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The GOSPEL MYSTERY OF

SANCTIFICATION

 

Walter Marshall

 


Chapter Four

The means or instruments by which the Spirit of God accomplishes our union with Christ, and our fellowship with Him in all holiness, are the gospel, by which Christ enters into our hearts to work faith in us, and faith, by which we actually receive Christ Himself, with all His fullness, into our hearts. And this faith is a grace of the Spirit, by which we heartily believe the gospel and also believe on Christ as He is revealed and freely promised to us in this, for all His salvation.

That which I assented, in the foregoing direction, concerning the necessity of our being in Christ, and having Christ in us by a mystical union to enable us for a holy practice, might put us to a stand in our endeavours for holiness, because we cannot imagine how we should be able to raise ourselves above our natural sphere to this glorious union and fellowship, until God is pleased to make known to us by supernatural revelation the means by which His Spirit makes us partakers of so high a privilege. But God is pleased to help us, when at a stand to go on forward, by revealing two means or instruments by which His Spirit accomplishes the mystical union and fellowship between Christ and us, and which rational creatures are capable of attaining to, by His Spirit working in them.

One of these means is the gospel of the grace of God, in which God makes known to us the unsearchable riches of Christ and Christ in us, the hope of glory (Eph. 3:8; Col. 1:27), and also invites us and commands us to believe on Christ for His salvation, and encourages us by a free promise of that salvation to all that believe on Him (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9, 11). This is God's own instrument of conveyance, in which He sends Christ to us to bless us with His salvation

(Acts 3:26 ). It is the ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness (2 Cor. 3:6, 8, 9). Faith comes by the hearing of it, and therefore it is a great instrument by which we are begotten in Christ and Christ is formed in us (Rom. 10:16, 17; 1 Cor. 4:15; Gal. 4:19). There is no need for us to say in our hearts, 'Who shall ascend into heaven, to bring Christ down from above?' or, 'Who shall descend into the deep, to bring Christ up from the dead, that we may be united and have fellowship with Him in His death and resurrection?' For the Word is near us, the gospel, the word of faith in which Christ Himself graciously condescends to be near us, so that we may come at Him there without going any further, if we desire to be joined with Him (Rom. 10:6-8).

The other of these means is faith, that is wrought in us by the gospel. This is our instrument of reception, by which the union between Christ and us is accomplished on our part by our actual receiving Christ Himself with all His fullness in our heart, which is the principal subject of the present explanation.

The faith which philosophers commonly treat of is only a habit of the understanding, by which we assent to a testimony on the authority of the testifier. Accordingly, some would have faith in Christ to be no more than a believing the truth of things in religion, on the authority of Christ testifying them. But the apostle shows that the faith by which we are justified is faith in Christ's blood (Rom. 3:24, 25), not only in His authority as a testifier. And though a mere assent to a testimony were sufficient faith for knowledge of things, which the philosophers aimed at, yet we are to consider that the design of saving faith is not only to know the truth of Christ and His salvation, testified and promised in the gospel, but also to apprehend and receive Christ and His salvation, as given by and with the promise. Therefore, saving faith must necessarily contain two acts, believing the truth of the gospel, and believing on Christ, as promised freely to us in the gospel, for all salvation. By the one, it receives the means in which Christ is conveyed to us; by the other, it receives Christ Himself, and His salvation in the means, as it is one act to receive the breast or cup in which milk or wine are conveyed, and another act to suck the milk in the breast and to drink the wine in the cup. And both these acts must be performed heartily with an unfeigned love to the truth and a desire of Christ and His salvation above all things. This is our spiritual appetite, which is necessary for our eating and drinking Christ, the food of life, as a natural appetite is for bodily nourishment. Our assenting to, or believing the gospel, must not be forced by mere conviction of the truth, such as wicked men and devils may be brought to, when they had rather it were false. Neither must our believing in Christ be only constrained for fear of damnation, without any hearty love and desire towards the enjoyment of Him; but we must receive the love of the truth by relishing the goodness and excellency of it; and we must 'account all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord, and count them but dung, that we may win Christ and be found in Him' (2 Thess. 1:10; Phil. 3:8, 9), esteeming Christ to be all our salvation and happiness (Col. 3: 11), 'in whom all fullness dwells' (Col. 1:19). And this love must be to every part of Christ's salvation - to holiness as well as forgiveness of sins. We must desire earnestly that God would create in us a clean heart and right spirit, as well as hide His face from our sins (Ps. 51:9, 10); not like many that care for nothing in Christ but only deliverance from hell. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled (Matt. 5:6). The former of these acts does immediately unite us to Christ, because it is terminated only on the means of conveyance, the gospel; yet it is a saving act, if it be rightly performed, because it inclines and disposes the soul to the latter act, whereby Christ Himself is immediately received into the heart. He that believes the gospel with hearty love and liking, as the most excellent truth, will certainly with the like heartiness believe on Christ for salvation. They that know the name of the Lord will certainly put their trust in Him (Ps. 9:10). Therefore in Scripture saving faith is sometimes described by the former of these acts, as if it were a mere believing the gospel; sometimes by the latter, as a believing on Christ, or in Christ: 'If you believe in your heart, that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved' (Rom. 10:9). 'The scripture says, that whoever believes on Him, shall not be ashamed' (v. 11). 'Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God' (1 John 5:1). 'These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God' (v. 13).

