Tag Archives: Holiness

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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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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The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 8: Seeking Holiness Here and Hereafter

[This is the 8th of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 8: Be sure to seek for holiness of heart and life only in its due order, where God hath placed it, after union with Christ, justification, and the gift of the Holy Spirit; and, in that order, seek it earnestly by faith, as a very necessary part of your salvation.”

How timely this direction comes, on the eve of Reformation Day when many Reformed churches will be taking note of the anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his Nine-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg castle. We rightly emphasis justification by faith alone, for there is no other means to obtain a right standing before God. As Luther and the Reformers noted: we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

But saving faith is never alone. Saving faith is accompanied by good works which flow out of union with Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is exactly this sequence of events that Marshall points out in this direction: holiness follows union with Christ and justification.

This eighth direction is as relevant today as it was in Marshall’s day, for many today, as back then, seem only to want to escape eternal punishment, having little interest in being conformed to the image of Christ otherwise::

“What a strange kind of salvation do they desire, that care not for holiness? They would be saved, and yet be altogether dead in sin, aliens from the life of God, bereft of the image of God, deformed by the image of Satan, his slaves and vassals to their own filthy lusts, utterly unmeet for the enjoyment of God in glory. Such a salvation as that was never purchased by the blood of Christ; and those that seek it abuse the grace of God in Christ, and turn it into lusciousness. They would be saved by Christ, and yet out of Christ, in a fleshly state; whereas God doth free none from condemnation, but those that are in Christ, that walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit: or else they would divide Christ, and take a part of his salvation, and leave out the rest; but, Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:13). They would have their sins forgiven, not that they may walk with God in love in time to come, but that they may practice their enmity against him, without any fear of punishment. But, let them not be deceived, God is not mocked. They understand not what true salvation is, neither were they ever yet thoroughly sensible of their lost estate, and of the great evil of sin; and that which they trust on Christ is, but an imaging of their own brains: and therefore their trusting is gross presumption. True gospel faith maketh us come to Christ with a thirsty appetite, that we may drink of living water, even of his sanctifying Spirit (John 7:37-38); and cry out earnestly to save us, not only from hell, but from sin; saying ‘Teach me to do thy will; thy Spirit is good’ (Ps. 143:10); ‘Turn thou me, and I shall be turned’ (Jer. 31:18); ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right Spirit within me’ (Psa. 51:10). This is the way whereby the doctrine of salvation by grace doth necessitate us to holiness of life, by constraining us to seek for it by faith in Christ, as a substantial part of that salvation which is freely given us through Christ.”

Any who do not desire to be like Christ in holiness (i.e., set apart, devoted to God) here and now should not flatter themselves with the thought of having heaven as their eternal destiny. For as J. C. Ryle put it in his book, Holiness:

“How shall we ever be at home and happy in heaven, if we die unholy? Death works no change. The grave makes no alteration. Each will rise again with the same character in which he breathed his last. Where will our place be if we are strangers to holiness now?”

It is in this sense that we should understand Hebrews 12:14 (“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” ESV). It isn’t talking about a certain amount of holiness that a person much achieve, but rather the bent or course of one’s life. Has there been a trajectory of being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, or not? If not, anyone professing faith in Christ in such manner has presumed upon some notion of their own rather than having trusted Christ, for wherever the Spirit dwells, holiness will surely follow. So let everyone seek Him now, in this the acceptable day, for He is near to all who call upon Him in truth (Psa. 145:18).

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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 Sanctificaton – Direction 3: Union With Christ

[This is the 3rd of a 14 part highlight of Walter Marshall’s book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification.]

“Direction 3: The way to get holy endowments and qualifications necessary to frame and enable us for the immediate practice of the law, is to receive them out of the fullness of Christ, by fellowship with him; and that we may have this fellowship, we must be in Christ, and have Christ himself in us, by a mystical union with him.”

In this third direction for the pursuit of sanctification, Walter Marshall’s closing thought provides a nice summary:

Christ’s “incarnation, death, and resurrection, were the cause of all the holiness that ever was, or shall be given to man, from the fall of Adam, to the end of the world; and that by the mighty power of his Spirit, whereby all saints that ever were, or shall be, are joined together, to be members of that one mystical body whereof he is the head.”

In the first church I ever attended several decades ago, a guest speaker used a latex glove to illustrate how many Christians attempt to live the Christian life. Holding the empty glove by the tip of the middle finger, he would admonish it: “Ok now, Christian, live the Christian life.”  Then he would let go, and the empty glove collapsed onto the table. He did this several times, to convey the idea that it is impossible to live the Christian life by one’s own effort. Only when Christ dwells within, illustrated by putting a hand inside the glove, is it possible to live the Christian life. That is essentially the lesson Marshall held out in this third direction.

