[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:
- An inclination and propensity of heart to the duties of the law;
- A persuasion of our reconciliation with God;
- A persuasion of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happiness; and
- 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.”
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- Our conscience must of necessity be first purged from dead works, that we may serve the living God.
- 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.