For the better understanding of the nature of faith, let it be further observed, that the second and principal act of it, believing on Christ, includes believing on God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, because they are one and the same infinite God, and they all concur in our salvation by Christ, as the only Mediator between God and us, 'in whom all the promises of God are yea and amen' (2 Cor. 1:20). By Him (as Mediator) we believe 'in God, who raised Him up from among the dead and gave glory to Him - so that your faith and hope might be in God' (1 Peter 1:21). And it is the same thing with trusting on God, or on the Lord, which is so highly commended in the whole Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, as may easily appear by considering that it has the same causes, effects, objects, adjuncts, opposites and all the same circumstances, excepting only that it had a respect to Christ as promised before His coming, and now it respects Him as already come in the flesh. Believing in the Lord and trusting on His salvation are equivalent terms that explain one another (Ps. 78:22). 1 confess that trusting on things seen or known by the mere light of reason, as on our own wisdom, power, riches, or princes, or any arm of flesh, may not so properly be called believing on them; but trusting on a Saviour, as discovered by a testimony, is properly believing on Him. It is also the same thing that is expressed by the terms of resting, relying, leaning, staying ourselves on the Lord, called hoping in the Lord, because it is the ground of that expectation which is the proper act of hope, though our believing and trusting is for the present as well as future benefit of this salvation. The reason why it is so commonly expressed in the Scriptures of the New Testament by the terms of believing on Christ might be probably because, when that part of Scripture was written, there was cause in a special manner to urge believing the testimony that was then newly revealed by the gospel.

