The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

By Walter Marshall

 Chapter 1

 The Westminster Shorter Catechism question # 35 asks, “What is sanctification?”  The answer is, “Sanctification is a 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 question that is addressed by Walter Marshall is “how.”  How does God’s grace work in us to renew us?  How does God transform us to be like Christ?  How do we work out our salvation in fear and trembling?

 Chapter 1 begins by directing us to the source of all sanctification – the grace of God.

 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 an end.

 James Hervey, an Anglican pastor in the mid 1700’s, wrote a letter the publisher of the next edition of The Gospel Mystery.  In this letter, he suggested improvements in the wording of Marshall’s 14 directions.  Below is Hervey’s number 1.

 Assertion 1: That practice and manner of life, which scripture calls holiness, righteousness, or godliness, obedience, true religion, is not attained by our most resolved endeavors, but is given through the knowledge of Him that has called us to glory and virtue.

 Walter begins with the subject of holiness as found in Romans 7:14, “For we know that the law is spiritual. . .”

 It [holiness] consists not only in external works of piety and charity, but in holy thoughts, imaginations, and affections of the soul, and chiefly in love; from when 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 cheerful obedience to God, without repining, fretting, grudging, at any duty, as if it were a grievous yoke and burden to you.  (page 1)

 So, how do we get to the place where our actions are performed out of love for God?  By making use of the means that God has provided for our growth in faith and holiness.

 In Matthew 19:16-22 we find a conversation between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler.  In in our pursuit of holiness, we are often like the Rich Young Ruler.  We ask the question, “What must I do?” instead of the right question, “How can I be enabled to do good?”   Unless we are enabled to do good, we will not do good because we cannot do good.

 Marshall makes 8 observations regarding our in ability.  I point out only 3 of them.

 #1 We are, because of our sinful nature, void of all strength and ability to perform that which the law requires and is holy and pleasing to God.  (Eph. 2:1-3, Romans 3:10, 5:12)  Therefore, if we believe this to be true, we cannot rationally encourage ourselves to attempt a holy life, UNTIL we are acquainted with some powerful and effectual means to enable us to do it.

 #5  God has given us His perfect revelation so that “the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  If God chooses to put his perfect revelation in a form as simple as the written word, it must be because we need something so simple for us to learn from.  Therefore, this revelation from God ought to be of the greatest importance to us.

 #7 Knowledge of these powerful and effective means is of the greatest importance to believers for growth in faith and holiness.  Without the knowledge of these means, our holiness will not be out of a love for God and others and therefore, will at best be a counterfeit holiness.  Marshall writes of a touchstone by which we can judge both doctrine and practice.  This touchstone is none other than the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Timothy 6:3.

 If we make a mistake in our understanding of the means of sanctification– either by making something an effective means that is not, or by discounting the effectual means—we will not grow in faith and holiness.

 As Marshal concludes this chapter, it is only by rightly using these powerful and effectual means that we are enabled to “run with great cheerfulness, joy and thanksgiving in the ways of His commandments.”

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