquirers look to them for specific instruction on the subject of holiness. To meet this demand, and remain true to God, they are compelled to furnish these thirsting thousands with specific holiness literature. Thus the unexpected springing up of a monthly magazine, with books and tracts, all teaching the way of Christ’s cleansing blood.
One minister, comparatively illiterate, stands alone for years. He preaches, and prays, and testifies, and sings, and shouts, as here and there a soul is blood-washed through his ministry. He mourns the downward tendency, as the sympathy of his brethren seems ofttimes withdrawn; but at last God brings one of them to stand by his side. Another, and yet another is added, till God has bound three or four souls in bonds of perfect love. The obligation to disseminate the gospel of holiness among the people of God in all the churches leads them, after much prayer on the subject, to publish a paper which shall be the medium of instruction on the special doctrine of holiness. Without a dollar, or a subscription list, with nothing at the base but unshrinking faith in the God who leads, they launch a weekly paper. But God touches the heart of a wealthy layman, and gives him no peace till he pledges three thousand dollars for the support of that paper.
“God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.”* When God determined to break the chains of slavery he revealed to no man the time or methods of its accomplishment. In like manner, in the holiness movement, his faithful servants have gone “out, not knowing whither [they] went.” (Hebrews 11:8) The way has been so rugged at times that many have turned aside; but God has put two in the place of each faltering one, and the ranks of the holiness army are steadily increasing.
We call attention to the remarkable fact that the holiness work has sprung up simultaneously in different parts of the earth; in the east, in the west, in the north, and the south; in the old world, and in the new; among Arminians, and among Calvinists; in cities, in towns, and in country places; indicating an unseen hand and guiding power.
A mechanic, in Pennsylvania, receives a call from the chaplain of King William’s court to come to Germany and teach the church of Martin Luther the way of holiness, and four hundred learned ministers sit at the feet of a Presbyterian layman to learn of holiness in the city of Berlin. A young minister, whom God hath baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire, completely girds the earth with holy song, as he travels to regain his failing health.
One of Wesley’s mightiest sons is sent to the other side of the globe to receive this blessed experience, under the instruction of a Presbyterian minister. Suddenly an organized army springs up in Europe to spread holiness, and the power of Satan is broken by its advancing legions.
A number of holy men and women are compelled by their convictions to make the circuit of the earth, and are invited to preach, and sing, and testify to holiness in the shadow of the Vatican. Reader, who do you think has planned, and whose hand is guiding, this movement?
[Milton L. Haney; The Inheritance Restored]
The truth is, the holiness movement was a movement prophetically due at this time as the introduction to the great reformation (restoration) that now succeeds it, in which God’s people are not only embracing holiness, but are taking their stand free and complete in Christ, distinct from all humanly organized bodies called churches. The reader of church history will observe that the progress of Christianity has not been by gradual, steady increase of light and truth, but by reformation after reformation in which some special truth is emphasized and men’s hearts are stirred.
Among the early leaders of the movement in this country* were Dr. W. C. and Phoebe Palmer, of New York. Mrs. Palmer, especially, was prominent in this respect. She wrote a number of books on holiness and with her husband held meetings in various openings in the East and was otherwise very active in the cause. William Macdonald, John S. Inskip, Daniel Steele, and J. A. Wood were others who, both by preaching and the press, gave prominence to the doctrine of entire sanctification as a second, distinct work of grace. Holiness societies sprung up, books were written on the subject, periodicals were started, and holiness bands began to canvass the country. Well does the writer remember of seeing when a boy these holiness bands travel about the country in covered wagons. They carried a spiritual fire that caught in the hearts of the more fervent ones who, on the barren plains of sect religion, were seeking for a higher and better Christian experience. The activity on this line was not on the part of the various denominations, as such, but on the part of earnest Christians within the denominations.
Holiness, it must be remembered, is Scriptural, a part of God’s will to His children, and the movement must not be regarded as being something new, but as a revival of truth intended for man. Since the attainment of this distinct higher experience requires a perfect consecration, an entire abandonment, to God, it was but natural that the doctrine should be opposed by the pleasure-loving church members, those who were Christians only in name and did not care for any advancement or improvement of their spiritual status. These, of course, were greatly in the majority. The holiness advocates were at once opposed and often persecuted; but silently and surely, as leaven works in the meal, the holiness agitation increased and spread throughout the country. It was a very unwelcome and disturbing element among the cold professors. They said that sinlessness was not to be attained in this life; that we could not be sanctified till death; etc. But when shown by the Scriptures that it is indeed God’s will for Christians in this life, they would declare that it is attained by growth, or perhaps would say they had received it in conversion. They were opposed to having any further spiritual obligation placed upon them.
But it was not alone the advocacy of an advanced Christian attainment that might well make the holiness movement distasteful to sect devotees. Holiness is unifying. It makes Christians one, in accordance with our Savior’s prayer: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21) True holiness is destructive of divisional elements. That is why the advocates of holiness in the different denominations lost to a great extent their sectarian bigotry and could join together in holiness associations independent of their denominations. As a general thing the holiness editors and teachers spoke against sectarian divisions.