Having thus explained the nature of faith, I come now to assert its proper use and office in our salvation: that it is the means and instrument by which we receive Christ and all His fullness actually into our hearts. This excellent use and office of faith is encountered by a multitude of errors. Men naturally esteem that it is too small and slight a thing to produce so great effects, as Naaman thought washing in Jordan too small a matter for the cure of his leprosy. They contemn the true means of entering in at the strait gate, because they seem too easy for such purpose, and in this way they make the entrance not only difficult, but impossible to themselves. Some will allow that faith is the sole condition of our justification and the instrument to receive it, according to the doctrine maintained formerly by the Protestants against the Papists; but they account that it is not sufficient or effectual to sanctification, but that it rather tends to licentiousness, if it is not joined with some other means that may be powerful and effectual to secure a holy practice. They commend this great doctrine of Protestants as a comfortable cordial for persons on their deathbeds, or in agonies under terrors of conscience; but they account that it is not good for ordinary food, and that it is wisdom in ministers to reach it seldom and sparingly, and not without some antidote or corrective to prevent the licentiousness to which it tends. Their common antidote or corrective is that sanctification is necessary to salvation, as well as justification; and though we are justified by faith, yet we are sanctified by our own performance of the law. So they set up salvation by works, and make the grace of justification to be of no effect, and not at all comfortable. If it had indeed such a malignant influence on practice, it could not be owned as a doctrine proceeding from the most holy God, and all the comfort that it affords must needs be ungrounded and deceitful. This consequence is well understood by some late refiners of the Protestant religion, and therefore they have thought fit to remodel this doctrine, and to make saving faith to be only a condition to procure a right and title to our justification by the righteousness of Christ, which must be performed before we can lay any good claim to the enjoyment of it, and before we have any right to use any instrument for the actual receiving of it; and this they call an accepting of, or receiving Christ. And, that they may the better secure the practice of holiness by their conditional faith, they will not have trusting in God or Christ for salvation to be accounted the principal saving act of it; because, as it seems to them, many loose wicked people trust on God and Christ for their salvation as much as others and are, by their confidence, hardened the more in their wickedness; but they had rather it should be obedience to all Christ's laws, at least in resolution, or a consent that Christ should be their Lord, accepting of His terms of salvation, and a resignation of themselves to His government in all things. It is a sign that the Scripture form of teaching is grown into disesteem with our great masters of reason when trusting in the Lord, so much commended in Scripture, is accounted a mean and ordinary thing. They endeavour to affright us from owning faith to be an instrument of justification by telling us that in this way we that use the instrument are made our own principal justifiers, to the dishonour of God; though it might be easily answered that we are made in this way only the principal receivers of our own justification from GOT, the giver of it, to whom all the glory belongs.

All these errors will fall if it can be proved that such a faith as I have described is an instrument by which we actually receive Christ Himself into our hearts, and holiness of heart and life, as well as justification, by union and fellowship with Him. For the proof of it, I shall offer the following arguments.

1. By faith we have the actual enjoyment and possession of Christ Himself, and not only of remission of sin, but of life, and so of holiness. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17). We live to God; and yet not we, but Christ lives in us by the faith of the Son of God (Gal. 2:19, 20). He that believes on the Son of God has the Son and everlasting life that is in Him (1 John 5:12, 13; John 3:36). He that hears Christ's word, and believes on Him that sent Christ, has everlasting life and is passed from death to life (John 5:24). These texts express clearly such a faith as I have described. Therefore the efficiency or operation of faith, in order to the enjoyment of Christ and His fullness, cannot be the procurement of a bare right or title to this enjoyment; but rather it must be an entrance to it, and taking possession of it. We have our access and entrance by faith into that grace of Christ in which we stand (Rom. 5:2).

2. The Scripture plainly ascribes this effect to faith: that by it we receive Christ, put Him on, are rooted and grounded in Him; and also that we receive the Spirit, remission of sins and an inheritance among them which are sanctified (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26, 27; Col. 2:6, 7; Gal. 3:14; Acts 26:18). And the Scripture illustrates this receiving by the similitude of eating and drinking: He that believes on Christ drinks the living water of His Spirit (John 7:37-39). Christ is the bread of life; His flesh is meat indeed, and His blood is drink indeed. And the way to eat and drink it is to believe in Christ and, by so doing, we dwell in Christ, and Christ in us, and we have everlasting life (John 6:35, 47, 48, 54-56). How can it be taught more clearly that we receive Christ Himself properly into our souls by faith, as we receive food into our bodies by eating and drinking, and that Christ is as truly united to us in this way as our food when we eat or drink it? So that faith cannot be a condition to procure a mere right or title to Christ, no more than eating or drinking procures a mere right or title to our food; but it is rather an instrument to receive it, as the mouth that eats and drinks the food.

