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The GOSPEL MYSTERY OF

SANCTIFICATION

 

Walter Marshall

 


Chapter One

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 by which we may attain to so great an end.

This direction may serve instead of a preface, to prepare the understanding and attention of the reader for those that follow.

First, it acquaints you with the great end for which all those means are designed, that are the principal subject to be here treated of. The scope of all is to teach you how you may attain to that practice and manner of life which we call holiness, righteousness, or godliness, obedience, true religion; and which God requires of us in the law, particularly in the moral law, summed up in the Ten Commandments, and more briefly in those two great commandments of love to God and our neighbour (Matt. 22:37, 39), and more largely explained throughout the Holy Scriptures. My work is to show how the duties of this law may be done when they are known: therefore do not expect that I should delay my intent to help you to the knowledge of them by any large exposition of them - which is a work already performed in several catechisms and commentaries. Yet, that you may not miss the mark for want of discerning it, take notice in few words that the holiness which I would bring you to is spiritual (Rom. 7:14). It consists not only in external works of piety and charity, but in the holy thoughts, imaginations and affections of the soul, and chiefly in love, from whence all other good works must flow, or else they are not acceptable to God; not only in refraining the execution of sinful lusts, but in longing and delighting to do the will of God and in a cheerful obedience to God, without repining, fretting, grudging at any duty, as if it were a grievous yoke and burden to you.

Take notice farther that the law, which is your mark, is exceeding broad (Ps. 119:96) and yet not the more easy to be hit, because you must aim to hit it, in every duty of it, with a performance of equal breadth, or else you cannot hit it at all (James 2:10). The Lord is not at all loved with that love that is due to Him as Lord of all, if He is not loved with all our heart, spirit and might. We are to love everything in Him, His justice, holiness, sovereign authority, all-seeing eye, and all His decrees, commands, judgements, and all His doings. We are to love Him, not only better than other things, but singly, as only good, the fountain of all goodness; and to reject all fleshly and worldly enjoyments, even our own lives, as if we hated them, when they stand in competition with our enjoyment of Him, or our duty towards Him. We must love Him as to yield ourselves wholly up to His constant service in all things, and to His disposal of us as our absolute Lord, whether it is for prosperity or adversity, life or death. And, for His sake, we are to love our neighbour - even all men, whether they are friends or foes to us; and so do to them in all things, that concern their honour, life, chastity, worldly wealth, credit and content, whatever we would that men should do to us in the like condition (Matt. 7:12). This spiritual universal obedience is the great end to the attainment of which I am directing you. And, that you may not reject my enterprise as impossible, observe that the most I promise is no more than an acceptable performance of these duties of the law such as our gracious merciful God will certainly delight in and be pleased with during our state of imperfection in this world, and such as will end in perfection of holiness and all 'happiness in the world to come.

