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The GOSPEL MYSTERY OF

SANCTIFICATION

 

Walter Marshall

 


Chapter Three

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.

Here, as much as anywhere, we have great cause to acknowledge with the apostle that, without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness - even so great that it could not have entered into the heart of man to conceive it, if God had not made it known in the gospel by supernatural revelation. Yea, though it is revealed clearly in the Holy Scriptures, yet the natural man has no eyes to see it there, for it is foolishness to him. And, if God express it ever so plainly and properly, he will think that God is speaking riddles and parables. I do not doubt but it is still a riddle and parable, even to many truly godly that have received a holy nature in this way. For the apostles themselves had the saving benefit of it before the Comforter discovered it clearly to them (John 14:20 ). And they walked in Christ as the way to the Father before they clearly knew Him to be the way (John 14:5). And the best of us know it but in part, and must wait for the perfect knowledge of it in another world.

One great mystery is that the holy frame and disposition, by which 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 we are 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, and derived from Him to us, or as it were propagated. So that we are not at all to work together with 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. Therefore many that are seriously devout take a great deal of pains to mortify their corrupt nature and beget a holy frame of heart in themselves by striving earnestly to master their sinful lusts, and by pressing vehemently on their hearts many motives to godliness, labouring importunately to squeeze good qualifications out of them, as oil out of a flint. They account that, though they be justified by a righteousness wrought out by Christ, yet they must be sanctified by a holiness wrought out by themselves. And though, out of humility, they are willing to call it infused grace, yet they think they must get the infusion of it by the same manner of working, as if it were wholly acquired by their own endeavours. On this account they acknowledge the entrance into a godly life to be harsh and unpleasing, because it costs so much struggling with their own hearts and affections, to new frame them. If they knew that this way of entrance is not only harsh and unpleasant, but altogether impossible; and that the true way of mortifying sin and quickening themselves to holiness is by receiving a new nature, out of the fullness of Christ; and that we do no more to the production of a new nature than of original sin, though we do more to the reception of it - if they knew this, they might save themselves many a bitter agony, and a great deal of misspent burdensome labour, and employ their endeavours to enter in at the strait gate, in such a way as would be more pleasant and successful.

Another great mystery in the way of sanctification is the glorious manner of our fellowship with Christ in receiving a holy frame of heart from Him. It is by our being in Christ, and having Christ Himself in us - and that not merely by His universal preference as He is God, but by such a close union as that we are one spirit and one flesh with Him; which is a privilege peculiar to those that are truly sanctified. I may well call this a mystical union, because the apostle calls it a great mystery, in an Epistle full of mysteries (Eph. 5:32 ), intimating that it is eminently great above many other mysteries. It is one of the three mystical unions that are the chief mysteries in religion. The other two are the union of the Trinity of Persons in one Godhead, and the union of the divine and human natures in one Person, Jesus Christ, God and man. Though we cannot frame an exact idea of the manner of any of these three unions in our imaginations, because the depth of these mysteries is beyond our comprehension, yet we have cause to believe them all, because they are clearly revealed in Scripture, and are a necessary foundation for other points of Christian doctrine. Particularly, this union between Christ and believers is plain in several places of Scripture, affirming that Christ is, and dwells in believers, and they in Him (John 6:56; 14:20); and that they are so joined together as to become one Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17); and that believers are 'members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones' and they two, Christ and the church, are one flesh (Eph. 5:30, 31).

Furthermore, this union is illustrated in Scripture by various resemblances, which would be very much unlike the things which they are made use of to resemble, and would rather seem to beguile us by obscuring the truth than instruct us by illustrating it, if there were no true proper union between Christ and believers. It is resembled by the union between God the Father and Christ (John 14:20; 17:21 -23); between the vine and its branches (John 15:4, 5); between the head and body (Eph. 1:22, 23); between bread and the eater (John 6:51, 53, 54). It is not only resembled, but sealed in the Lord's Supper, where neither the popish transubstantiation, nor the Lutherans' consubstantiation, nor the Protestants' spiritual preference of Christ's body and blood to the true receivers, can stand without it. And, if we can imagine that Christ's body and blood are not truly eaten and drunk by believers, either spiritually or corporally, we shall make the bread and wine gut with the words of institution not only naked signs, but such signs as are much more apt to breed false notions in us than to establish us in the truth. And there is nothing in this union so impossible, or repugnant to reason, as may force us to depart from the lain and familiar sense of those Scriptures that express and illustrate it. Though Christ is 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 ate His flesh and drank 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 and intimate union between Christ and us. And it will not follow from this that a believer is one person with Christ, any more than that Christ is one person with the Father, by that great mystical union. Neither will a believer be in this way 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 in this way, or Christ made a sinner. For Christ knows how to dwell in believers by certain measures and degrees, and to make them holy so far only as He dwells 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, by which we are redeemed, we should dishonour God, if we should not expect a miraculous advancement to the highest dignity that creatures are capable of through the merits of that blood. Neither is there anything in this union contrary to the judgement of sense, because the bond of the union, being spiritual, does not fall at all under the judgment of sense.

