In his book Purity and Maturity, J. A. Wood writes:
Life, purity, and maturity. These three stand forth in Bible teaching as distinct. A proper regard for these distinctions would have saved the church from much of her controversy on the subject of Christian holiness. Dr. William Nast emphasizes these—“the impartation of spiritual life to the soul in regeneration; the cleansing of the heart from all moral impurity through the sanctification of the Spirit; and the maturity of Christian character.”
Life, which is imparted in regeneration, and received by faith, is the first and indispensable requisite of growth and is the foundation of all maturity. The natural tendency of life is growth, and all life depends upon it. Everything that has life begins to decay when it ceases to grow. Hence the very existence of Christian life depends upon its progress.
Physical growth is often great; intellectual growth is still greater; but neither is equal to the possible development of man’s spiritual nature. God has given laws to each and adjusted principles of growth to them, and each has a living progressive power. Our spiritual being may progress more and still more through all future ages. God dwelleth in us, His love is perfected in us, and still our love may abound yet more and more.
By this spiritual growth, we mean the expansion and development of every virtue implanted in the soul at the new birth. Maturity, which of necessity must be comparative and relative, is applied to an advanced state of all the graces of the new Christian, involving such facts as age, growth, discipline, cultivation, and development.
Maturity is necessarily gradual, progressive, indefinite, and incomplete in this life. Thus, the whole Christian life is to be one of spiritual progress, for there is always ample room for growth at every period of its existence, and especially after the heart is cleansed, for this perfects the conditions leading to the most solid, rapid, symmetrical growth.
Confusing maturity with purity lies at the base of nearly every objection we have seen to the instantaneous work of entire sanctification. Especially this is true for those who regard growth in grace as a cleansing process. It is true that there is no instantaneous growth to full Christian maturity. No child of God is instantly sanctified into full Christian development. No babe in Christ jumps into such maturity as would come only with 20 years of growth in grace, discipline, and development.
But even a babe in Christ may at once be cleansed from all inbred sin in the moment of entire sanctification and thus become a pure Christian, but this is quite different from instantly becoming a mature Christian. It is a serious mistake indeed to confuse maturity and purity in the developing spiritual life.
The necessity and importance of religious growth no one will question. Remember the great law of life is growth. To keep any religion at all we must grow in grace. The Christian who does not grow becomes, peevish, fretful, and unhappy. Is this not the reason why so many professors of religion have become weak, uneasy, and dissatisfied? Not to progress is to regress, and regression is destruction.
Careful, constant faithfulness to God is the only way in this world to become a well-balanced, symmetrical, and mature Christian. Purity provides unhindered growth if we will use the means that God gives us to develop in Christ. Spiritual life coming from the Holy Spirit in its progressive power has no bounds, limits, or dimension and gives powers and capacities that can lead to continuing improvement and unlimited expansion. These powers and capacities should increase more rapidly in those who are entirely sanctified, for holiness quickens, invigorates, and secures the best foundation for the development of our spiritual powers and faculties.
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.
The Rev. John Allen Wood (1828–1905) was a Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, evangelist, and author, as well as one of the leading figures in the 19th-century American holiness movement. This extract, shortened and revised, is from Wood’s well-known classic Purity and Maturity.