Before I proceed farther, stay your thoughts a while in the contemplation of the great dignity and excellency of these duties of the law, that you may aim at the performance of them as your end with so high an esteem as may cast an amiable lustre upon the ensuing discovery of the means. The principal duties of love to God above all, and to each other for His sake, from whence all the other duties flow, are so excellent that I cannot imagine any more noble work for the holy angels in their glorious sphere. They are the chief works for which we were at first framed in the image of God, engraven upon man in the first creation, and for which that beautiful image is renewed on us in our new creation and sanctification by Jesus Christ, and shall be perfected in our glorification. They are works which depend not merely on the sovereignty of the will of God, to be commanded or forbidden, or left indifferent, or changed, or abolished at His pleasure, as other works that belong either to the judicial or ceremonial law, or to the means of salvation prescribed by the gospel; but they are, in their own nature, holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12), and suitable for us to perform because of our natural relation to our Creator and fellow creatures; so that they have an inseparable dependence on the holiness of the will of God, and an indispensable establishment thereby. They are works sufficient to render the performers holy in all manner of conversation, by the fruits which they bring forth, if no other duties had ever been commanded; and by which the performance of all other duties is sufficiently established as soon as they are commanded; and without which, there can be no holiness of heart and life imagined; and to which, it was one great honour of Mosaical, and is now of evangelical ordinances, to be subservient for the performance of them, as means which shall cease when their end, this never-failing charity, is perfectly attained (1 Cor. 13). They are duties which we were naturally obliged to, by that reason and understanding which God gave to man at His first creation to discern what was just and suitable for him to do, and to which even heathens are still obliged by the light of nature, without any written law, or supernatural revelation (Rom. 2:14, 15). Therefore they are called natural religion, and the law that requires them is called the natural law and also the moral law; because the manners of all men, infidels as well as Christians, ought to be conformed to it and, if the had been fully conformable, they would not have come sort of eternal happiness (Matt. 5:19; Luke 10:27, 28), under the penalty of the wrath of God for the violation of it. This is the true morality which God approves of, consisting in a conformity of all our actions to the moral law. And, if those that, in these days, contend so highly for morality, do understand no other than this, I dare join with them in asserting that the best morally principal man is the greatest saint; and that morality is the principal part of true religion, and the test of all other parts, without which faith is dead and all other religious performances are a vain show and mere hypocrisy: for the faithful and true Witness has testified, concerning the two great moral commandments of love to God and our neighbour, that there is none other commandment greater than these, and that on them 'hang all the law and the prophets' (Matt. 22:36-40; Mark 12:31).

The second thing contained in this introductory direction is the necessity of learning the powerful and effectual means by which this great excellent end may be accomplished, and of making this the first work to be done, before we can expect success in any attempt for the attainment of it.

This is an advertisement very needful; because many are apt to skip over the lesson concerning the means (that will fill up this whole treatise) as superfluous and useless. When once they know the nature and excellency of the duties of the law, they account nothing wanting but diligent performances; and they rush blindly on immediate practice, making more haste than good speed. They are quick in promising, 'All that the Lord has spoken, we will do,' (Exod. 19:8), without sitting down and counting the cost. They look on holiness as only the means of an end, of eternal salvation: not as an end itself, requiring any great means for attaining the practice of it. The enquiry of most, when they begin to have a sense of religion, is 'What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?' (Matt. 19:16 ); not, 'How shall I be enabled to do anything that is good?' Yea, many that are accounted powerful preachers spend all their zeal in the earnest pressing the immediate practice of the law, without any discovery of the effectual means of performance - as if the works of righteousness were like those servile employments that need no skill and artifice at all, but industry and activity. That you may not stumble at the threshold of a religious life by this common oversight, I shall endeavour to make you sensible that it is not enough for you to know the matter and reason of your duty, but that you are also to learn the powerful and effectual means of performance before you can successfully apply yourselves to immediate practice. And, for this end, I shall lay before you the considerations following.

1. We are all, by nature, void of all strength and ability to perform acceptably that holiness and righteousness which the law requires, and are dead in trespasses and sins, and children of wrath, by the sin of our first father, Adam, as the Scripture witnesses (Rom. 5:12, 15, 18, 19; Eph. 2: 1-3; Rom. 8:7, 8). This doctrine of original sin, which Protestants generally profess, is a firm basis and groundwork to the assertion now to be proved, and to many other assertions in this whole discourse. If we believe it to be true, we cannot rationally encourage ourselves to attempt a holy practice, until we are acquainted with some powerful and effectual means to enable us to do it. While man continued upright, in the image of God, as he was at first created (Eccles. 7:29; Gen. 1:27), he could do the will of God sincerely, as soon as he knew it; but, when he was fallen, he was quickly afraid, because of his nakedness; but could not help it at all, until God discovered to him the means of restoration (Gen. 3:10, 15). Say to a strong healthy servant, 'Go', and he goes; 'Come', and he comes; 'Do this', and he does it; but a bedridden servant must know first how he may be enabled. No doubt the fallen angels knew the necessity of holiness, and trembled at the guilt of their sin; but they knew of no means for them to attain to holiness effectually, and so continue still in their wickedness. It was in vain for Samson to say, 'I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself,' when he had sinned away his strength (Judg. 16:20). Men show themselves strangely forgetful, or hypocritical, in professing original sin in their prayers, catechisms and confessions of faith, and yet urging on themselves and others the practice of the law, without the consideration of any strengthening, enlivening means - as if there were no want of ability, but only of activity.

