Posted by: rcottrill | March 5, 2012

Whiter Than Snow

Words: James L. Nicholson (b. _____ c. 1828; d. Nov. 6, 1876)
Music: William Gustavus Fischer (b. Oct. 14, 1835; d. Aug. 13, 1912)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: James Nicholson emigrated to America from Ireland when he was about 25 years old. He served as a Methodist lay-preacher, and was also, for many years, a clerk in the Post Office.

Mr. Nicholson’s hymn expresses an urgent appeal for inner purity and holiness. It does not represent an unbeliever seeking salvation, but a Christian waiting on God for total cleansing and perfection.

Though that should be the desire of each believer, this hymn is based on the doctrine of perfectionism, which teaches that the Christian can have a second crisis experience after conversion in which he gains perfection (sometimes called crisis sanctification). Some (though not all) who hold this position also claim that the inner sin nature is removed, so there is no longer any tendency to sin. This teaching is not biblical. I have commented some about it on the Wordwise Hymns link, but will add a few thoughts here.

CH-1) Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole;
I want Thee forever to live in my soul.
Break down every idol, cast out every foe;
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow.
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Notice the emphasis of the song, in repeated phrases: “I long to be perfectly whole (CH-1)….let nothing unholy remain (CH-2)….“Help me to make a complete sacrifice” (CH-3)….“I wait…for my cleansing” (CH-4). These are commendable desires. But then, we have, “O glory! My soul is [i.e. it has been] made perfect in love” (CH-6).

There are two crucial aspects of the saving work of God that need to be kept in view if we’re to avoid error. As depicted in the diagram, they are the believer’s standing (or position in Christ), and his state (or condition in daily life.

When we put our faith in Christ, the righteousness of Christ is credited to our heavenly account (II Cor. 5:21). (That is the basis of justification, in which God pronounces us righteous.) Because Christ is never less than perfectly righteous, our standing in Christ never changes. But our state (what we are in daily experience) is another matter.

By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are able to grow in Christlikeness day by day (Gal. 5:16). But we are still fallible and weak. It’s possible we may stray, we can stumble into sin. That doesn’t mean we lose our salvation. A disobedient child is still the child of his parents. But our sin clouds the intimacy of our fellowship with God, robs us of joy, and of power for service. When that happens, God’s Word calls upon us to confess our sins (I Jn. 1:9), and take up once again a holy walk.

Perhaps becoming a citizen of a particular country provides at least a weak illustration. There is a pledge of loyalty, and an official declaration: “Congratulations! You are now a citizen of Canada!” That is the individual’s standing. But, as to his state, will he always perfectly obey the laws of Canada (or whatever the country is)? Likely not. Even so, a speeding ticket, or even a more serious offense, will not take away his citizenship.

But notice in the diagram that the two, our standing and state, ultimately converge. Not in this life, but in heaven. Then we shall be in practice what we’ve always been positionally (I Jn. 3:2). It is one thing to long for practical perfection now, but quite another to say it is within each Christian’s reach today if he will ask for it.

To believe one has indeed reached that plateau may indicate a superficial and inadequate view of sin. And too many verses of Scripture indicate Christians face an ongoing battle to be more like Christ, moment by moment.

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected” (Phil. 3:12). “The flesh [the sin nature] lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh…so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17). “We all stumble in many things” (Jas. 3:2). But, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father” (I Jn. 2:1). “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18).

To be more aware of sin in our lives, and more diligent at rooting it out, these are commendable goals. As we are immersed in the Word of God, day by day, and responsive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, He will help us with this. But though I appreciate the sentiment of this hymn, it is not a song I can recommend, or would want to sing. There is too much in it that is misleading, if not in outright error.

1) What are the dangers of believing one can be (or has been) made perfect in this life?

2) What are the means God uses in the daily process of making us more and more like His Son?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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