Several learned men of late acknowledge no other union between Christ and believers than such as persons or things wholly separated may have by their mutual relations to each other; and accordingly they interpret the places of Scripture that speak of this union. When Christ is called the Head of the church, they account that a political head or governor is the thing meant. When Christ is said to be in His people, and they in Him, they think that the proper meaning is that Christ's law, doctrine, grace, salvation, or that godliness is in them, and embraced by them, so that Christ here must not be taken for Christ Himself, but for some other thing wrought in them by Christ. When Christ and believers are said to be one Spirit, and one flesh, they understand it of the agreement of their minds and affections - as if the greatness of the mystery of this union mentioned (Eph. 5:32) consisted rather in a harsh trope, or a dark improper expression, than in the depth and abstruseness of the thing itself; and as if Christ and His apostles had affected obscure intricate expressions, when they speak to the church of things very plain, and easy to be understood. Thus that great mystery, the union of believers with Christ Himself - which is the glory of the church, and has been highly owned formerly, both by the ancient fathers, and many eminent Protestant divines, particularly writers concerning the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, and by a very general consent of the church in many ages - is now exploded out of the new model of divinity. The reason of exploding it, as I judge in charity, is not because our learned refiners of divinity think themselves less able to defend it than the other two mysterious unions, and to silence the objections of those proud sophisters that will not believe what they cannot comprehend; but rather, because they account it to be one of the sinews of Antinomianism, that lay unobserved in the former usual doctrine; that it tends to puff up men with a persuasion that they are justified and have eternal life in them already, and that they do not need to depend any longer on their uncertain performances of the condition of sincere obedience for salvation; by which they account the very foundation of a holy practice to be subverted. But the wisdom of God has laid another manner of foundation for a holy practice than they imagine, of which this union (which the builders refuse) is a principal stone, next to the head of the corner. And in opposition to their corrupt glosses on the Scriptures that prove it, I assert that our union with Christ is the cause of our subjection to Christ as a political head in all things, and of the abiding of His law, doctrine, grace, salvation and all godliness in us, and of our agreement with Him in our minds and affections; and therefore it cannot be altogether the same thing with them. And this assertion is useful for a better understanding of the excellency of this union. It is not a privilege procured by our sincere obedience and holiness, as some may imagine, or a reward of good works, reserved for us in another world; but it is a privilege bestowed on believers in their very first entrance into a holy state, on which all ability to do good works depends, and all sincere obedience to the law follows after it, as fruit produced by it.

Having thus far explained this direction, I shall now show that though the truth contained in it is above the reach of natural reason, yet it is evidently discovered to those that have their understandings opened to discern that supernatural revelation of the mysterious way of sanctification which God has given to us in the Holy Scriptures.