2. Those that doubt of, or deny the doctrine of original sin may all of them know concerning themselves (if their consciences are not blind) that the exact justice of God is against them and they are under the curse of God and sentence of death for their actual sins, if God should enter into judgement with them (Rom. 1:32; 2:2; 3:9; Gal. 3:10). Is it possible for a man, that knows this to be his case and has not learned any means of getting out of it, to practice the law immediately, to love God and everything in Him, His justice, holiness and power, as well as His mercy, and to yield himself willingly to the disposal of God, though God should inflict sudden death on him? Is there no skill or artifice at all required in this case to encourage the fainting soul to the practice of universal obedience?

3. Though heathens might know much of the work of the law by the common light of natural reason and understanding (Rom. 2:14 ), yet the effectual means of performance cannot be discovered by that light, and therefore are wholly to be learned by the teaching of supernatural revelation. For what is our natural light, but some sparks and glimmerings of that which was in Adam before the Fall? And even then, in its brightest meridian, it was not sufficient to direct Adam how to recover ability to walk holily, if once he should lose it by sin, nor to assure him beforehand that God would vouchsafe to him any means of recovery. God has set nothing but death before his eyes in case of transgression (Gen. 2:17) and, therefore, he hid himself from God when the shame of his nakedness appeared, as expecting no favour from Him. We are like sheep gone astray, and know not which way to return, until we hear the Shepherd's voice. Can these dry bones live to God in holiness? O Lord, You know; and we cannot know it, except we learn it of You.

4. Sanctification, by which our hearts and lives are conformed to the law, is a grace of God communicated to us by means, as well as ,justification, and by means of teaching, and learning something that we cannot see without the Word (Acts 26:17, 18). There are several things pertaining to life and godliness that are given through knowledge (2 Peter 1:2, 3). There is a form of doctrine made use of by God to make people free from sin, and servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:17, 18). And there are several pieces of the whole armour of God necessary to be known and put on, that we may stand against sin and Satan in the evil day (Eph. 6:13). Shall we slight and overlook the way of sanctification, when the learning the way of justification has been accounted worth so many elaborate treatises?

5. God has given, in the Holy Scriptures by His inspiration, plentiful instruction in righteousness, 'that we may be thoroughly furnished for every good work' (2. Tim. 3:16 , 17), especially since 'the dayspring from on high has visited us,' by the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, 'to guide our feet in the way of peace' (Luke 1:78, 79). If God condescend to us so very low, to teach us this way in the Scriptures and by Christ, it must needs be greatly necessary for us to sit down at His feet and learn it.

6. The way of attaining to godliness is so far from being known without learning out of the Holy Scriptures that, when it is here plainly revealed, we cannot learn it so easily as the duties of the law, which was known in part by the light of nature, and therefore the more easily assented to. It is the way by which the dead are brought to live to God; and therefore doubtless it is far above all the thoughts and conjectures of human wisdom. It is the way of salvation, in which God will 'destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent,' by discovering things by His Spirit, that 'the natural man does not receive, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned' (1 Cor. 1:19 , 21; 2:14 ). 'Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness' (1 Tim. 3:16 ). The learning of it requires double work; because we must unlearn many of our former deeply-rooted notions and become fools, that we may be wise. We must pray earnestly to the Lord to teach us, as well as search the Scriptures, that we may get this knowledge. 'O that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes!' 'Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes; and I will keep it to the end' (Ps. 119: 5, 33). 'Teach me to do Your will' (Ps. 143:10). 'The Lord direct your hearts to the love of God' (2 Thess. 3:5). Surely these saints did not so much want teaching and directions concerning the duties of the law to be done, as concerning the way and means by which they might do them.

