Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctificaton – Direction 3: Union With Christ

[This is the 3rd of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 3: The way to get holy endowments and qualifications necessary to frame and enable us for the immediate practice of the law, is to receive them out of the fullness of Christ, by fellowship with him; and that we may have this fellowship, we must be in Christ, and have Christ himself in us, by a mystical union with him.”

In this third direction for the pursuit of sanctification, Walter Marshall’s closing thought provides a nice summary:

Christ’s “incarnation, death, and resurrection, were the cause of all the holiness that ever was, or shall be given to man, from the fall of Adam, to the end of the world; and that by the mighty power of his Spirit, whereby all saints that ever were, or shall be, are joined together, to be members of that one mystical body whereof he is the head.”

In the first church I ever attended several decades ago, a guest speaker used a latex glove to illustrate how many Christians attempt to live the Christian life. Holding the empty glove by the tip of the middle finger, he would admonish it: “Ok now, Christian, live the Christian life.”  Then he would let go, and the empty glove collapsed onto the table. He did this several times, to convey the idea that it is impossible to live the Christian life by one’s own effort. Only when Christ dwells within, illustrated by putting a hand inside the glove, is it possible to live the Christian life. That is essentially the lesson Marshall held out in this third direction.

What is so obvious in the object lesson, however, tends to be overlooked many times in actual practice. Marshall saw this back in his day as well:

“One great mystery is, that the holy frame and disposition whereby our souls are furnished and enabled for immediate practice of the law, must be obtained by receiving it out of Christ’s fullness, as a thing already prepared and brought to an existence for us in Christ, and treasured up in him; and that as we are justified by a righteousness wrought out in Christ, and imputed to us; so are we sanctified by such a holy frame and qualifications, as are first wrought out, and completed in Christ for us, and then imparted to us. And as our natural corruption was produced originally in the first Adam, and propagated from him to us; so our new nature and holiness is first produced in Christ, in making or producing that holy frame in us, but only to take it to ourselves, and use it in our holy practice, as made ready to our hands. Thus we have fellowship with Christ, in receiving that holy frame of spirit that was originally in him: for fellowship is, when several persons have the same thing in common (1 John 1:1-3). This mystery is so great, that, notwithstanding all the light of the gospel, we commonly think that we must get a holy frame by producing it anew in ourselves, and by forming and working it out of our own hearts.”

The “endowments” Marshall mentioned in Direction 3 refer back to the four endowments enumerated in Direction 2 (an inclination and propensity of heart to the duties of the law; a persuasion of reconciliation to God; a persuasion of future enjoyment of everlasting heavenly happiness; and a persuasion of sufficient strength to will and perform our duty acceptably). In this third direction, Marshall identified the source of these endowments as Christ Himself. Hence, it is impossible for someone to be a true Christian and to be totally indifferent to the pursuit of holiness. Why? It is because the indwelling power of Christ is always effectual to bear fruit to one degree or another.

Marshall’s spoke at some length about the “great mystery in the way of sanctification” in terms of “the glorious manner of our fellowship with Christ, in receiving a holy frame of heart from him.” This mystery consists of the mystical union between Christ and the believer (one of three mystical unions in Scripture, the other two being the union of the trinity of persons in one Godhead, and the union of the divine and human nature in Jesus Christ). Marshall described the nature of this union and its effect masterfully:

“Though Christ be in heaven, and we on earth; yet he can join our souls and bodies to his at such a distance without any substantial change of either, by the same infinite Spirit dwelling in him and us; and so our flesh will become his, when it is quickened by his Spirit; and his flesh ours, as truly as if we did eat his flesh and drink his blood; and he will be in us himself by his Spirit, who is one with him, and who can unite more closely to Christ than any material substance can do, or who can make a more close an d intimate union between Christ and us. And it will not follow from hence, that a believer is one person with Christ, any more than Christ is one person with the Father, by that great mystical union. Neither will a believer be hereby made God, but only the temple of God, as Christ’s body and soul is; and the Spirit’s lively instrument, rather than the principal cause. Neither will a believer be necessarily perfect in holiness hereby; or Christ made a sinner: for Christ knoweth how to dwell in believers by certain measures and degrees, and to make them holy so far only as he dwelleth in them. And though this union seem too high a preferment for such unworthy creatures as we are; yet, considering the preciousness of the blood of God, whereby we are redeemed, we should dishonor God, if we should not expect a miraculous advancement to the highest dignity that creatures are capable of, through the merits of that blood.”