1. There are several places in Scripture that plainly express it. Some texts show that all things pertaining to our salvation are treasured up for us in Christ, and comprehended in His fullness so that we must have them from that place, or not at all (Col. 1:19). It pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell in Him. And, in the same Epistle the apostle shows that the holy nature, by which we live to God, was first produced in us by His death and resurrection: 'And you were circumcised in Him with circumcision not done by hand, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh,... being buried with Him,...made alive together with Him being dead in your sins' (Col. 2:11-13). 'Who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ' (Eph. 1:3). A holy frame of spirit, with all its necessary qualifications, must needs be comprehended in this, in all spiritual blessings. These are given us in Christ's person in heavenly places, as prepared and treasured up in Him for us while we are on earth. Therefore we must have our holy endowments out of Him, or not at all. In this text some choose rather to read heavenly things, as in the margin, because neither places nor things are expressed in the original; but the former textual reading is to be preferred before the marginal, as being the proper sense of the original Greek phrase, which is, and must necessarily be so rendered in two other places of the same Epistle (Eph. 3:10; 6:12). Another text is 1 Corinthians 1:30, which shows that 'Christ is of God made to us sanctification,' by which we are able to walk holily; as well as wisdom, by the knowledge of which we are savingly wise; and righteousness, by the imputation of which we are justified; and redemption, by which we are redeemed from all misery to the enjoyment of His glory, as our happiness in the heavenly kingdom. Other texts of Scripture show plainly that we receive our holiness out of His fullness by fellowship with Him (John 1:16, 17): 'And we have received of His fullness and grace on top of grace.' And it is understood of grace answerable to the law given by Moses, which must needs include the grace of sanctification: 'Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. God is light. If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another' (1 John 1:3, 5-7). Thus we may infer that our fellowship with God and Christ includes particularly our having light, and walking in it holily and righteously. There are other texts that teach the proof of the whole direction fully, showing, not only that our holy endowments are made ready first in Christ for us, and received from Christ, but that we receive them by union with Christ: 'You have put on the new man, which is renewed after the image of Him that created Him; where Christ is all and in all' (Col. 3:10, 11). 'He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit' (1 Cor. 6:17). 'I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me' (Gal. 2:20). 'This is the record, that God has given us eternal life; and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has life, and he that does not have the Son does not have life' (John 5:11, 12). Can we desire that God should more clearly teach us that all the fulness of the new man is in Christ, and all that spiritual nature and life by which we live to God in holiness, and that they are fixed in Him so inseparably, that we cannot have them except we be joined to Him, and have Him abiding in us? Take heed lest, through prejudice and hardness of heart, you are guilty of making God a liar, in not believing this eminent record that God has given us His Son.

2. God is leased to illustrate this mysterious manner of our sanctification by such a variety of similitudes and resemblances as may put us out of doubt that it is truth, and such a truth as we are highly concerned to know and believe. I shall endeavour to contract the chief of these resemblances and the force of them briefly into one sentence, leaving it to those that are spiritual to enlarge their meditation on them. We receive from Christ a new holy frame and nature, by which we are enabled for a holy practice, by union and fellowship with Him, in like manner (i) as Christ lived in our nature by the Father (John 6:57); (ii) as we receive original sin and death propagated to us from the first Adam (Rom. 5:12, 14, 16, 17); (iii) as the natural body receives sense, motion and nourishment from the head (Col. 2:19); (iv) as the branch receives its sap, juice and fructifying virtue from the vine (John 15:4, 5); (v) as the wife brings forth fruit by virtue of her conjugal union with her husband (Rom. 7:4); (vi) as stones become a holy temple by being built on the foundation, and joined with the chief corner-stone (1 Peter 2:4-6); (vii) as we receive the nourishing virtue of bread by eating it, and of wine by drinking it (John 6:51, 55, 57), which last resemblance is used to seal to us our communion with Christ in the Lord's Supper.

Here are seven resemblances instanced, of which some illustrate the mystery spoken of more fully than others. All of them in some way intimate that our new life and holy nature are first in Christ, and then in us, by a true proper union and fellowship with Him. If any should urge that the similitude of Adam and his seed, and of married couples, rather make for a relative than a real union between Christ and us; let them consider that all nations are really made of one blood, which was first in Adam (Acts 17:26); and that the first woman was made out of the body of Adam, and was really bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. And by this first married couple the mystical union of Christ and His church is eminently resembled (Gen. 2:22-24; Eph. 5: 30-32). And yet it supposes both these resemblances in the nearness and fullness of them, because those that are joined to the Lord are not only one flesh, but one spirit with Him.

3. The end of Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection was to prepare and form a holy nature and frame for us in Himself, to be communicated to us by union and fellowship with Him; and not to enable us to produce in ourselves the first original of such a holy nature by our own endeavours.

