The Dangers Of The Holiness Movement – Dr Harry Ironside

The following is part of the testimony of Dr Harry Ironside regarding the holiness movement and doctrines such as the “second blessing”. The complete testimony can be read here:

As nearly as I can now recollect, I was in the enjoyment of the knowledge of God’s salvation about a month when, in some dispute with my brother, who was younger than I, my temper suddenly escaped control, and in an angry passion I struck and felled him to the ground. Horror immediately filled my soul. I needed not his sarcastic taunt, “Well, you are a nice Christian! You’d better go down to the Army and tell what a saint you’ve become!” to send me to my room in anguish of heart to confess my sin to God in shame and bitter sorrow, as afterwards frankly to my brother, who generously forgave me.

From this time on mine was an “up-and-down experience,” to use a term often heard in “testimony meetings.” I longed for perfect victory over the lusts and desires of the flesh. Yet I seemed to have more trouble with evil thoughts and unholy propensities than I had ever known before. For a long time I kept these conflicts hidden, and known only to God and to myself.

But after some eight or ten months, I became interested in what were called “holiness meetings,” held weekly in the “Army” hall, and also in a mission I sometimes attended.

 At these gatherings an experience was spoken of which I felt was just what I needed. It was designated by various terms:

“The Second Blessing”; “Sanctification”; “Perfect Love”; “Higher Life”; “Cleansing from Inbred Sin”;

Substantially, the teaching was this:

When converted, God graciously forgives all sins committed up to the time when one repents. But the believer is then placed in a lifelong probation, during which he may at any time forfeit his justification and peace with God if he falls into sin from which he does not repent.

In order, therefore, to maintain himself in a saved condition, he needs a further work of grace called sanctification:

This work has to do with sin the root, as justification had to do with sins the fruit.



The steps leading up to this second blessing are, firstly, conviction as to the need of holiness (just as in the beginning there was conviction of the need of salvation).

Secondly, a full surrender to God, or the laying of every hope, prospect and possession on the altar of consecration; thirdly, to claim in faith the incoming of the Holy Spirit as a refining fire to burn out all inbred sin, thus destroying in to every lust and passion, leaving the soul perfect in love and as pure as un-fallen Adam.

One lady told how for forty years she had been kept from sin in thought, word, and deed. Her heart, she declared, was no longer “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” but was as holy as the courts of heaven, since the blood of Christ has washed away the last remains inbred sin. Others spoke in a similar way, though their experiences were much briefer. Bad tempers had been rooted out when a full surrender was made.

 Evil propensities and unholy appetites had been instantly destroyed when holiness was claimed by faith.

Eagerly I began to seek this precious boon of holiness in the flesh. Earnestly I prayed for this Adamic sinlessness. I asked God to reveal to me every unholy thing, that I might truly surrender all to Him. I gave up friends, pursuits, pleasures – everything I could think of that might hinder the incoming of the Holy Ghost and the consequent blessing. I did not, however, obtain what I sought, though I prayed zealously for weeks.

At last, one Saturday night I determined to go out into the country and wait on God, not returning till I had received the blessing of perfect love. Falling on my knees beneath a sycamore tree, I prayed in an agony for hours, beseeching God to show me anything that hindered my reception of the blessing. I struggled against conviction, but finally ended by crying, “Lord, I give up all–everything, every person, every enjoyment, that would hinder my living alone for Thee. Now give me, I pray Thee, the blessing!”

As I look back, I believe I was fully surrendered to the will of God at that moment, so far as I understood it. But my brain and nerves were unstrung by the long midnight vigil and the intense anxiety of previous months, and I fell almost fainting to the ground. Then a holy ecstasy seemed to thrill all my being.

My troubles were all ended now. The wilderness was past, and I was in Canaan, feeding on the old corn of the land. Nevermore should I be troubled by inward drawings toward sin. My heart was pure. I had reached the desirable state of full sanctification. With no foe within, I could direct all my energies toward vanquishing the enemies without.

 This was what I thought. Alas, how little did I know myself; much less the mind of God!

For some weeks after the eventful experience before described, I lived in a dreamily-happy state, rejoicing in my fancied sinlessness. One great idea had possession of my mind; and whether at work or in my leisure hours, I thought of little else than the wonderful event which had taken place. But gradually I began to “come back to earth,” as it were. I was now employed in a photographic studio, where I associated with people of various tastes and habits, some of whom ridiculed, some tolerated, and others sympathized with, my radical views on things religious.

Night after night I attended the meetings, speaking on the street and indoors, and I soon noticed (and doubtless others did too) that a change came over my “testimonies.” Before, I had always held up Christ, and pointed the lost to Him. Now, almost imperceptibly, my own experience became my theme, and I held up myself as a striking example of consecration and holiness!

This was the prevailing characteristic of the brief addresses made by most of the “advanced” Christians in our company. The youngest in grace magnified Christ. The “sanctified” magnified themselves.

A favorite song will make this more manifest than any words of mine. It is still widely used in Army meetings, and finds a place in their song or hymnbooks. I give only one verse as a specimen:

The people I know don’t live holy;
 They battle with unconquered sin,


Not daring to consecrate fully,
 Or they full salvation would win.


With malice they have constant trouble,
 From doubting they long to be free;


With most things about them they grumble;
 Praise God, this is not so with ME!



The first ecstatic experiences seldom lasted long. The ecstasy departed, and the “sanctified” were very little different from their brethren who were supposed to be “only justified.” We did not commit overt acts of evil: therefore we were sinless.

