“MAKE me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.” This was the prayer of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the saintly minister of Christ in Dundee 160 years ago. To aim for and seek holiness is the activity of true Christians. Because holiness is freedom from sin, they will pray for pardon and purity. Because holiness is dedication to God and separation from the world, they will seek grace to serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear, and to keep themselves unspotted from the world.
It was to all the people in Israel, not just the godly, that God said, “Ye shall therefore be holy; for I am holy.” If all are to be holy, much more must every one who professes the name of Christ depart from iniquity and strive for holiness. And among believers those who are teachers of the truth must be exemplary in piety. Faithful ministers will seek to attain to that piety and encourage other ministers to do so also.
A minister who wishes to speak to others about ministerial holiness should be conscious of his own shortcomings, and should say with Gardiner Spring, “There is no topic on which the writer addresses his brethren in the ministry, either young or old, with more reluctance and shamefacedness. . .” (The Power of the Pulpit, p. 145). That minister ought to feel keenly his own need of holiness, and seek to say with Paul, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after.”
Outstanding personal piety in a minister is of primary importance if he is to be, as Timothy was advised: “an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity”, and if his ministry is to be profitable. It is not without significance that the first lecture which C. H. Spurgeon gave each session to the students in his Pastors’ College was on “The Minister’s Self-Watch”. He says in that lecture, “We must cultivate the highest degree of godliness because our work imperatively requires it.” The measure of good done by a minister will be according to the measure of his godliness.
Under the conviction that usefulness in the ministry is proportionate to holiness in the minister, M’Cheyne addressed a newly ordained minister thus: “Oh, study universal holiness of life! Your whole usefulness depends on this. Your sermon on Sabbath lasts but an hour or two, your life preaches all the week. Remember, ministers are standard-bearers. Satan aims his fiery darts at them. If only he can make you a covetous minister, or a lover of pleasure, or a lover of praise, or a lover of good eating, then he has ruined your ministry for ever. . . Dear brother, cast yourself at the feet of Christ, and implore His Spirit to make you a holy man.”
Without holiness, a man cannot be an effective soldier in the war against Satan’s kingdom. M’Cheyne, in writing to his brother minister W. C. Burns, said, “I am also deepened in my conviction that if we are to be instruments in such a work, we must be purified from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” To another minister he wrote, “Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
The true servant of the Master therefore strenuously endeavours to obey the Divine requirement, “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.” It is his prayerful desire to be obedient to the Biblical exhortation, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” How deplorable it is, and what a reproach to the Christian religion, when a man who claims to be a minister of Christ is seen arm in arm with the world, participating in its sinful pleasures, compromising with its proposals, and showing in other ways that the spirit of the world and not of Christ governs his attitudes and actions. Separation from the world is an essential prerequisite to being fit for the Master’s use. The call of God is “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.”
A minister finds it encouraging, in striving to be fit for the Master’s use, that the word of the Master is, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” To be holy is a duty, for God commands us: “Be ye holy for I am holy.” But holiness is also a grace the result of the work of the Spirit of God. Therefore the genuine servant of the Master will continually look to God, being glad that the Word of God says, “It is God who worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure.” And he will also attend to the Apostolic exhortation: “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”
As he seeks to do so he will be painfully aware of his sins and failures, but how comforting these precious Scripture truths are calculated to be: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous,” and, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.”