3. Christ, with all His salvation, is freely given by the grace of God to all that believe on Him, for we are saved by grace through faith; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8, 9). We are justified freely by His grace, through faith in His blood (Rom. 3:24, 25). The Holy Ghost, who is the bond of union between Christ and us, is a gift (Acts 2:38). Now, that which is a gift of grace must not at all be earned, purchased or procured by any work, or works performed as a condition to get a right or title to it. Therefore faith itself must not be accounted such a conditional work. If it is by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace (Rom. 11:6). The condition of a free gift is only take, and have. And in this sense we will readily acknowledge faith to be a condition, allowing a liberty in terms where we agree in the thing. But if you give a peppercorn to purchase a title to it, then you spoil the freeness of the gift. The free offer of Christ to you is sufficient to confer on you a right, yea, to make it your duty to receive Christ and His salvation as yours. And because we receive Christ by faith as a free gift, therefore we may account faith to be the instrument and, as it were, the hand by which we receive Him.

4. It has been already proved that all spiritual life and holiness are treasured up in the fullness of Christ and communicated to us by union with Him. Therefore the accomplishing of union with Christ is the first work of saving grace in our hearts. And faith itself, being a holy grace and part of spiritual life, cannot be in us before the beginning of it; but rather it is given to us and wrought in the very working of the union. And the way in which it conduces to the union cannot be by procuring a mere title to Christ as a condition, because then it should be performed before the uniting work begins; but rather by being an instrument, by which we may actually receive and embrace Christ, who is already come into the soul to take possession of it as His own habitation.

5. True saving faith, such as I have described, has in its nature and manner of operation a peculiar aptitude or fitness to receive Christ and His salvation, and to unite our souls to Him, and to furnish the soul with a new holy nature, and to bring forth a holy practice by union and fellowship with Him. God has fitted natural instruments for their office, as the hands, feet, etc., so that we may know by their nature and natural manner of operation for what use they are designed.

In like manner, we may know that faith is an instrument formed on purpose for our union with Christ and sanctification, if we consider what a peculiar fitness it has for the work. The discovery of this is of great use for the understanding of the mysterious manner of our receiving and practicing all holiness by union and fellowship with Christ, by this precious grace of faith. And to make you, as it were, to see with your eyes that it is such an instrument as I have asserted it to be, I shall present it to your view in three particulars.

1. The grace of faith is as well fitted for the soul's receiving Christ and union with Him as any instrument of the body is for receiving and closing with things needful for it. By the very act of hearty trusting or believing on Christ for salvation and happiness, the soul casts and puts away from itself everything that keeps it at a distance from Christ as all confidence in our strength, endeavours, works, privileges; or in any worldly pleasures, profits, honours; or in any human helps and succours for our happiness and salvation, because such confidences are inconsistent with our confidence in Christ for all salvation. Paul, by his confidence in Christ, was taken off from all confidence in the flesh. He suffered the loss of glorying in his privileges and legal righteousness, and counted all other enjoyments in matters of the world, or of religion, to be but 'loss, that he might win Christ, and be found in Him' (Phil. 3:3, 5-9). The voice of faith is ' Assyria shall not save us. We will not ride on horses. We shall not say any more to the work of our hands, you are our gods; for in You the fatherless find mercy' (Hos. 14:3). 'We have no might against this great company' of our spiritual enemies, 'we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You' (2 Chron. 20:12 ).

I might multiply places of Scripture, to show what a self-emptying grace faith is, and how it casts other confidences out of the soul by getting above them to Christ as the only happiness and salvation. The same act of trusting or believing on Christ, or on God, is the very manner of our souls coming to Christ (John 6:35); 'drawing near to the Lord' (Ps. 73:28); 'making our refuge in the shadow of His wings' (Ps. 57:1); 'staying ourselves and our minds on the Lord' (Isa. 50:10; 26:3); 'laying hold on eternal life' (1 Tim. 6:12); 'lifting up our souls to the Lord' (Ps. 25:1); 'committing our way , or casting our burden on the Lord' (Ps. 37:5; 55:22); and our eating and drinking Christ, as has already appeared. Let us consider that Christ and His salvation cannot be seen, or handled, or attained to, by any bodily motion; but are revealed and promised to us in the Word. Now, let any invent, if they can, any way for the soul to exercise any motion or activeness in the receiving of this unseen promised salvation, besides believing the Word and trusting on Christ for the benefit promised. If Christ were to be earned by works, or any other kind of conditional faith, yet a faith must be instrumental to receive Him. Some think love as fit to be the uniting grace, but I have showed that love to Christ's salvation is an ingredient to faith. And though love is an appetite to union, yet we have no other likely way to fill this appetite while we are in this world, besides trusting on Christ for all His benefits, as He is promised in the gospel.