Lust was not sin unless yielded to: so it was easy to go on testifying that all was right.

 My thoughts of sin, as well as of holiness, were very unformed and imperfect. Therefore it was easy, generally speaking, to think that I was living without the one, and manifesting the other. When doubts assailed, I treated them as temptations of the devil. If I became unmistakably conscious that I had actually sinned, I persuaded myself that at least it was not willful, but rather a mistake of the mind than an intentional error of the heart.

I did not dare open my heart to my assistants in the work, or to the “soldiers” who were under my guidance. To do so I felt would be to lose all influence with them and to be looked upon as a backslider. So, alone and in secret, I fought my battles and never went into a holiness meeting without persuading myself that now at least, I was fully surrendered and therefore must have the blessing of sanctification. Sometimes I called it entire consecration and felt easier. It did not seem to be claiming too much. I had no conception at the time of the hypocrisy of all this.

What made my distress more poignant was the knowledge that I was not the only sufferer. Another, one very dear to me, shared my doubts and anxieties from the same cause.And now I began to see what a string of derelicts this holiness teaching left in its train. I could count scores of persons who had gone into utter infidelity because of it. They always gave the same reason: “I tried it all. I found it a failure. So I concluded the Bible teaching was all a delusion, and religion was a mere matter of the emotions.” Many more (and I knew several such intimately) lapsed into insanity after floundering in the morass of this emotional religion for years and people said that studying the Bible had driven them crazy. How little they knew that it was lack of Bible knowledge that was accountable for their wretched mental state – an absolutely unscriptural use of isolated passages of Scripture!

I observed that the general state of “sanctified” people was as low, if not often lower, than that of those whom they contemptuously described as “only justified.” 

Finally, I could bear it no longer, so asked to be relieved from all active service, and at my own request was sent to the Beulah Home of Rest, near Oakland.

 

I had now been for over five years labouring in the organisation with which I had linked myself, and ever seeking to be certain that I had attained a sinless state. In some twelve different towns and cities I had served, as I thought, faithfully, endeavouring to reach the lost, and to make out of them staunch Salvationists when converted.

At last, it began to be clear to me that the holiness doctrine had a most baneful influence upon the movement. People who professed conversion (whether real or not the day will declare) struggled for months, even years, to reach a state of sinlessness which never was reached; and at last they gave up in despair and sank back in many instances to the dead level of the world around them. The standard set was the unattainable. The result was, sooner or later, utter discouragement, cunningly-concealed hypocrisy, or an unconscious lowering of the standard to suit the experience reached.

When I went to the Home of Rest, I had not yet fully given up seeking for perfection in the flesh. In the rest home I found about fourteen officers, broken in health, seeking recuperation. I watched the ways and conversation of all most carefully, intending to confide in those who gave the best evidence of entire sanctification. There were some choice souls among them, and some arrogant hypocrites. But holiness in the absolute sense I saw in none.

Deliverance came at last in a most unexpected way. A lassie-lieutenant, a woman some ten years my senior in age, was brought to the Home from Rock Springs, Wyoming, supposedly dying of consumption. From the first my heart went out to her in deep sympathy. To me she was a martyr, laying down her life for a needy world. I was much in her company, observed her closely, and finally came to the conclusion that she was the only wholly sanctified person in that place.

Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks after her arrival, she, with a companion, came to me one evening and begged me to read to her. In God’s providence a pamphlet caught my attention which my mother had given me some years before. Moved by a sudden impulse, I drew it forth and said, “I’ll read this. It is not in accordance with our teaching; but it may be interesting anyway.” I read page after page, paying little attention, only hoping to soothe and quiet this dying woman. In it the lost condition of all men by nature was emphasized. Redemption in Christ through His death was explained.

I was startled after going over the first half of the book when Lieut. J–exclaimed, “O Captain, do you think that can possibly be true? If I could only believe that, I could die in peace!”

 Astonished beyond measure, I asked, “What! do you mean to say you could not die in peace as you are? You are justified and sanctified; you have an experience I have sought in vain for years; and are you troubled about dying?” “I am miserable,” she replied, “and you mustn’t say I am sanctified. I cannot get it. I have struggled for years, but I have not reached it yet. This is why I wanted to speak to you, for I felt so sure you had it and could help me!”

We looked at each other in amazement; and as the pathos and yet ludicrousness of it all burst upon us, I laughed deliriously, while she wept hysterically. Then I remember exclaiming, “Do you think,” she asked, “that it is because we depend upon our own efforts too much?Can it be that we trust Christ to save us, but we think we have to keep saved by our own faithfulness?” 

”But,” I broke in, “to think anything else would open the door to all kinds of sin!”

We saw that we had been looking WITHIN for holiness, instead of WITHOUT We realized that the same grace that had saved us at first alone could carry us on.

I can but praise Him for the matchless grace that gave me to see that perfect holiness and perfect love were to be found, not in me, but in Christ Jesus alone. 

And I have been learning all along my pilgrim journey that the more my heart is taken up with Christ, the more do I enjoy practical deliverance from sin’s power, and the more do I realize what it is to have the love of God shed abroad in that heart by the Holy Spirit given to me, as the Earnest of the glory to come. I have found liberty and joy since being freed from bondage that I never thought it possible for a soul to know on earth, while I have a confidence in presenting this precious truth for the acceptance of others that contrasts with the uncertainty of the past.

Grace a licence to sin? 

Sinning Willfully

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