[This is the 11th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]
“Direction 11: Endeavour diligently to perform the great work of believing on Christ, in a right manner, without any delay; and then also continue and increase in your most holy faith; that so your enjoyment of Christ, union and fellowship with him, and all holiness by him, may be begun, continued, and increased in you.”
It is as this point in his book that Marshall made a shift from doctrine to practice. Prior to this point he focused on “the powerful and effectual means of a holy practice.” With this eleventh direction he aimed to lead his reader to “the actual exercise and improvement” of such holy practice, the sum of which is “that faith in Christ is the duty with which a holy life is to begin, and by which the foundation of all other holy duties is laid in the soul.”
Marshall has much to say to this present generation about the nature of the gospel itself, particularly as it pertains to what it means to come to faith in Christ. When answering the question posed in John 6:28-29 (“What must we do that we work the works of God?”), the good news of the old gospel which Marshall fleshes out contrasts sharply with the good news of the new gospel presented by many today. The new gospel says, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. Such “good news” presumes to know the hidden counsel of God, the things which are not revealed. The good news of the old gospel tells us the truth about ourselves and God, and promises salvation to all who come to Christ as beggars who are bereft of any sense of self-righteousness. And it is critical that sinners come to the end of their self-righteousness, or else they will never perceive a need for faith in Christ at all.
To this end, Marshall identified several defects in the first act of faith, that is, in “the right belief in the truth of the gospel of Christ.” Here they are in brief:
- You must believe, with a full persuasion, that you are a child of wrath by nature, as well as others; fallen from God by the sin of the first Adam; dead in trespasses and sins; subject to the curse of the law of God, and to the power of Satan, and to insupportable misery to all ternity; and that you cannot possibly procure your reconciliation with God, or any spiritual life and strength to do any good work, by any endeavouring to get salvation according to the terms of the legal covenant; and that you cannot find any way to escape out of this sinful and miserable condition, by your own reasoning and understanding, without supernatural revelation, nor be freed from it, except by that infinite power that raiseth the dead.
- You are to believe assuredly, that there is no way to be saved, without receiving all the saving benefits of Christ; his Spirit as well as his merits, sanctification as well as remission of sins by faith.
- You are to be fully persuaded of the all-sufficiency of Christ for the salvation of yourself, and of all that believe on him; that his blood cleanseth from all sin (1 John 1:7).
- You are to be fully persuaded of the truth of the general free promise, in your own particular case, that if you believe on Christ sincerely, you shall have everlasting life, as well as any other in the world, without performing any condition of works to procure and interest in Christ; for the promise is universal, ‘Whosoever believeth on him, shall not be ashamed’ (Rom. 9:33), without exception.
- You are to believe assuredly, that it is the will of God you should believe in Christ, and have eternal life by him, as well as any other; and that your believing is a duty very acceptable to God; and that he will help you, as well as any other, in this work, because he calleth and commandeth you, by the gospel, to believe in Christ.
- Add to all these, a full persuasion of the incomparable glorious excellency of Christ, and of the way of salvation by him.
When dealing with the third potential defect (above), Marshall held out sweet cordials for souls struggling to accept Christ’s all-sufficiency:
“Many, that have fallen into great sins, are ruined for ever, because they do not account the grace of Christ sufficient for their pardon and sanctification; when they think they are gone, and past all hope of recovery; that ‘their sins are upon them, and they pine away in them, how shall they live?’ (Ezek. 33:10). This despair works secretly in many souls, without much trouble and horror, and maketh them careless of their souls and true religion. The devil fills some with horrid, filthy, blasphemous thoughts, on purpose, that they may think their sins too great to be forgiven; though commonly such thoughts, are the least of the sins of those that are pestered with them, and rather the devil’s sin than theirs, because they are hurried into them sore against their wills: . . . ”
“There are others that despair of ever getting any victory over their lusts, because they have formerly made many vows and resolutions, and have used many vigorous endeavours against them in vain, — Such are to persuade themselves, that the grace of Christ is sufficient for them, when all other means have failed; . . . Those that despair, by reason of the greatness of their guilt and corruption, do greatly dishonor and undervalue the grace of God, his infinite mercy, and the infinite merits of Christ’s blood, and power of his Spirit, and deserve to perish with Cain and Judas. Abundance of people, that give themselves to all licentiousness, in this wicked generation, lie under secret despair; which maketh them so desperate in swearing, blaspheming, whoring, drunkenness, and all manner of wickedness. – How horrid and heinous soever our sins and corruptions have been, we should learn to account them a small matter in comparison to the grace of Christ, who is God as well as man, and offered up himself, by the eternal Spirit, as a sacrifice of infinite value, for our salvation; and can create us anew as easily as he created the world by a word speaking.”
Rather than any should hurl insults upon the character of God via thoughts of being beyond His ability to save, let us become well acquainted with the all-sufficiency of our great High Priest:
“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:23-25, ESV)