What is so obvious in the object lesson, however, tends to be overlooked many times in actual practice. Marshall saw this back in his day as well:

“One great mystery is, that the holy frame and disposition whereby our souls are furnished and enabled for immediate practice of the law, must be obtained by receiving it out of Christ’s fullness, as a thing already prepared and brought to an existence for us in Christ, and treasured up in him; and that as we are justified by a righteousness wrought out in Christ, and imputed to us; so are we sanctified by such a holy frame and qualifications, as are first wrought out, and completed in Christ for us, and then imparted to us. And as our natural corruption was produced originally in the first Adam, and propagated from him to us; so our new nature and holiness is first produced in Christ, in making or producing that holy frame in us, but only to take it to ourselves, and use it in our holy practice, as made ready to our hands. Thus we have fellowship with Christ, in receiving that holy frame of spirit that was originally in him: for fellowship is, when several persons have the same thing in common (1 John 1:1-3). This mystery is so great, that, notwithstanding all the light of the gospel, we commonly think that we must get a holy frame by producing it anew in ourselves, and by forming and working it out of our own hearts.”

The “endowments” Marshall mentioned in Direction 3 refer back to the four endowments enumerated in Direction 2 (an inclination and propensity of heart to the duties of the law; a persuasion of reconciliation to God; a persuasion of future enjoyment of everlasting heavenly happiness; and a persuasion of sufficient strength to will and perform our duty acceptably). In this third direction, Marshall identified the source of these endowments as Christ Himself. Hence, it is impossible for someone to be a true Christian and to be totally indifferent to the pursuit of holiness. Why? It is because the indwelling power of Christ is always effectual to bear fruit to one degree or another.

Marshall’s spoke at some length about the “great mystery in the way of sanctification” in terms of “the glorious manner of our fellowship with Christ, in receiving a holy frame of heart from him.” This mystery consists of the mystical union between Christ and the believer (one of three mystical unions in Scripture, the other two being the union of the trinity of persons in one Godhead, and the union of the divine and human nature in Jesus Christ). Marshall described the nature of this union and its effect masterfully:

“Though Christ be in heaven, and we on earth; yet he can join our souls and bodies to his at such a distance without any substantial change of either, by the same infinite Spirit dwelling in him and us; and so our flesh will become his, when it is quickened by his Spirit; and his flesh ours, as truly as if we did eat his flesh and drink his blood; and he will be in us himself by his Spirit, who is one with him, and who can unite more closely to Christ than any material substance can do, or who can make a more close an d intimate union between Christ and us. And it will not follow from hence, that a believer is one person with Christ, any more than Christ is one person with the Father, by that great mystical union. Neither will a believer be hereby made God, but only the temple of God, as Christ’s body and soul is; and the Spirit’s lively instrument, rather than the principal cause. Neither will a believer be necessarily perfect in holiness hereby; or Christ made a sinner: for Christ knoweth how to dwell in believers by certain measures and degrees, and to make them holy so far only as he dwelleth in them. And though this union seem too high a preferment for such unworthy creatures as we are; yet, considering the preciousness of the blood of God, whereby we are redeemed, we should dishonor God, if we should not expect a miraculous advancement to the highest dignity that creatures are capable of, through the merits of that blood.”

The more progress a believer makes in sanctification the more he realizes his need of Christ in everything. As Wilhelmus à Brakel observed with regard to spiritual growth: “He who is of the opinion that he only needed Christ at the outset of his spiritual life and that he is now beyond that and thus leaves Christ alone, only focusing upon holiness – or if he solely makes use of Christ as an example for holiness – has gone astray and regresses more than he progresses.” (Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service; Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books; vol. 4, p. 146)

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The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 2: The Prerequisites of Repentance and Faith


[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:

  1. An inclination and propensity of heart to the duties of the law;
  2. A persuasion of our reconciliation with God;
  3. A persuasion of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happiness; and
  4. 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.”

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Our conscience must of necessity be first purged from dead works, that we may serve the living God.
  5. 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.




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The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification – Direction 1: Learning About Powerful and Effectual Means

Out of all the Puritan works I have read thus far, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (GMS hereafter) by Walter Marshall  is one of my favorites (easily within the top 5).  I gauge my affinity for a particular work by the number of times I find myself referring back to it and by the insights gained therein.

I read GMS back in 2013, and recently completed outlining it.  I am forever indebted to Marshall for a greater appreciation of the mystery of the believer’s union with Christ.  And since that spiritual reality is unfathomable, the truths contained in the book deserve perpetual study.

