Monthly Archives: November 2016

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 11: Believing on Christ in a Right Manner

[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)

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The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 10: Having True Assurance of Salvation

[This is the 10th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 10: That we may be prepared by the comforts of the gospel to perform sincerely the duties of the law, we must get some assurance of our salvation, in that every faith whereby Christ himself is received into our hearts: therefore we must endeavor to believe on Christ confidently, persuading and assuring ourselves, in the act of believing, that God freely giveth to us interest in Christ and his salvation, according to his gracious promise.”

This tenth direction is something of an elaboration of the ninth, wherein Marshall contends that one of the comforts of the gospel requisite to performing the duties of the law is an assurance of salvation. Marshall began with four clarifications at the outset, to establish a right understanding of this doctrine.

First, in regard to the nature of assurance intended by this direction: The assurance directed unto here is not a persuasion that we have already received Christ and his salvation, but only that “God is pleased graciously to give Christ and his salvation unto us.” Hereby he distinguished between the direct vs the reflex act of faith, the latter being what we typically think of when we mention assurance (the direct act being the belief that God is ready to receive us for salvation which is inherent to saving faith, and the reflex act being a well-grounded assurance that one is in a state of grace, a thing which many precious saints are without).

Second, the assurance directed to is not what is nowadays commonly referred to as “once-saved-always-saved” wherein a person can live any way they please because they have prayed the prayer, walked the aisle, or what have you. Rather, the assurance Marshall has in mind is a persuasion “in a limited way, through mere free grace in Christ, by partaking of holiness as well as forgiveness, and by walking in the way so holiness to the enjoyment of the glory of God.”

Third, Marshall warns against “thinking so highly of this assurance, as if it were inconsistent with any doubting in the same soul.” As long as saints remain here with indwelling sin, there will inevitably be doubts that linger about one’s state. As Marshall put it: “Can any on earth say, they have received any grace in the highest degree, and that they are wholly free from the contrary corruption? Why then should we think, that assurance cannot be true, except it be perfect, and free the soul from all doubtings?”

Fourth, Marshall notes the priority of faith in obtaining assurance: “In the last place, let it be well observed, that the reason why we are to assure ourselves in our faith, that ‘God freely giveth Christ and salvation to us particularly,’ is not because it is a truth before we believe it, but because it will never be true, except we do, in some measure, persuade and assurance ourselves that it is so.” He went on to say that “our assurance is not impressed on our thoughts by any evidence of the thing; but we must work it out in ourselves by the assistance of the Spirit of God, and thereby we bring our own thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Practically this comes down to taking God at his word and trusting on Christ alone for salvation, for there is no under name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. To seek any other method of salvation is vain idolatry, and to doubt God’s willingness or ability to save impugns His character. Hence we are bound to come to Him as helpless beggars, seeking our all in Him. When we take Him at his word, he proves to be faithful.

Marshall then provides seven arguments to prove that “there is, and must necessarily be such an assurance or persuasion of our salvation in saving faith itself.” I will deal only with the first and the fifth one here.

In the first argument, Marshall contends that this “assurance of salvation is implied in the description before given of that faith whereby we receive Christ and his salvation, into our hearts.” His main point here is that coming to faith in Christ involves a full reliance upon Him alone for salvation, trusting in Him completely and utterly, and that such trust will not be in vain:

“If you will rest in the Lord, you must believe that he dealeth bountifully with you (Ps. 116:7); or else, for ought you know, you may make your bed in hell. And you will show little regard of Christ, and of your soul, if you dare to rest under the wrath of God, without any persuasion of a sure interest in Christ. . . . The soul that liveth in such wavering and doubting concerning salvation, doth not stay itself, nor rest at all; but is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind, and tossed; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:6, 8). – If you continue on the mere suspense and doubtfulness of salvation by Christ, your desire to trust, us but a lazy woulding, without any fixed resolution, and you dare not yet venture to trust on him steadfastly.”

In the fifth argument, Marshall underscores the importance of the assuring one’s self in the enjoyment of Christ:

“The chief office of this faith in its direct saving act, is to receive Christ and his salvation actually into our hearts, as hath been proved; which office cannot be rationally performed, except we do, in some measure, persuade our hearts, and assure ourselves in the enjoyment of him.”