2. There is in this saving faith a natural tendency to furnish the soul with a holy frame and nature, and all endowments necessary to it, out of the fullness of Christ. A hearty affectionate trusting on Christ for all His salvation, as freely promised to us, has naturally enough in it to work in our souls a rational bent and inclination to, and ability for, the practice of holiness; because it comprehends in it a trusting that, through Christ, we are dead to sin and alive to God; that our old man is crucified (Rom. 6:2-4); and that we live by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25); and that we have forgiveness of sin; and that God is our God (Ps. 48:14); and that we have in the Lord righteousness and strength, by which we are able to do all things (Isa. 45:24; Phil. 4:13); and that we shall be gloriously happy in the enjoyment of Christ to all eternity (Phil. 3:20, 21). When the saints in Scripture speak so highly of such glorious spiritual privileges as I have here named, they acquaint us with the familiar sense and language of their faith, trusting on God and Christ, and they give us but an explication of the nature and contents of it; and they speak of nothing more than what they receive out of the fullness of Christ. And how can we otherwise judge, but that those that have a hearty love to Christ and can, on a good ground, think and speak such high things concerning themselves, must needs be heartily disposed and mightily strengthened for the practice of holiness?

2. Because faith has such a natural tendency to dispose and strengthen the soul for the practice of holiness, we have cause to judge it a suitable instrument to accomplish every part of that practice in an acceptable manner. Those that with a due affection believed steadfastly on Christ for the free gift of all His salvation may find by experience that they are carried forth by that faith, according to the measure of its strength or weakness, to love God heartily, because God has loved them first (1 John 4:19); to praise Him, to pray to Him in the name of Christ (Eph. 5:20; John 16:26, 27); to be patient with cheerfulness, under all afflictions giving thanks to the Father that has called them to His heavenly inheritance (Col. 1:11, 12); to love all the children of God out of love to their heavenly Father (1 John 5:1); to walk as Christ walked (1 John 2:6); and to give themselves up to live to Christ in all things, as constrained by His love in dying for them (2 Cor. 5:14). We have a cloud of witnesses concerning the excellent works that were produced by faith (Heb. 11). And though trusting on God be accounted such a slight and contemptible thing, yet I know no work of obedience which it is not able to produce. And note the excellent manner of working by faith. By it we live and act in all good works, as people in Christ, as raised above ourselves, and in our natural state, by partaking of Him and His salvation; and we do all in His name and on His account. This is the practice of that mysterious manner of living to God in holiness which is peculiar to the Christian religion in which we live; and yet not we, but Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20 ). And who can imagine any other way but this for such a practice, while Christ and His salvation are known to us only by the gospel?

The explanation that I have made of the nature and office of true faith, and of its aptitude for its office, is sufficient to evidence that it is a most holy faith, as it is called (Jude 20), and that such a trusting on Christ as I have described in its own nature cannot have any tendency to licentiousness, but only to holiness; and that it roots and grounds us in holiness, more than the mere accepting of any terms of salvation and consenting to have Christ for our Lord can do; and is more powerful to secure a holy practice than any of those resolutions of obedience, or resignating acts, that some would have to be the great conditions of our salvation, which are indeed no better than hypocritical acts, if they are not produced by this faith. There is indeed a counterfeit dead faith, such as wicked men may have and, if that tend to licentiousness, let not true faith be blamed, but rather mark the description of it which I have given, that you may not be deceived with a counterfeit faith instead of it.

