The Cleansing Of The Christian
There is a difference between forgiveness and cleansing. Hitherto, I had always regarded the promises of 1 John 1:9 that "He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness," as a double biblical way of describing the same blessing, but I have come to see that two different things are promised therein. The things that are forgiven are acts of sin, specific sins; the thing that is cleansed is the whole personality, cleansed from all unrighteousness.
Our youngest boy was told many years ago not to play in a tempting mud puddle. He disobeyed. To his dismay, he discovered that the muddy evidence of his disobedience was written all over his face, hands, knees, and clothes. Fearing a promised punishment, he stayed out late, until the twin forces of fear of the dark and miserable hunger drove him home. By this time, we were so relieved to see him that we forgave him promptly; but as soon as he was forgiven, his mother took him to the bathroom and stripped off his dirty clothes, washed his dirty face and hands and knees, thence into the tub for a complete bath, finally giving him a shampoo. So he went to bed, not only forgiven of his disobedience, but clean as a new pin.
A friend of mine left his car in the garage to be checked out for a speck of dirt in the carburetor. The mechanic discovered that not only was the carburetor dirty but that the car required new spark plugs, new distributor points, new radiator hose, new rear tires, and a wax job. So what began as a minor adjustment ended in a thorough overhaul.
I cannot forget the testimony of a young lady at Bethel College in Minnesota soon after the student body had been moved to seek forgiveness. "I want to thank God" she said simply, "for loving me enough to want to clean me up after all this mess I have been in." That has been typical of the many college revivals known to me. The misery of painful confession and reconciliation has always been followed by a period of cleansing so convincing to the students that the campus has been swept by infectious praise. The joy of the Lord was unmistakable.
It is not enough to preach the Word until Christians are convicted, have confessed, and are forgiven. They must be urged to accept by faith the promise of a general cleansing of the whole personality which happily God performs once a humbling occurs regarding a specific sin. Such times of revival are remembered as much for their joy as for their cleansing.
In the Old Testament, there is a story which illustrates the difference between forgiveness and cleansing. Psalm 51 was written by David after he, a man of God, had sinned grievously. Nathan the prophet had told the king that he was the guilty one, and David readily admitted his guilt, saying, "I have sinned against the Lord!" Thereupon, Nathan assured David the Lord had put away his sin. His sin was forgiven.
Did David believe the promise of God in the assurance of Nathan? Did he still cry out for forgiveness of adultery and murder? Psalm 51 was written soon after the day that Nathan had rebuked David for his sin. In its heartfelt petitions, there is no request for forgiveness, but many for cleansing. David had caught a glimpse of the uncleanness of his inmost heart: hence his prayers were for the blotting out of his many transgressions, the washing thoroughly from all his iniquities, the cleansing from his sin. In his Psalm, he asked the Lord to purge him as with a broom, to wash him whiter than snow.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me!" (Psa. 51:10). That was not a prayer for forgiveness, for David had been told that his sin had been forgiven when he repented and had confessed. It was a prayer for complete cleansing.
In the New Testament, the Christian is told that if he confesses his sins, God is faithful and just to forgive him his sins, and to cleanse him from all unrighteousness. No, this wording is not accidental. Many a time, a Christian has become deeply convicted of some particular sin, and has at last confessed it, seeking forgiveness; but with the forgiveness of the particular sin has come a realization for a need of cleansing from inward sin, cleansing from all unrighteousness. The cleansing covers a larger area than that of the original area of conviction.
During the striking revival at Nigaruawahia in the Waikato in New Zealand in 1936, I was moved to write the words of a prayer-hymn which was set to the tune of an old Maori folk song "Po Ata Rau" ("Now is the Hour"). The prayer-hymn was published that year and has since been going around the world. Its words reflect the biblical teachings:
Search me, O God, and know my
Try me, O Saviour, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me,
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free.
I pray Thee, Lord, to cleanse me now from sin,
Fulfill Thy promise: make me pure within;
Fill me with fire where once I burned with shame,
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.
Lord, take my life and make it
all Thine own,
I want to spend it serving Thee alone;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride,
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.
O Holy Ghost, revival comes from
Send a revival, start the work in me!
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need,
For blessing now, O Lord, I humbly plead.
Taken from My All, His All by J. Edwin Orr. Edited by Richard Owen Roberts. Copyright 1989. Used by permission.