1. By His incarnation, there was a man created in a new holy frame, after the holiness of the first Adam's frame had been marred and abolished by the first transgression. This new frame was far more excellent than ever the first Adam's was; because man was really joined to God by a close inseparable union of the divine and human nature in one Person, Christ; so that these natures had communion each with the other in their actings, and Christ was able to act in His human nature, by power proper to the divine nature, in which He was one God with the Father. The words that He spoke while He was on earth, He spoke not of Himself, by any mere human power, but the Father that dwelt in Him, He did the works (John 14:10). Why was it that Christ set up the fallen nature of man in such a wonderful frame of holiness, in bringing it to live and act by communion with God, living and acting in it? One great end was that He might communicate this excellent frame to His seed, that should be born of Him and in Him by His Spirit, as the last Adam, the quickening Spirit; that, as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so we might also bear the image of the heavenly (1 Cor. 15:45, 49), in holiness here, and in glory hereafter. Thus He was born Emmanuel, God with us; because the fullness of the Godhead, with all holiness, did first dwell in Him bodily , even in His human nature, that we might be filled up with that fullness in Him (Matt. 1:23; Col. 2:9, 10). Thus He came down from heaven as living bread that, as He lives by the Father, so those that eat Him may live in Him (John 6:51, 56), by the same life of God in them that was first in Him.

2. By His death, He freed Himself from the guilt of our sins imputed to Him, and from all that innocent weakness of His human nature which He had borne for a time for our sakes. And, by freeing Himself, He prepared a freedom for us, from our whole natural condition, which is both weak as He was, and also polluted without guilt and sinful corruption. Thus the corrupt natural estate, which is called in Scripture the old man, was crucified together with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed. And it is destroyed in us, not by any wounds that we ourselves can give to it, but by our partaking of that freedom from it, and death to it, that is already wrought out for us by the death of Christ; as is signified by our baptism, in which we are buried with Christ by the application of His death to us (Rom. 6:2-4, 10, 11). 'God, in sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and to be a sacrifice for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous demand of the law should be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit' (Rom. 8:3, 4). Observe here that, though Christ died that we might be justified by the righteousness of God and of faith, not by our own righteousness, which is of the law (Rom. 10:4-6; Phil. 3:9), yet He died also, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, and that by walking after His Spirit, as those that are in Christ (Rom. 8:4). He is resembled in His death to a corn of wheat dying in the earth, that it may propagate its own nature, by bringing forth much fruit (John 12:24); to the Passover that was slain, that a feast might be kept on it; and to bread broken, that it may be nourishment to those that eat it (1 Cor. 5:7, 8; 11:24); to the rock smitten, that water may gush out of it for us to drink (1 Cor. 10:4). He died that He might make of Jew and Gentile one new man in Himself (Eph. 2:15 ), and that He might see His seed, that is, such as derive their holy nature from Him (Isa. 53:10). Let these Scriptures be well observed, and they will sufficiently evidence that Christ died, not that we might be able to form a holy nature in ourselves, but that we might receive one ready prepared and formed in Christ for us, by union and fellowship with Him.

3. By His resurrection, He took possession of spiritual life for us, as now fully procured for us, and made to be our right and property by the merit of His death. Therefore we are said to be quickened together with Christ, even when we were dead in sins, and to be raised up together, yea, and to be made to sit together in heavenly aces in Christ Jesus, as our Head, while we continue on earth in our own persons (Eph. 2:5, 6). His resurrection was our resurrection to the life of holiness, as Adam's fall was our fall into spiritual death. And we are not ourselves the first makers and formers of our new holy nature, any more than of our original corruption; but both are formed ready for us to partake of them. And, by union with Christ, we partake of that spiritual life that He took possession of for us at His resurrection, and in this way we are enabled to bring forth the fruits of it; as the Scripture shows by the similitude of a marriage union (Rom. 7:4). We are married to Him that is risen from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit to God. Baptism signifies the application of Christ's resurrection to us as well as His death; we are raised up with Him, in it, to newness of life, as well as buried with Him; and we are taught in this way that, because He died to sin once and lives to God, we should likewise reckon ourselves to be dead indeed to sin and alive to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:4, 5, 10, 11).

4. Our sanctification is by the Holy Ghost, by whom we live and walk holily (Rom. 15:16; Gal. 5:25). Now, the Holy Ghost first rested on Christ in all fullness, that He might be communicated from Him to us; as was signified to John the Baptist by the similitude of the descending of a dove from the opened heavens, resting on Christ at His baptism (John 1:32, 33). And when He sanctifies us, He baptizes us to Christ, and joins us to Christ by Himself, as the great bond of union (1 Cor. 12:13). So that according to the scriptural phrase, it is all one, to have Christ Himself, and to have the Spirit of Christ in us (Rom. 8:9, 10). He glorifies Christ, for He receives those things that are Christ's and shows them to us (John 16:14, 15). He gives us an experimental knowledge of those spiritual blessings which He Himself prepared for us by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ.