I shall add something concerning the efficient cause of this excellent grace and of our union with Christ by it; by which it may appear that it is not so slight and easy a way of salvation as some may imagine. The author and finisher of our faith, and of our union and fellowship with Christ by faith, is no less than the infinite Spirit of God, and God and Christ Himself by the Spirit, for by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body of Christ and are all made to drink into one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12, 13). God grant us, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with all might by the Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:16, 17). If we do but consider the great effect of faith, that by it we are raised to live above our natural condition by Christ and His Spirit living in us, we cannot rationally conceive that it should be within the power of nature to do anything that advances us so high.

If God had done no more for us in our sanctification than to restore us to our first natural holiness, yet this could not have been done without putting forth His own almighty power to quicken those that are dead in sin; how much more is this almighty power needful to advance us to this wonderful new kind of frame, in which we live and act, above all the power of nature, by a higher principle of life than was given to Adam in innocency, even by Christ and His Spirit living and acting in us? The natural man brings forth his offspring according to his image by that natural power of multiplying with which God blessed him at his first creation; but the second Adam brings forth His offspring new-born according to His image only by the Spirit (John 3:5). As many as received Him, even those that believe on His name, are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12, 13). Christ took His own human nature into personal union with Himself, in the womb of the virgin Mary, by the Holy Ghost coming on her and the power of the Highest overshadowing her, the same power by which the world was created (Luke 1:35). So He takes us into mystical union and fellowship with Himself by no less than an infinite creating power, for we are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus to good works (Eph. 2:10), and, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17).

For the accomplishing this great work of our new creation in Christ, the Spirit of God works first on our hearts, by and with the gospel, to produce in us the grace of faith. For, if the gospel should come to us in word only, and not in power and in the Holy Ghost, Paul might labour to plant, and Apollos to water, without any success, because we cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God; yea, we shall account them foolishness until the Spirit of God enable us to discern them (1 Thess. 1:5; 1 Cor. 3:6; 2:14). We shall never come to Christ by any teaching of man, except we also hear and learn of the Father and be drawn to Christ by His Spirit (John 6:44 , 45). And, when saving faith is wrought in us, the same Spirit gives us fast hold of Christ by it. As He opens the mouth of faith to receive Christ, so He fills it with Christ; or else the acting of faith would be like a dream of one that thinks he eats and drinks and, when he awakes, he finds himself empty. The same Spirit of God did both give that faith by which miracles were wrought, and also worked the miracles by it; so also the same Spirit of Christ works saving faith in us and answers the aim and end of that faith by giving us union and fellowship with Christ by it, so that none of the glory of this work belongs to faith, but only to Christ and His Spirit. And, indeed, faith is of such a humbling self-denying nature that it ascribes nothing that it receives to itself, but all to the grace of God; and therefore God saves us by faith, that all the glory may be ascribed to His free grace (Rom. 4:16). If Adam had strength enough in innocency to perform the duty of faith as well as we, yet it will not follow that he had strength enough to raise himself above his natural state into union with Christ; because faith does not unite us to Christ by its own virtue, but by the power of the Spirit working by it and with it. Thus are we first passive, and then active, in this great work of mystical union; we are first apprehended of Christ, and then we apprehend Christ. Christ entered first into the soul, to join Himself to it, by giving it the spirit of faith; and so the soul receives Christ and His Spirit by their own power; as the sun first enlightens our eyes, and then we can see it by its own light. We may further note, to the glory of the grace of God, that this union is fully accomplished by Christ giving the spirit of faith to us even before we act that faith in the reception of Him; because, by this grace or spirit of faith, the soul is inclined and disposed to an active receiving of Christ. And, no doubt, Christ is thus united to many infants who have the spirit of faith and yet cannot act faith, because they are not come to the use of their understandings; but those of riper years that are joined passively to Christ by the spirit of faith will also join themselves with Him actively, by the act of faith and, until they act this faith, they cannot know or enjoy their union with Christ and the comfort of it, or make use of it in acting any other duties of holiness acceptably in this life.

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