In his endeavor to unfold the mystery of sanctification Marshall presented his reader with fourteen directions.  I’m only going to touch on the first one in this post, leaving room for future installments as time allows.

“Direction 1: That we may acceptably perform the duties of holiness and righteousness required in the Law, our first work is, to learn the powerful and effectual means whereby we may attain to so great and end.”

Marshall made two main points when unpacking this direction, the first being clarification of the objective in view.  Sanctification aims for a spiritual objective, which can only be obtained by spiritual (i.e., supernatural) means.

Secondly, in order to be sanctified, a person must be well acquainted with the means required thereunto.  Marshall then presented his reader with eight considerations in regard to these means (summarizing here):

  1. We are all by nature incapable of performing that holiness and righteousness which God’s law requires.
  2. Those who doubt or deny the doctrine of original sin must realize that the exact justice of God is against them (in other words, they are in deep trouble!).
  3. General revelation is insufficient to save or sanctify.  Special revelation is indispensable in this regard.
  4. Sanctification is a grace of God communicated to us as well as is justification.
  5. Since God has taken the trouble to give us plentiful instruction in righteousness in the holy scriptures, it is incumbent on us to sit down at his feet and learn it.
  6. The way to attaining godliness is not a mere matter of education, but rather a supernatural work whereby the dead are raised to life, and therefore far above all the thoughts and conjectures of men.
  7. The knowledge of the means of sanctification is of utmost importance for the establishment of true faith, because we cannot rationally doubt that love to God and our neighbor are absolutely necessary to true religion.
  8. Knowledge of these means is of great importance and necessity for establishment in holy practice, because one cannot apply himself to the practice of holiness with hope of success without some expectation of divine assistance, which one cannot expect without using the means God has appointed.

Take up and read!  If you need a copy, it is available from Reformation Heritage Press here.

Gospel Mystery of Sanctification Marshall cover

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Week 38 of 50 in the Institutes: Holiness to the Lord

Why can’t we all just get along?  That phrase commonly surfaces whenever moral and doctrinal matters begin to be considered with any depth.  The issues Calvin raised more than four centuries ago in regard to papal supremacy still remain as sticking points to this day between Protestants and Catholics.  And as Rick Phillips pointed out in the September 25 blog (see link below), Calvin was “far from the politically correct emphasis on ‘charity above all’ in today’s doctrinal disputes!”

We will do well here to pause and ask ourselves why it was that Calvin was so worked up about papal supremacy that he devoted so much space to it in the Institutes.  Phillips credited this zeal on Calvin’s part to a belief that life and death issues were at stake, and so they were.  But I think another reason can be posited as well, namely, Calvin’s view of God and zeal for his glory.  I assert this because when he goes for the “jugular” in these sections (as Phillips puts it)  in 4.7.24 when identifying the Roman pontiff as the Antichrist, Calvin has the honor and glory of God foremost in view:

To some we seem slanderous and petulant, when we call the Roman Pontiff Antichrist. But those who think so perceive not that they are bringing a charge of intemperance against Paul, after whom we speak, nay, in whose very words we speak. But lest any one object that Paul’s words have a different meaning, and are wrested by us against the Roman Pontiff, I will briefly show that they can only be understood of the Papacy. Paul says that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God (2 Thess. 2:4). In another passage, the Spirit, portraying him in the person of Antiochus, says that his reign would be with great swelling words of vanity (Dan. 7:25). Hence we infer that his tyranny is more over souls than bodies, a tyranny set up in opposition to the spiritual kingdom of Christ. Then his nature is such, that he abolishes not the name either of Christ or the Church, but rather uses the name of Christ as a pretext, and lurks under the name of Church as under a mask. But though all the heresies and schisms which have existed from the beginning belong to the kingdom of Antichrist, yet when Paul foretells that defection will come, he by the description intimates that that seat of abomination will be erected, when a kind of universal defection comes upon the Church, though many members of the Church scattered up and down should continue in the true unity of the faith. But when he adds, that in his own time, the mystery of iniquity, which was afterwards to be openly manifested, had begun to work in secret, we thereby understand that this calamity was neither to be introduced by one man, nor to terminate in one man. Moreover, when the mark by which he distinguishes Antichrist is, that he would rob God of his honour and take it to himself, he gives the leading feature which we ought to follow in searching out Antichrist; especially when pride of this description proceeds to the open devastation of the Church. Seeing then it is certain that the Roman Pontiff has impudently transferred to himself the most peculiar properties of God and Christ, there cannot be a doubt that he is the leader and standard-bearer of an impious and abominable kingdom.