5. The effectual causes of those four principal endowments, which in the foregoing direction were asserted as necessary to furnish us for the immediate practice of holiness, are comprehended in the fullness of Christ, and treasured up for us in Him; and the endowments themselves, together with their causes, are attained richly by union and fellowship with Christ. If we are joined to Christ, our hearts will be no longer left under the power of sinful inclinations, or in a mere indifferency of inclination to good or evil; but they will be powerfully endowed with a power, bent and propensity to the practice of holiness,. By the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us, and inclining us to mind spiritual things and to lust against the flesh (Rom. 8:1, 4, 5; Gal. 5:17). And we have in Christ a full reconciliation with God, and an advancement into higher favour with Him than the first Adam had in the state of innocency, because the righteousness that Christ wrought out for us by His obedience to death is imputed to us for our justification, which is called the righteousness of God, because it is wrought by One that is God as well as man; and therefore it is of infinite value to satisfy the justice of God for all our sins, and to procure His pardon and highest favour for us (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:19). And, that we may be persuaded of this reconciliation, we receive the spirit of adoption through Christ, by which we cry, 'Abba, Father' (Rom. 8:15). In this way also we are persuaded of our future enjoyment of the everlasting happiness, and of sufficient strength both to will and to perform our duty acceptably, until we come to that enjoyment. For the spirit of adoption teaches us to conclude that, if we are the children of God, then we are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; and that the law of the spirit of life that is in Christ Jesus makes us free from the law of sin and death; and that nothing shall be against us, nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ; but in all opposition and difficulties that we meet with, we shall be at last 'more than conquerors through Him that loved us' (Rom. 8:17, 23, 35, 37, 39).

Furthermore, this comfortable persuasion of our justification and future happiness and all saving privileges cannot tend to licentiousness, as it is given only in this way of union with Christ, because it is joined inseparably with the gift of sanctification, by the Spirit of Christ, so that we cannot have justification, or any saving privilege in Christ, except we receive Christ Himself and His holiness, as well as any other benefit; as the Scripture testifies that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:1).

6. Whereas it may be doubted whether the saints that lived before the coming of Christ in the flesh could possibly be one flesh with Him, and receive a new nature by union and fellowship with Him, as prepared for them, in His fullness, we are to know that the same Christ that took our flesh was before Abraham (John 8:58), and was foreordained before the foundation of the world, to be sacrificed as a lamb without blemish, that He might redeem us from all iniquity by His precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-20). He had the same Spirit then, which filled His human nature with all its fullness afterwards, and raised it from the dead; and He gave that Spirit then to the church (1 Peter 1:11; 3:18, 19). Now, this Spirit was able and effectual to unite those saints to that flesh which Christ was to take to Himself in the fullness of time, because He was the same in both, and to give out to them that grace with which Christ would afterwards fill His flesh, for their salvation as well as ours. Therefore David accounts Christ's flesh to be his, and spoke of Christ's death and resurrection as his own, beforehand as well as any of us can do since their accomplishment: 'My flesh also shall rest in hope; for You will not leave my soul in hell; neither will You allow Your holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life' (Ps. 16:9-11). Yea, and saints before David's time did all eat of the same spiritual meat and drink of the same spiritual drink, even of the same Christ, as we do, and therefore were partakers of the same privilege of union and fellowship with Christ (1 Cor. 10:3, 4). And when Christ was manifested in the flesh, in the fullness of time, all things in heaven and on earth, all the saints departed, whose spirits were then made perfect in heaven, as well as the saints that then were, or should afterwards be on earth, were 'gathered together in one,' and comprehended in Christ as their Head (Eph. 1:10). And He was 'the chief corner-stone, in whom the building of the whole church on the foundation' of the prophets before, and the apostles after His coming, 'being fitly framed together, grows to a holy temple in the Lord' (Eph. 2:20, 21). Jesus Christ 'is the same yesterday, and today, and forever' (Heb. 13:8). His 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, by which all saints that ever were, or shall be, are joined together to be members of that one mystical body of which He is the Head. 

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