Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 5: Holiness Is Impossible For the Unregenerate

[This is the 5th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 5: We cannot attain to the practice of true holiness, by any of our endeavours, while we continue in our natural state, and are not partakers of a new state, by union and fellowship with Christ through faith.”

All mankind, Marshall, observed, falls into one of two states at present: a spiritual state (those regenerated by the Holy Spirit), or a natural state (consisting in those things as we have either by natural birth or can attain to by natural power through divine assistance). Marshall then listed nine considerations that confirm the truth of this fifth direction. While some might find Marshall redundant, a more charitable reader will discover a pastor’s heart as the motive for Marshall’s steady plodding. His goal here, we note, was to free “ignorant zealots from their fruitless tormenting labors” toward moral reform and good works apart from first being regenerated and having their lives changed from sin to righteousness. The stakes were high in his day as they are in ours, since those who attempt to reform their lives apart from union with Christ, as Marshall put it: “when they have mis-spent many years in striving against the stream of their lusts, without any success, do at last fall miserably into despair of ever attaining holiness, and turn to wallowing in the mire of their lusts, or are fearfully swallowed up with horror of conscience.”

Space will not permit review of all nine of his considerations, so I want to focus on the fifth, sixth, and ninth ones.   In his fifth consideration Marshall identified four properties of the natural state which wholly disable such a one from the practice of holiness and rather enslave him to the practice of sin. Those four properties are:

  1. the guilt of sin,
  2. an evil conscience from which gives rise to a hatred and abhorrence of God as an enemy rather than love for Him,
  3. an evil inclination, tending only to sin, and
  4. subjection to the power of the devil.

In his sixth consideration, Marshall argued against the Arminian doctrine that Christ’s death has restored the freedom of the will for all men:

“Sixthly: We have no good ground to trust on Christ to help us to will or to do that which is acceptable to him, while we continue in our natural state; or to imagine that freedom of will to holiness is restored to us by the merit of his death. For, as it hath been already showed, Christ aimed at an higher end, in his incarnation, death, and resurrection, than the restoring the decay and ruins of our natural state. He aimed to advance us to a new state, more excellent than the state of nature ever was, by union and fellowship with himself; that we might live to God, not by the power of a natural free-will, but by the power of his Spirit living and acting in us. So we may conclude, that our natural state is irrecoverable and desperate, because Christ, the only Saviour, did not aim at the recovery of it.”

In other words, the goal in salvation is not to return us to a state of innocence of neutrality, but rather to union and vitality with Christ in all its fullness (Eph. 4:13).  As Marshall went on to observe: “Our old natural man was not revived and reformed by the death of Christ, but crucified together with him, and therefore to be abolished and destroyed out of us by virtue of his death (Rom. 6:6).” I think I should point out that Marshall is here speaking of the corruption of the old man being destroyed, and he is not decrying the resurrection of our self-same bodies (WCF 32.2).

In his ninth consideration, Marshall anticipated and answered an objection that many might raise: what about examples of heathen philosophers or Jews or Christians by outward profession who may have lived without the saving knowledge of God in Christ and yet lived outstanding moral lives and were famous for their wise sayings and attainments? His answer was simple enough, beginning first with the Apostle Paul. Despite his former boastings about keeping the law, once he came to the knowledge of Christ Paul judged himself to be the chief of sinners. In addition, efforts at self-reform lack love for God, which make them utterly vapid since loving God with all one’s heart is the greatest commandment. And Marshall closed by exhorting his readers to be thankful, because things could always be worse if God stopped restraining the sinful desires of natural men:

“If God should leave men fully to their own natural corruptions, and to the power of Satan (as they deserve) all show of religion and morality would be quickly banished out of the world, and we should grow past feeling in wickedness, and like the cannibals, who are as good by nature as ourselves. But God, who can restrain the burning of the fiery furnace, without quenching it, and the flowing water, without changing its nature, doth also restrain the working of natural corruption, without mortifying it: and through the greatness of his wisdom and power, he maketh his enemies to yield to feigned obedience to him (Psa. 66:3); and to do many things good for the matter of them, though they can do nothing in a right holy manner. . . . As vile and wicked as the world is, we have cause to praise and to magnify the free goodness of God, that it is no worse.”


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The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 4: Find Holiness and Union With Christ By Means of the Gospel

[This is the 4th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 4: The means of instruments whereby the Spirit of God accomplisheth our union with Christ, and our fellowship with him in all holiness, are the gospel, whereby Christ entereth into our hearts to work faith in us; and faith, whereby we actually receive Christ himself, with all his fullness, into our hearts. And this faith is a grace of the Spirit, whereby we heartily believe the gospel, and also believe on Christ, as he is revealed and freely promised to us therein, for all his salvation.”

Marshall built precept upon precept in the fourteen “directions” required to unfold the gospel mystery of sanctification. Direction four deals with the nature of saving faith, since it is one of two means used by the Spirit of God to affect the believer’s union with Christ (the first being the gospel of the grace of God, and the second being faith).

Marshall identified two acts necessarily found in saving faith: 1) believing the truth of the gospel; and 2) believing on Christ as promised freely to us in the gospel, for all of salvation. He also asserted that these two acts of saving faith must be performed heartily, with an unfeigned love to the truth and a desire for Christ and his salvation above all things. He elaborated on the manner of such hearty performance by asserting:

  1. Our assenting must not be forced by mere conviction of the truth, such as devils and wicked men may have.
  2. Our believing in Christ must neither be only a constrained fear of damnation, without any hearty love and desires towards the enjoyment of Christ.
  3. This love must be to every part of Christ’s salvation: to holiness as well as forgiveness of sins.

When comparing Marshall’s definition of saving faith here with that of Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith (follow this link to an earlier, related blog), we find common ground with respect to what it means to believe on Christ (i.e., trusting in and resting upon Christ for salvation). Marshall’s treatment, though, includes an aspect of repentance. In coming to Christ, the repentant sinner turns from sin to God for happiness and life and everything. Repentance isn’t a superficial matter of obtaining “fire insurance” in order to continue on a path of ungodliness, but a total renunciation of all that is contrary to God, and so is never ending this side of heaven. Marshall puts it more succinctly:

“We must desire earnestly, that God would create in us a clean heart and right spirit, as well as hide his face from our sins (Ps. 51:9, 10); not like many, that care nothing in Christ but only deliverance from hell. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled (Matt. 5:6).

So a key observation to be gleaned here is how specious are the claims of many so-called Christians today who care little for being conformed to the image of Christ. How silly would it be for someone to say, “I really love Sally, but I can’t stand to be in her presence because of the way she looks, moves, talks, thinks, and basically everything about her.  She is so embarrassing.”

Just as Sally will not be taken in by such vapid sentiments, neither will the Lord, in that those who are His will be conformed to His image in holiness, without exception (Heb. 12:14). Or as the Psalmist warns (Psa. 50:16-23, ESV):

16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?

17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.

18 If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers.

19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit.

20 You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.

21 These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!

23 The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”

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