7. The certain knowledge of these powerful and effectual means is of the greatest importance and necessity for our establishment in the true faith and avoiding errors contrary to them, for we cannot rationally doubt that the moral duties of love to God and our neighbour are absolutely necessary to true religion, so that it cannot submit without them. And, from this principle, we may firmly conclude that nothing repugnant to the practice of these holy duties ought to be received as a point of faith, delivered to us by the most holy God; and that whatever is truly necessary, powerful and effectual to bring us to the practice of them ought to be believed, as proceeding from God, because it has the image of His holiness and righteousness engraven on it. This is a sure test and touchstone, which those that are seriously religious will use to try their spirits and their doctrines, whether they are of God or no; and they cannot rationally approve any doctrine as religious, that is not according to godliness (1 Tim. 6:3). By this touchstone Christ proves His doctrine to be of God, because in this He seeks the glory of God (John 7:17, 18). And He teaches us to know false prophets by their fruits (Matt. 7:15, 16), in which the fruits, which their doctrine tends to, are especially to be considered. Thus it appears that, until we know what are the effectual means of holiness, and what not, we want a necessary touchstone of divine truth, and may be easily deceived by false doctrine, or brought to live in mere suspense concerning the truth of any religion, like the seekers. And, if you mistake, and think those means to be effectual that are not, and those that are effectual to be weak, or of a contrary effect, your error in this will be a false touchstone to try other doctrines, by which you will readily approve of errors and refuse the truth, which has been a pernicious occasion of many errors in religion in late days. Get but a true touchstone, by learning this lesson, and you will be able to try the various doctrines of Protestants, Papists, Arminians, Socinians, Antinomians, Quakers; and to discover the truth and cleave to it, with much satisfaction to your judgement, among all the janglings and controversies of these times. In this way you may discover whether the Protestant religion established among us has in it any sinews of Antinomianism; whether it is guilty of any insufferable defect in practical principles, and deserves to be altered and turned almost upside down with new doctrines and methods, as some learned men in late times have judged by their touchstones.

8. It is also of great importance and necessity for our establishment in holy practice; for we cannot apply ourselves to the practice of holiness with hope of success, except we have some faith concerning the divine assistance, which we have no ground to expect, if we do not use such means as God has appointed to work by. 'God meets them that remember Him in His own ways' (Isa. 64:5); and 'makes a breach on them that do not seek Him after the due order' (1 Chron. 15:13). He has chosen and ordained such means of sanctification and salvation as are for His own glory, and those only He blesses to us; and He crowns no man that strives, unless he strives lawfully (2 Tim. 2:5).

Experience shows plentifully, both of heathens and Christians, how pernicious ignorance, or mistaking of those effectual means, is to a holy practice. The heathens generally fell short of an acceptable performance of those duties of the law which they knew, because of their ignorance in this point: (i) Many Christians content themselves with external performances, because they never knew how they might attain to spiritual service. i) And many reject the way of holiness as austere and unpleasant, because they did not know how to cut off a right hand, or pluck out a right eye, without intolerable pain; whereas they would find 'the ways of wisdom' (if they knew them) 'to be ways of pleasantness, and all her paths to be peace' (Prov. 3:17). This occasions the putting off repentance from time to time, as an uncouth thing. (iii) Many others set on the practice of holiness with a fervent zeal, and run very fast; but do not tread a step in the right way; and, finding themselves frequently disappointed and overcome by their lusts, they at last give over the work and turn to wallow again in the mire - which has occasioned several treatises, to show how far a reprobate may go in the way of religion, by which many weak saints are discouraged, accounting that these reprobates have gone farther than themselves; whereas most of them never knew the right way, nor trod one step right in it, for, 'there are few that find it' (Matt. 7:14). (iv) Some of the more ignorant zealots do inhumanly macerate their bodies with fasting and other austerities, to kill their lusts; and, when they see their lusts are still too hard for them, they fall into despair and are driven, by horror of conscience, to make away with themselves wickedly, to the scandal of religion.

Peradventure God may bless my discovery of the powerful means of holiness so far as to save some one or other from killing themselves. And such a fruit as this would countervail my labour; though I hope God will enlarge the hearts of many by it to run with great cheerfulness, joy and thanksgiving in the ways of His commandments.

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