Posted by: rcottrill | August 24, 2012

The Cleansing Wave

Words: Phoebe Worrell Palmer (b. Dec. 18, 1807; d. Nov. 2, 1874)
Music: Phoebe Palmer Knapp (b. Mar. 9, 1839; d. July 10, 1908)

Wordwise Hymns (Phoebe Knapp born)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: There has sometimes been confusion in hymn books as to who wrote what, since mother (Mrs. Phoebe Palmer) and daughter (Mrs. Phoebe Knapp) both had the same first name. The mother wrote the words, and the daughter composed the tune, though Great Hymns of the Faith credits the daughter with both.

This was a family active in the nineteenth century holiness movement, and their gospel song somewhat reflects that. While I’m sure we would agree on many things, I part company with the Knapps in their assertion that one can experience the death or eradication of the sin nature in this life. The most direct statement of this teaching comes in the third stanza:

CH-3) I see the new creation rise;
I hear the speaking blood.
It speaks! Polluted nature dies!
Sinks ’neath the cleansing flood.

This is rooted in the teaching that a “second work of grace” is available that destroys the sin nature completely so the person is perfectly holy and free from sin. But this flies in the face of Christian experience and the teaching of the Word of God. “If we say that we have no sin [i.e. no sinful nature], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (I Jn. 1:8). As Weymouth puts it: “If we claim to be already free from sin, we lead ourselves astray.”

As to our legal standing in Christ, the Christian is perfectly holy, since the righteousness of Christ has been credited to our heavenly account, just as surely as our sins were charged to Christ’s account and paid for at the cross (II Cor. 5:21). But the believers’ state–how we live out our Christian lives in daily experience–is another matter entirely. While our standing (or position in Christ) is constant, our state (or condition in life) is dependant on the consistency of our walk in faith and obedience toward God. In the latter case, there is always the potential for stumbling into sin.

“If we say that we have not sinned [i.e. committed sinful acts], we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (I Jn. 1:10). “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17).

The Christian is not called to plead (or tarry) for what theologians call “crisis sanctification,” which eradicates the sin nature. Rather, we are called to walk in the Spirit, with faith and obedience toward the Word of God. And when we sin, as we can sometimes do, we are to confess it and turn from it (I Jn. 1:9).

Fortunately, the remainder of this hymn focuses mainly on the basic salvation experience–for which, of course, there’s ample biblical support. A couple of hymnals I have on my desk as I write simply omit the third stanza as being out of the mainstream. The rest celebrates the joyful triumph in knowing sins forgiven, through the cleansing tide of the blood of Christ. In the use of that imagery it resembles William Booth’s Boundless Salvation. The present hymn says in part:

CH-1) Oh, now I see the cleansing wave!
The fountain deep and wide;
Jesus, my Lord, mighty to save,
Points to His wounded side.

The cleansing stream I see! I see!
I plunge, and oh, it cleanseth me!
Oh, praise the Lord! It cleanseth me!
It cleanseth me—yes, cleanseth me.

CH-4) Amazing grace! ’tis heav’n below
To feel the blood applied,
And Jesus, only Jesus know,
My Jesus crucified.

1) What do you see as the dangers of perfectionism (or the eradication theory)?

2) What are the important ingredients to maintaining a holy walk day by day?

Wordwise Hymns (Phoebe Knapp born)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Instead of eradication of the sin nature, I think in terms of it more in being made inoperative by what Christ did on the cross? I think of Paul saying in Romans, “Reckon yourself dead.” There is a yielding to the new work that
    has begun in us with the help of the Holy Spirit that Romans speaks about, and it is progressive growth. I think that is what she means by to rise. I agree that we don’t reach perfection on earth. I think she may be also speaking of position and condition.

    I found the hymn biblical, with this understanding.

    • H-m-m… Well, good try. But “polluted nature dies!” is pretty strong, and that is the Arminean view, at least of some. It’s more than a positional truth to them. I think you move closer to the biblical position of progressive sanctification in what you describe, rather than what is termed “crisis sanctification” in the holiness camp.


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