The more progress a believer makes in sanctification the more he realizes his need of Christ in everything. As Wilhelmus à Brakel observed with regard to spiritual growth: “He who is of the opinion that he only needed Christ at the outset of his spiritual life and that he is now beyond that and thus leaves Christ alone, only focusing upon holiness – or if he solely makes use of Christ as an example for holiness – has gone astray and regresses more than he progresses.” (Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service; Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books; vol. 4, p. 146)

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The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 2: The Prerequisites of Repentance and Faith

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[This is the 2nd of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 2: Several endowments and qualifications are necessary to enable us for the immediate practice of the law. Particularly we must have an inclination and propensity of our hearts thereunto; and therefore we must be well persuaded of our reconciliation with God, and of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happenings, and of sufficient strength both to will and perform all duties acceptably, until we come to the enjoyment of that happiness.”

This second direction lists four endowments which are required for the practice of holiness. We need to keep in mind the lessons of the first direction which defined holiness essentially in terms of conforming to the moral law in its entirety, which may be summed up via two greatest commandments: to love the Lord with all one’s heart mind, and strength, and one’s neighbor as himself. This is no small task, in that is it beyond one’s natural ability to perform, hence the need for divine assistance, beginning with regeneration.

Lest we rush past them, the four endowments Marshall identified here as prerequisites to the practice of holiness (sanctification) are:

  1. An inclination and propensity of heart to the duties of the law;
  2. A persuasion of our reconciliation with God;
  3. A persuasion of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happiness; and
  4. A persuasion of sufficient strength both to will and perform our duty acceptably, until we come to the enjoyment of the heavenly happiness.

We may find some of these prerequisites to be akin to putting the cart before the horse. But if we understand justification by faith correctly, Marshall’s counsel here will resonate with our understanding of the truth, and our own frustrated efforts if we attempt sanctification any other way.

I want to focus on the second endowment (persuasion of our reconciliation with God) in this short space, in no small part because Marshall himself gave more attention to it. He described it as a great mystery, and then gave five arguments in support of it:

“This is a great mystery (contrary to the apprehensions, not only of the vulgar, but of some learned divines) that we must be reconciled to God, and justified by the remission of our sins, and imputation of righteousness, before any sincere obedience to the law; that we may be enabled for the practice of it.”

  1. The first Adam was framed for the practice of holiness at his creation without any sin imputed to him, and this was a great advantage to him for the practice of holiness. The second Adam was the beloved of the Father. Can we then expect to be imitators of Christ, by performing more difficult obedience than the first Adam was before the fall?
  2. Those who know their natural deadness under the power of sin and Satan, are fully convinced, that if God leave them to their own hearts, they can do nothing but sin; and that they can do no good work, except it please God, of his great love and mercy, to work it in them.
  3. The nature of the duties of the law is such as requires an apprehension of our reconciliation with God, and his hearty love and favor towards us for the doing of them.
  4. Our conscience must of necessity be first purged from dead works, that we may serve the living God.
  5. God has abundantly discovered to us, in his word, that his method of bringing men from sin to holiness of life, is, first to make them know that he loves them, and that their sins are blotted out.

That first argument is insightfully persuasive, and we are indebted to Marshall for such an astute comparison. Unlike his progeny, the first Adam didn’t have a sin nature to contend with prior to the fall. Marshall pressed the point here by asking: “can we reasonably expect to be imitators of Christ, by performing more difficult obedience than the first Adam’s was before the fall; except the like advantages be given to us, by reconciliation, and remission of sins, and imputation of a righteousness given by God to us, when we have none of our own?”

When explaining his fourth argument with regard to the necessity of having our conscience cleansed from dead works prior to the practice of holiness, he underscored even more the need for a right understanding of justification by faith:

“I have often considered, by what manner of working any sin could effectually destroy the whole image of God in the first Adam: and I conclude, it was by working first an evil guilty conscience in him, whereby he judged, that the just God was against him, and cursed him for that one sin. And this was enough to work a shameful nakedness by disorderly lusts, a turning his love wholly from God to the creature, and a desire to be hidden from the presence of God (Gen. 3:8, 10) which was a total destruction of the image of God’s holiness.”

So in the final analysis, coming to Christ in repentance and faith is the prerequisite for the practice of holiness. Abiding in Him is the key to sanctification, for apart from Him we can do nothing.

 

 

 

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