In our online Sunday school class this past Sunday, we examined the third vow of church membership: Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the followers of Christ? Basically, this vow is about sanctification, asking a person who joins the church to seek to live in obedience to God and His Word.
In the class, we examined what the Bible and our Westminster Standards teach regarding the doctrine of the sanctification of believers and good works. We also sought to compare other views of sanctification with that of the Reformed faith. (By the way, the audio recording and handout which contains a chart of those various views is available at the link above).
One of those views of sanctification that we talked about was the Wesleyan view (we also learned that many other views may use different language but are actually quite similar). The Wesleyan view of sanctification includes the idea that the believer, in this life, may attain “entire sanctification.” In John Wesley’s own words, it is the idea “that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love.” This is the view that John Wesley taught and preached, and it is also the view of sanctification that came through in the hymns of his brother, Charles Wesley.
For example, the second verse of Love Divine, All Loves Excelling is a prayer of petition, asking God to give His people a “second rest” and to “take away our bent of sinning.” [Don’t look for these words in our Trinity hymnal; many hymnals have subsequently changed Wesley’s hymn to ask God to give His people the “promised rest” and “take away the love of sinning.”] The original text of the hymn by Charles Wesley, however, conveyed the idea that Christians should hope and work for a second work of the Holy Spirit (a “second rest”) by which the “bent of sinning” would be entirely removed from the believer.
As a contemporary of the Wesley brothers, Augustus Toplady wrote the hymn Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me in order to counter their views on sanctification. Toplady believed in sanctification. He believed that those who had been justified would be progressively renewed in the image of Christ, increasingly able to die to sin and live to righteousness. Contrary to the Wesleys, however, and in keeping with the Westminster Standards, he believed that it would only be in glory that the believer would be made perfect in holiness.
The Double Cure
As a Calvinist, Toplady was so distraught and angered by the Wesleys’ teaching on Christian perfectionism, that he wrote many works countering their Arminianism (and views on entire sanctification). In one of these articles about God’s forgiveness, Toplady penned a poem that eventually became Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me. The first verse of this hymn conveys the biblical teaching of how the sacrifice of Christ deals with the sin of His people:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flowed,Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
Here, Toplady shows how God’s dealing with sin is rooted in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. This is in keeping with the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 6:4-6; it is through union with Christ in His death and resurrection that we are forgiven and freed from our slavery to sin. So, Toplady writes that Jesus’ atoning death is the “double cure” of our sin problem. Here is where the rubber meets the road in expressing the difference between the biblical view of justification and sanctification and that of Christian perfectionism.
Jesus’ atoning death accomplishes two things in the person of the believer: (1) It deals with the punishment that we deserve: Christ redeems us from the curse of the Law, rescuing us from the wrath to come (Galatians 3:13; Titus 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 1:10); and (2) It deals with the power of sin in our lives: Christ removes the dominion or rule of sin in our lives such that we are no longer “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6); “sin shall not be master over you” (Romans 6:14).
Often, we come to believe certain doctrines that we sing (for good or for ill) even before we recognize that we believe them. We imbibe certain beliefs and understandings almost subconsciously when we sing. This is why it is of the utmost importance that what we sing in worship be not only singable, but also biblical and doctrinally sound.
And so, the next time you sing Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, sing with gusto of how God’s saving work in Christ’s death is the “double cure” of sin. As the Rock of Ages, Christ’s shed blood cleanses us of sin’s guilt and power. May this understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ cause us to love, worship, and serve Him!