The Cleansing of the Soul.

1 John 1:7  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
AT ANY of us have often heard this grand text read with particular stress laid on the last syllable of cleanseth. We can almost hear, even now, our would-be spiritual guide inviting us in earnest, reverent tones to observe the form of the verb. It is not in the past tense, says he, or it would be haft cleansed, nor is it in the future. Cleanseth, is the word, he adds, placing the weight of his voice once more on the final syllable—a continuous present, you see! The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. Then he goes on to tell us that daily, hourly, we need to be cleansed, that every fresh sin calls us to return and find fresh cleansing in that fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. And in speaking thus the dear man only voices what is commonly believed by the larger part of evangelical Christendom.
But is that the meaning of the passage? Scarcely. Indeed, we go further, and say that it cannot be. If there are any grounds for urging that "cleanseth" is a continuous present, which we beg leave to doubt, then the doctrine deduced is decidedly not the doctrine of the text, unless repeatedly and continuously mean the same thing. But do they? Suppose I say, For the last twenty-four hours it has rained repeatedly, is that equivalent to my saying, It has rained continuously the last twenty-four hours? I trove not. Unless, then, we are prepared to say the blood of Jesus Christ is cleansing the believer continually without any intermission at all, there is no force whatever in speaking of cleanseth as a continuous present.
Is it anywhere stated in Scripture that there is even a repeated application of the blood of Christ to the believing soul? On the contrary, the very opposite is elaborately taught in Heb. 10 "The worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." Now those words "once" and "no more" are not ours. Under the law there was no real cleansing; the utmost it could do by its most solemn sacrifices was to give temporary relief. Had there been perfect cleansing the conscience would have been set at rest forever and the sacrifices would have ceased. Shall the blood of Christ do no more for the believer than the blood of bulls and goats did for the Jew?
Shall it only give temporary relief? Is the conscience of the Christian all his life long to be like the conscience of an Israelite, repeatedly burdened with a sense of guilt, and repeatedly relieved by repeated applications of the blood of Jesus Christ? If any affirm this, what, then, we ask, is Meant by "no more conscience of Sins"? What the meaning of "perfected forever" of Heb. 10:1414For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)?
Does some reader say, "But if, alas! fall into some sin, is not my conscience to take cognizance of it.? Is there no upbraiding voice? Is there nothing to make me feel that my sin has sealed up the fountain of my spiritual joy? How, then, is my conscience to be quieted, how the upbraiding voice silenced, and the stream of spiritual joy made to flow afresh, save by a return to the blood shed on Calvary for me? I know no other way.”
To this we answer, Are you not confounding the question of guilt with that of communion with God.? Are you not confounding judicial cleansing with moral cleansing, which latter is not by the blood at all, though the blood be the basis of everything? Can the soul be judicially cleansed more than once? We think not. It is here the blood of Jesus has its place. By it the claims of the Eternal Throne have been met once for all, and the ground laid, broad and deep, for the display of God's glory as the One who is just and the justifier of ungodly men (Rom. 4:55But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:5)). Do I believe in Jesus? Do I believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead? Then am I justified from all things; none can condemn, none lay aught to my charge. This is what we mean by judicial, cleansing. Does every single sin of the believer sweep all this 'away? Does it place him once More among the criminals? Does it oblige him to seek deliverance from such a state exactly as he did when the light of God first broke in upon his, soul? Who dares to say so save he who has yet to learn what the gospel is, and what has been done for the believer by the dying and rising again of the Lord Jesus Christ?
"Moral cleansing is not to be confounded with all that. It is evident to a thoughtful mind that judicial cleansing does not fully meet the sinner's case. Something more is needed, and, thank God, there is something more. For out of the pierced side of Christ came forth blood and water." This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water' and blood" (1 John 5:66This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 John 5:6))—the blood to cleanse judicially, the water to cleanse morally. Both the water and blood alike tell of death—the death of Him who was our substitute, who stood in our room and stead. But the blood speaks of death in one connection, the water in another. Let me explain.
In my unconverted clays I was a sinner in my guilt, needing judicial cleansing if I would escape the judgment of God. This I find in the blood of Christ. I was also a sinner by nature, with a carnal mind, which is enmity against God and which never can be subject to Him (Rom. 8:77Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. (Romans 8:7)). I need to be born again, I need cleansing from that which in me is indeed sin and only sin. Here the water comes in, not the blood—the death of Christ, not as atoning for my sins and guilt, but as that in which "sin in the flesh" was condemned (Rom. 8:22For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)), "our old man" crucified (Rom. 6:66Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)); yea, further, in which I, as a sinner, came to my end forever—for God and for the faith of my soul—never more to be revived (Rom. 6:88Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: (Romans 6:8)). And not only so, but to me is given a new-life with its own proper, holy nature—a new moral being with instincts, tastes, and desires which are wholly after God (Eph. 4:2424And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:24); 2 Cor. 5:1717Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)). Thus I am "clean every whit," and though in me "the flesh" still is, yet lain privileged to say of it, "It is no more I." There is another "I" now; even Christ who lives in me, as Paul puts it in Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20). This is cleansing indeed, cleansing by the death of Christ, and by the communication of that which is entirely new, but it is a cleansing of which the water speaks rather than the blood. It is inward and moral, not judicial; and it is once for all.
But what about our sins after conversion, when all this is true of us? Do we return to the blood and seek a fresh application of it as needing to be again judicially cleansed? Certainly not. It is now a question of suspended communion, not of judicial cleansing. If we have become defiled, we need "the water of separation" of Num. 19, the basin and towel of John 13 But the basin was filled with water, not blood. Now the water is a symbol of the Word brought home to our conscience by the faithful service of the Lord Jesus to "His own" whom He loves to the end, and by the power of the Holy Spirit leading us to confession of our sins and self-judgment in the holy presence of God, remembering what it cost Christ to put those sins away. And "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The sins confessed and abhorred are forgiven which, as" guilt, have already-been put out of God's sight, and the soul is cleansed from the moral distance and reserve resulting from the defilement contracted by the way.
If it be objected that in a preceding paragraph we have spoken of moral cleansing as effected once for all and here of a repetition of it, we reply, Both are true. For in John 13:1010Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. (John 13:10) the Lord says, "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit." Now that word "washed" signifies the bathing of the whole person, while "wash" refers to the cleansing of the feet, as distinct from the former: That is once for all. This is needed all along the road till we reach the heavenly land and the 'dust of the wilderness way defile our feet no more.
What, then, is the meaning of 1 John 1:77But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)? It must be interpreted in connection with its immediate context. "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." Of old, in relation to Israel, God dwelt in the thick darkness, and clouds and darkness were round about Him (2 Chron. 6:11Then said Solomon, The Lord hath said that he would dwell in the thick darkness. (2 Chronicles 6:1); Psa. 97:22Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. (Psalm 97:2)). "The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest." Now it is, and we are encouraged to draw near. But how can I walk in the light as God is in the light, without inward trembling, without rottenness entering into my bones, without crying in dismay, "Woe is me, for I am undone"? Impossible, save for this gracious word, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." It -washes away to the last trace everything unsuited to the glory of God. Whiter than snow the believer is in virtue of the blood. He now walks in the light, as God is in the light. He may walk with ungainly gait, but that is where he walks. He may have to own, alas! how little he walks according to the light, but it is in the light that he walks, with a conscience purified once for all by the blood of Christ. That is how we understand the verse.
If we have failed to make our meaning plain, let the reader write to the Editor, who will, through the correspondence columns, do his best to set the subject forth in a clearer light.