This brings us to the critical point. Would those espousing holiness dissolve their sect relations? Here is where many in the holiness movement compromised and would not follow in the onward march of truth out of all denominational confusion and into complete oneness in Christ. Instead, holiness associations urged and even required their members to maintain also a sect membership. They seemed to believe sects were a necessary evil and they opposed the idea of coming out of sects. This is as far as the majority in the holiness movement would go. They deplored sects, but seemed to think that to be outside of all sects would be to have no church relation at all. Had they walked in the light they would have comprehended the true body of Christ and been led out of sectarian entanglements; but failing to follow the true leading of God, they receded, and their holiness degenerated into what was mere sect holiness. To this day they have their holiness associations and their conventions, but fellowshipping as they do the sects and factions of almost every description, they are left to grope in their own darkness and confusion, still making an effort but accomplishing nothing toward Christian unity.
Their confusion on the church question is illustrated by the following quotation from the salutary address adopted by the General Holiness Assembly held in Chicago in May 1901:
In respect to the matter of church fellowship we observe that the church is the institution of Christ, having many members in one body, Himself being the living Head. He has redeemed it with His blood, and engraven it upon the palms of His hands. Membership therein is a precious privilege, and always to be highly esteemed. Wherever practical, every saved man and woman should be connected with some church.
The first two statements are clear in their reference to the true Christian church as the one body of saved people everywhere, redeemed by Christ’s blood. But when in the next breath they urge that “every saved man and woman should be connected with some church,” as if such were not already in the church through redemption by Christ’s blood, they are talking about something else, not the body of Christ. They perhaps do not realize their own blindness; but to the one who spiritually discerns the true church and its sufficiency for all the people of God, their confusion is very apparent.
The writer had an interview not long since with one of the holiness leaders who used to know D. S. Warner, and who still labors to bring about the unity of Christians through a holiness that respects sectarian divisions. This man was asked about the prospects for unity after so many years of effort. His reply, in which he complained of the bigotry existing among the denominations, was anything but encouraging. He seemed to have no knowledge of a way out of the trouble, and regarded the present true church movement as only a sect, or faction, saying that “a sect is any body of Christians joined together in the same belief,” etc.
“But suppose a number of persons come out from and leave the sects with which they have been connected, and stand only on the Bible, independent of sects—suppose they assemble together in a body; would they be a sect?” he was asked.
“Yes,” was his reply.
“Then what about the body of Christ itself, the whole, of which sects are regarded as cut-off factions—is that a sect?”
“Yes,” was his answer. And then, as if he could know nothing but sects, he referred to Paul as calling the Christians in his day a sect, and assumed to quote him thus: “For as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:22)
He was told that these words were not spoken by Paul, but by his opposers.
“Well,” said he, “I will look that up.”
Thus his conception of the subject makes the true church impossible. When men have been forty years in the ministry and in the holiness movement, and are just as far from discerning the church as when they started, and even suppose that Paul called the Christians a sect, how blinding and confusing must be the darkness in which they grope! Having failed to follow in God’s way when came the call, “Come out of her, my people,” (Revelation 18:4) they have been building with wood, hay, and stubble a structure that only awaits the consumption at the last day.
But not so all who were engaged in the holiness movement. God had a remnant whom He was leading entirely out of spiritual Babylon, who were returning to Zion over the highway of holiness, with singing and everlasting joy in their hearts. Holiness led them to the threshold of a brighter day, and they did not stop, but passed over. Keeping in the light they retained true holiness and all that God had given them. Thus, coming out of the holiness movement and embodying its true elements, is a movement that not only upholds holiness, but repudiates sectarianism and represents the true Christian unity that Christ prayed for. It holds and knows Christ as the only head of the body, and as complete, in all things, to the church.
It was through the workers in the holiness movement that Brother D. S. Warner was made to face squarely the issue of holiness. His rejection of holiness in his earlier ministry may have been because of its poor representation on the part of professors; or, in other words, because his introduction to it was not such as would cause him to think seriously of its claims. When he comprehended that it was the line on which God was particularly working, he was not slow in being led into the light and experience and becoming an ardent advocate of the doctrine. Meeting with opposition from the so-called church of God, to which he belonged, and finally being expelled from the West 0hio Eldership, his associations were to a great extent with the holiness bands and Societies. Among these he stood prominent.
Of the holiness editors who were contemporary with Brother Warner were John P. Brooks, of the Banner of Holiness, Bloomington, Illinois; George Hughes, of the Guide to Holiness, New York; Isaiah Reid, of the Highway, Nevada, Iowa; and T. K. Doty, of the Christian Harvester, Cleveland. There were also a number of others. Brother Warner himself came to be an editor and to have an acquaintance with nearly all the editors and prominent workers of his day.
As a delegate from Rome City, Indiana, he attended the Western Union Holiness Convention held at Jacksonville, Illinois, December 5-19, 1880. George D. Watson, who was a prominent holiness leader and author, was president of the convention. Brother Warner was appointed to the committee on program, serving with four others. He was slated for and delivered an address on the subject “The Kind of Power Needed to Carry the Holiness Work.”
At the close of the convention he was placed on a committee of seven to confer and decide relative to the calling of a future convention of holiness workers in the West, with authority to issue a call for such a meeting, if they deemed it necessary. Thus he stood prominent in the holiness movement.