The common struggle of the Christian life is the pursuit of holiness.  How does a person who professes faith in Jesus Christ grow in that faith and become more like Jesus Christ?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism #35 asks the question, “What is Sanctification?”  The given answer is “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man, after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

 The process of being renewed has been a topic of much debate.  Even now, it is becoming a growing controversy in PCA circles because a few well-known preachers are straying from the Westminster definition.  The crux of this debate is a person’s behavior.  Some have argued that sanctification just happens to those who have been justified.  Others have argued that sanctification happens because of our justification.  Still others have said that there is no difference between our justification and our sanctification.  Marshall has navigated these turbulent waters, not just theoretically, but experientially.   

 Walter Marshall was born in 1628.  At age 11 he went to study at Winchester College.  He entered Oxford College in 1648 and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1652.  Four years later he was appointed to the pastorate of a nearby town.  In 1662 he was faced with a dilemma.  The Act of Uniformity was passed and ministers of the Church of England were asked to give proof of Episcopal ordination and their conformity to the Book of Common Prayer.  Like many other Puritan pastors (perhaps as many as 2000), Marshall decided not to compromise his faith and conform to the requirements.  Thus, he had to leave his pastorate, his income, and his home.

 Sometime later a friend directed him to an independent church in another nearby town.  He served there faithfully for eighteen years until he died in 1680.  Like many pastors, Marshall wrestled with depression.  Though for Marshall, his depression was not over the unrepentant people he ministered to, but the sin that remained in his own heart.

 Marshall tried many of the remedies commonly taught in his own day (which also, unsurprisingly, appears to be the same thing taught today.)  He read books from the renown preach Richard Baxter.  He even went and met with Richard Baxter in order to get help for dealing with his own sense of sin.  The answer from Baxter was unhelpful because he told Walter he was being too legalistic!

 Finally, Marshall went and met with Dr. Thomas Goodwin, one of the Westminster Divines.  Marshall gave him “an account of the state of his soul, and particularizing his sins, which lay heavy upon his conscience.”   Dr. Goodwin replied by telling him that he had forgot to mention the greatest sin of all, the sin of unbelief, in not believing on the Lord Jesus for the remission of his sins and sanctifying his nature.

 It finally sunk in.  Marshall understood that it was “the evil heart of unbelief that lay at the root of all his fears, and all of his want of success in his striving after holiness.”  So Marshall began studying and preaching Christ like he had never done before. 

 In 1680, as he was lying on his death bed, Walter Marshall said to those nearby, “I die in the full persuasion of the truth, and in the comfort of that doctrine I have preached to you.”  Then, with much emotion he quoted Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  He closed his eyes, breathed his last, and died at the age of 52.

 This work The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification was the fruit of his life’s pursuit of holiness.  Contrary to popular preachers, sanctification does not arise out of our justification or out of our obedience to the law, or out of thin air.  The heart of sanctification is our union with Christ and is therefore developed and grown by the right exercise of faith.

 Marshall states that this chapter, chapter 12, is the principle direction “to which all the foregoing and following principles are subservient.”

 Make diligent use of your most holy faith for the immediate performance of the duties of the law, by walking no longer according to your old natural state, or any principles or means of practice that belong unto it; but only according to that new state which you receive by faith, and the principles and means of practice that properly belong thereunto; and strive to continue and increase in such manner of practice. This is the only way to attain to an acceptable performance of those holy and righteous duties, as far as it is possible in this present life.

 This is what it all boils down to.  Our faith in Jesus Christ is to be the primary instrument for receiving guidance, instruction, and teaching, and for evaluating and motivating us to the obedience of God’s law for God’s glory alone.  Since it is by faith that we are united to Christ, it must be by faith that we enjoy Him, that we love Him, that we obey Him, and that we find the strength to do these things.  We must believe that God will give us the heart to enjoy, love and obey Christ.

 He writes:  “Would you be strengthened to submit to the hand of God with a cheerful patience in bearing any affliction, and death itself? The way to fortify yourselves is to believe assuredly that your ‘afflictions, which are but for a moment, do work for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’; that Christ is your gain in death and life; that His grace is sufficient for you, and His strength made perfect in your weakness; and that He will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able: and will, at last make you more than conquerors over all evil. Until you attain to such persuasions as these, you will be prone to fret and murmur under the burden of affliction and to use indirect means to deliver yourselves, notwithstanding the clearest convictions to the contrary.”

 This leads us one of the most common questions regarding our growth in grace and faith.  Why doesn’t God sanctify us wholly and perfectly this side of eternity?  Marshall answered, “They are in a new state, free from the guilt pollution, and punishment of sin, and so from the wrath of God, all miseries, and death itself, while they are in this world; yea, all the guilt, pollution, and punishments of sin, and all evils whatever, which they are subject to according to their natural state, do them no harm according to this new state, but work for their good:  and are no evils, but rather advantages to them, tending to the destruction only of the flesh, and to the perfection of the new man in Christ.

 By allowing us to struggle against the old nature, God drives us to Christ for our daily and moment by moment sustenance.    “We must know that our old state, with its evil principles, continues still in a measure, or else we shall not be fit for the great duties:  1) of confessing our sins, 2) of loathing ourselves for them, 3) of praying earnestly for the pardon of them, a just sorrowing for them with a godly sorrow, 4) of accepting the punishment of our sins and giving God the glory of His justice, and of offering to Him the sacrifice of a glory and contrite spirit, 5) of being poor in spirit, and 6) of working out our salvation with fear and trembling.”

 “Therefore, your way to a holy practice is first to conquer and expel such unbelieving thoughts by trusting confidently on Christ, and persuading yourselves by faith that His righteousness, Spirit, glory and all His spiritual benefits are yours, and that He dwells in you, and you in Him. In the might of this confidence, you shall go forth to the performance of the law; and you will be strong against sin and Satan, and able to do all things through Christ that strengthens you. This confident persuasion is of great necessity to the right framing and disposing our hearts to walk according to our new state in Christ. The life of faith principally consists in it. And herein it eminently appears that faith is a hand, not only to receive Christ, but also to work by Him, and that it cannot be effectual for our sanctification except it contains in it some assurance of our interest in Christ.”

 “Such persuasions as these, when they are deeply rooted, and constantly maintained in our hearts, do strongly arm and encourage us to practice universal obedience, in opposition to every sinful lust; because we look on it, not only as our duty, but our great privilege, to do all things through Christ strengthening us.”

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