The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 13: The Importance and Scope of the Means of Holiness

[This is the 13th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 13: Endeavor diligently to make the right use of all means appointed in the word of God, for the obtaining and practicing holiness online in this way of believing in Christ, and walking in him, according to your new state by faith.”

When introducing this thirteenth directive, Marshall conceded that it could have been included as another point under the previous one, but for two considerations: the weight and comprehensiveness he wished to emphasize here. As for “weight”, he wants the reader to note that “the use of any means appointed in the word for attaining and promoting holiness, is not hereby made void, but rather established.” While faith in Christ alone is sufficient to receive Christ and all that is involved in salvation (justification, sanctification, and eternal salvation), he also asserted that several means appointed by God for the increase of faith are to be used diligently. True believers find that they need such helps, and those who refuse them reject God’s counsel against themselves.

As for “comprehensiveness”, in this directive Marshall identified ten particular means of holiness, appointed in the word of God to be used as described in this directive:

  1. Endeavoring diligently to know the word of God
  2. Examining one’s state and ways according to the word
  3. Meditation on the word of God
  4. The sacrament of baptism, made use of according to its nature and institution
  5. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as a spiritual feast to nourish faith
  6. Prayer
  7. Singing of psalms, i.e., songs of any sacred subject
  8. Fasting
  9. Vows (not keen on them, admonishing that no one should think to bring himself to any good through them)
  10. Fellowship and communion with the saints

The word of God is preeminent in this list (first three). When introducing the first means, Marshall had this to say about the importance of the word of God:

“Other means of salvation are necessary to the more abundant well-being of our faith, and of our new state in Christ; but this is absolutely necessary to the very being thereof: because faith cometh by hearing the word of God, and receiveth Christ as manifested by the word; as I have before proved.”

In light of Marshall’s biblically-grounded counsel here for growth in holiness, we can begin to discover a root cause for the hole in our holiness (to borrow a phrase from Kevin DeYoung). A 2012 Lifeway Survey of 2,900 Protestant church-goers found that only 19% read the Bible daily. With that being the case, of those who read the Bible daily, how many may safely assume were employing the second and third means which Marshall identified, namely self-examination and meditation upon the Bible’s  teachings?

We only get to know someone by spending time with them, and it is through the Scriptures that we behold the face of God (1 Cor. 13: 12).  To the extent we neglect the word of God, we forfeit the appropriation of the most needful knowledge that exists.  Marshall’s identification of the two kinds of “most effectual” knowledge in this regard seems to echo  the opening of Calvin’s Institutes:

“The most effectual knowledge for your salvation, is, to understand these two points; the desperate sinfulness and misery of your own natural condition, and the alone sufficiency of the grace of God in Christ for your salvation; that you may be abased as to the flesh, and exalted in Christ alone.”

These two lessons come from the word of God exclusively, hence the necessity to take up and read!   Make a renewed commitment to read through the Bible this year, and take others along with you.


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