There can be no fence-sitting here where the direct act of faith is concerned, in terms of whether or not Christ is willing and able to save those who come to him. In the direct act of faith, there is no doubt about where salvation is to be found, offered, and freely given:

“If we do not make choice of Christ as our only salvation and happiness, or if we be altogether in a state of suspense, doubting whether God will be pleased to give Christ to us or no, it is evident, that our souls are quite loose from Christ, and have no holdfast or enjoyment of him. They do not so much as pretend to any actual receiving, or laying hold, or choosing of him, neither are they fully satisfied that it is lawful for them so to do: but rather they are yet to seek, whether they have any good ground and right to lay hold on him or no. Let any rational man judge, whether the soul doth, or can put forth any sufficient act for the reception and enjoyment of Christ, as its Saviour, Head, or Husband, while it is yet in doubt, whether it be the will of Christ to be joined with it in such a near relation? Can a woman honestly receive any one as her husband, without being assured the he is fully willing to be her husband? The same may be said concerning the several parts of Christ’s salvation, which are to be received by faith. It is evident, that we do not aright receipt the benefit of remission of sins, for the purging of our consciences from that guilt that lieth upon them, unless we have an assured persuasion of God’s forgiving them. We do not actually receive into our hearts, our reconciliation with God, and adoption of children, and the title to an everlasting inheritance, until we can assure ourselves, that God is graciously pleased to be our God and Father, and take us to be his children and heirs.”

This reminds me of something that John Bunyan mentioned in his autobiography, Grace Abounding. Bunyan described himself as a great sinner before his conversion, and went to some length to describe the struggles he went through at the outset of his conversion. Satan confronted him with his sin, suggesting that his transgressions were such that there could be no grace sufficient enough for his salvation. Bunyan discovered that when he shared his struggles with mature saints who had been in the Lord many years, they were encouraged. Bunyan concluded that this was because Satan uses the same tactics with “lesser sinners” later on in their Christian walk that he does with “great sinners” early on, just with a different focus. Rather than holding up all those sins committed before conversion, with “lesser sinners” Satan accuses them for all their sins since conversion, seeking to call into question the genuineness their salvation, suggesting something to the effect that “there is no more grace for you.” In this way Satan seeks to separate the saint from the object of his direct act of faith (the assurance Marshall has been describing).  But the answer to this attack is the same on the first day on the narrow road of faith as it is on last, as expressed in the words of John Newton’s hymn, Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat:

“Be thou my shield and hiding place, that, sheltered near thy side, I may my fierce accuser face, and tell him thou hast died.”

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The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 9: Holy Comfort Before Holy Practice

[This is the 9th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 9: We must first receive the comforts of the gospel, that we may be able to perform sincerely the duties of the law.”

Marshall devoted this ninth directive to underscore a rather brief but hard-to-learn concept that runs seemingly counter to the way everything else in the entire universe operates, namely, cause and effect, which we understanding innately. One doesn’t stand by a fireplace, for instance, expecting heat without wood and fire.  We don’t expect pay without work (at least most of us still don’t). Farmers don’t expect to reap a harvest without planting the seed and cultivating the plants.

Similarly, when man approaches religious duties, he naturally expects to perform those duties before feeling the effects of them. This tendency flows from our being “strongly addicted to this legal method of salvation,” as Marshall put it. But this is not the gospel way, as should be evident in view of the preceding directives.

If we understand the gospel correctly, cause and effect are not actually inverted here. We just need to identify both carefully. As we saw in direction 8, holiness of life comes after union with Christ, justification, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Union with Christ is the greatest of all comforts anyone may possess. So the effect of holiness is caused by union with Christ, that is, by being in Christ (the Apostle Paul’s favorite phrase to describe believers in the New Testament).

Marshall pointed out that rather than being the exception, comfort before performance of duties is the norm in Scripture. For instance:

“we are exhorted to practice holy duties because we are dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:11); and because sin shall not have dominion over us; for we are not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14); because are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit; and God will quicken our mortal bodies, by his Spirit dwelling in us (Rom. 8:9, 11); because our bodies are members of Christ, and the temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 5:21); and hath promised, that he will dwell in us, and walk in us, and be to us a father, and we shall be to him as sons and daughters (2 Cor. 5. 21); and hath promised, that he will dwell in us, and walk in us, and be to us a father, as we shall be to him sons and daughters (2 Cor. 4:18 with chap. 7:1).”

When one considers the nature of the commands themselves, there must be comfort beforehand, otherwise who could bear them? Again as Marshall observed in his seventh argument:

“What comfortless religion do those make that allow people no comfort beforehand, to strengthen them for holy performances, which are very cross, displeasing, and grievous to their natural inclinations, as the plucking out a right eye, cutting off a right hand; but would have them first to do such things with love and delight, under all their present fears, despondencies, and corruption inclinations, and to hope, that, by doing the work thoroughly and sincerely, they shall at last attain to a more comfortable state? All true spiritual comfort, as well as salvation, is indeed quite banished out of the world, if it be suspended upon the condition of our good works: which hath already appeared to be the condition of the law, that worketh no comfort, but wrath (Rom. 4:14, 15). This makes the way of godliness odious to many. They think they shall never enjoy a pleasant hour in this world, if they walk in them; and they had rather comfort themselves with sinful pleasure than have no comfort at all.”

But rather than give oneself up to sinful pleasure, the gospel brings comfort that enables regenerate souls to find delight in holiness, as the Psalmist said (Psa. 119:97, ESV): “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” This is because wherever Christ dwells, there also dwells a delight in Him and His ways, however feeble.

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