I think I’m safe in saying that few Reformed Protestants today will identify the Pope as the Antichrist.  The Reformers and Puritans are not renown for their exegetical insights in this regard.  But the spirit of Antichrist exists wherever Christ is opposed, and Calvin and the Reformers astutely discerned acute opposition to the gospel and Christ firmly ensconced in the institutional church of their day.  So out of zeal for the Lord and his truth they railed against the corruption they encountered, perhaps sometimes with less charity than required (Eph. 4:15, “speaking the truth in love”).  But at the end of the day they never forgot the holiness of the Lord, and that is the malady of our modern age.

This past week when gay marriage was in the headlines, one bystander was featured with a sign that said, “God loves. . . period!”  Well, that isn’t the whole truth.  Nowhere in the Scriptures do we read: “Love, love, love is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his love.”  What we do find, instead, is: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”  (Isa. 6:3)  God, we see, is characterized as the thrice holy God.

Yes, the Lord is gracious, and he accepts penitent sinners just as they are.  But his grace doesn’t leave them as they are.  In redeeming Adam’s sinful, fallen race, he conforms his people to the image of his Son in holiness.  The idea that “God loves. . . period”  has it the other way around.  But rather than conforming the Creator to the image of the corrupt creature (abandoning His holiness and becoming corrupt Himself), God instead maintains his own holiness and in salvation transforms the fallen creature into a new self, created after God in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).  Anything else makes a mockery of the inscription on the High Priest’s brow, “Holiness to the Lord” (Ex. 28:36), in that every believer in Christ now comprises a royal priesthood (1 Pe. 2:9).  It was this affront to the Lord’s holiness that so incensed Calvin.  May we be faithful to the Lord in our generation as well, always speaking the truth in love, and never abandoning either.

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

Sep. 21: 4.6.17 – 4.7.4

Sep. 22: 4.7.5 – 4.7.10

Sep. 23: 4.7.11 – 4.7.17

Sep. 24: 4.7.18 – 4.7.22

Sep. 25: 4.7.23 – 4.7.30

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Midweek Rambling: Sermon Recommendation Related to Week 4 Post

As a follow up to some of the things I discussed in this week’s post on the Institutes, I recommend Ligon Duncan’s sermon delivered this past Sunday at FPC Columbia, SC: “How Jesus Gives Us Peace.”  His starting text was 1 Thessalonians 3:16, and he eventually touched on Ephesians 4:14-19 as it relates to the difficulties many Christians encounter when it comes to experiencing both God’s peace and love.    Wonderfully encouraging sermon!

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Week 8 of 9 in Winslow: The Lord, the Restorer of His People

This week’s assignment in Octavius Winslow’s book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, is chapter 8, “The Lord, the Restorer of His People”.

I appreciate the way Winslow opened this chapter by giving two reasons why it is necessary for the Lord to restore his people continually, namely: enmity within (indwelling sin) and without (Satan and the world). After thus identifying the root causes for the perpetual proneness to declension on the part of every believer, Winslow then highlighted the underlying principle of all departures from God:

We look at a believer’s lax practice, we mourn and weep over it, and we do well; we trace our own, and still deeper shame and confusion of face cover us: but we forget that the cause of our bitterest sorrow and humiliation should be, the concealed principle of evil from whence springs this unholy practice. How few among the called of God, are found confessing and mourning over the sin of their nature – the impure fountain from whence flows the stream, the unmortified root from whence originates the branch, and from which both are fed and nourished! This is what God looks at, — the sin of our fallen, unsanctified nature, — and this is what we should look at, and mourn over. Indeed, true mortification of sin consists in a knowledge of our sinful nature, and its subjection to the power of Divine grace. The reason why so few believers ‘through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body,’ is, a forgetfulness that the work has to do first and mainly with the root of sin in the soul: ‘Make the tree good, and the fruit will also be good’; purify the fountain, and the stream will be pure. Oh, were there a deeper acquaintance with the hidden iniquity of our fallen nature, — a more thorough learning out of the truth, — that ‘in our flesh there dwelleth no good thing,’ – a more heartfelt humiliation on account of it, and more frequent confession of it before God, — how much higher than they now are would be the attainments of holiness of many believers.

I’m indebted to Winslow for prompting this question when reflecting on that passage: How well do I know my own mortal enemy of indwelling sin, my own Moriarty? That metaphor didn’t originate with me. It is found toward the end of chapter 5 in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis:

When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue – even attempted virtue – brings light; indulgence brings fog. [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 102]

Proverbs 4:19 describes the “fog” that ensues from sinful indulgence as being even thicker:

“The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” (ESV)

So the struggle is a good thing. It is always part of keeping up the good fight of the faith (1 Tim. 6:12). Even better is the slow but steady progress that comes in mortifying the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit:

“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Prov. 4:18, ESV)

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