We also learned that faith is the instrumental or applying cause of justification. In another place we showed that true faith presupposes penitence, and this again presupposes a sense and knowledge of sin. Again we showed that penitence and faith are the two essential elements of conversion; that where these elements are found there is a change of heart, and the beginning of a new life. This new life is, however, only in its germ. These are the beginnings of new views, new affections, new actions, a new life.
They are of a germinal or seed character. Now it belongs to the very nature of life to develop, increase, and make progress. And it is this development or growth of the new life that we wish now to consider. It is called sanctification, or growth of the soul into the image of a holy God.
It is closely related to justification, and yet clearly distinct from it. In justification, God imputes or counts over to the sinner the righteousness of Christ. In sanctification, God imparts the righteousness of the new life. Justification is what God does for the believer; sanctification is what His Spirit does in him. Justification being purely an act of God, is instantaneous and complete; sanctification being a work in which man has a share, is progressive. Justification takes away the guilt of sin; sanctification gradually takes away its power. Sanctification begins with justification. So soon as the sinner believes he is justified; but just so soon as he believes, he also has the beginnings of a new life.
In time, therefore, the two come together; but in thought they are distinct. And it is of the greatest importance that these distinctions be understood and kept in mind. It is by confounding justification with sanctification, and vice versa, that all the flagrant, soul-destroying errors concerning the so-called "higher life," "sinless perfection," etc., are promulgated and believed. It is by quoting Scripture passages that speak of justification, and applying them to sanctification, that this delusion is strengthened. How often have we not heard that precious passage, 1 John i.7, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin," quoted to prove entire sanctification. Now, if we understand the Scriptures at all, that passage speaks of the forgiveness of sin through the efficacy of Christ's blood, and not of overcoming sin in the believer, or eradicating its very fibres and impulses.
But this, perhaps, is a digression. Let us understand clearly what we mean by sanctification. The English word comes from a Latin word that means sacred, consecrated, devoted to holy purposes. The Greek word translated sanctify in our English Bible also means to separate from common and set apart for holy purposes. The same word that is translated sanctify, is in many places translated consecrate, or make holy. The English word saint comes from the same Latin root, and is translated from the same Greek root, as sanctify. It means a sanctified one, or one who is being sanctified. Thus we find believers called saints, or sanctified ones. We find, indeed, that the apostles call all the members of their churches saints. Thus they speak of "the saints which are at Jerusalem," "The saints which are at Achaia," "To all that be in Rome ... called to be saints," "As in all the churches of the saints." So in many other passages.
In harmony with the apostolic usage, we confess in the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the Holy Christian Church (which is) the communion -- or community -- of saints." If then saints means sanctified ones, or holy persons, do not the Bible and the Apostles' Creed demand perfect sinlessness? By no means. Christians are indeed to strive to constantly become more and more free from sin. They are "called to be saints," are constantly being sanctified or made holy. But their sanctity or holiness is only relative.
They have indeed "come out from the world," to "be separate." They are "a peculiar people." They hate sin, repent of it, flee from it, strive against it, and overcome it more and more. They "mortify the deeds of the body," "keep it under," "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts," "present -- (or consecrate) -- their bodies, as living sacrifices to God." They have pledged themselves at Christ's altar to "renounce the devil and all his works and ways, the vanities of the world and the sinful desires of the flesh, and to live up to the doctrines and precepts of Christ."
In so far, they are separated from the world, set apart to become holy, consecrated to Christ. Not that their sanctification or saintship is complete. If that were the case, the apostles would not have written epistles to the saints. For perfect beings need no Bibles, no Churches, no means of Grace. The angels need none of these things. There is indeed not one sinless person mentioned in the Bible, except that divine One, "who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth."
If there were one Scripture character who, if such a thing were possible, would have attained to sinless perfection, that one would certainly have been the greatest of all the apostles, Paul. He labored more than they all; he suffered more than they all; he went deeper into the mysteries of redemption than they all. He was not only permitted to look into heaven, as the beloved John, but he "was caught up into the third heaven, and heard words that it was not lawful for him to utter" on this sinful earth. Oh, what purifying through suffering! What visions and revelations! What experience of Grace! And yet this burnished vessel never professed sinless perfection. Indeed, he never ceased to mourn and lament the sinfulness and imperfection of his own heart, and called himself the chief of sinners. He does indeed speak of perfection. Hear what he says, Phil. iii.12, 13, 14: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forward unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
The saints on earth, then, are not sinless ones. The Bible does indeed speak of those born of God sinning not, not committing sin, etc. But this can only mean that they do not wilfully sin. They do not intentionally live in habits of sin. Their sins are sins of weakness and not sins of malice. They repent of them, mourn over them, and strive against them. They constantly pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us." But their heart-purity and sanctification are only relative.
Sanctification is gradual and progressive. We have seen that Paul thus expressed himself. He was constantly "following after," "reaching forth," "pressing toward" the mark. He exhorts the Corinthians, 2 Cor. vii.1, to be "perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord," and again, 2 Cor. iii.18, to be "changed into the same image from glory to glory." He tells them in chapter iv.16 that "the inward man is renewed day by day." He exhorts the saints or believers, again and again, "to grow," "to increase," "to abound yet more and more."
Growth is the law of the kingdom of nature. And the same God operates in the kingdom of Grace, and, indeed, much after the same order. Our Saviour, therefore, so often compares the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of Grace, to growth from a seed, where it is "first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear," Mark iv.26-29. In harmony with all this Paul calls those who have but lately become believers, "babes in Christ." He tells them they must be "fed with milk as babes," etc. Therefore, it is quite natural that we find so many exhortations to grow in Grace and in knowledge.
How directly contrary to all this is the unscriptural idea, not only of entire sanctification, but of instantaneous sanctification. Surely, in this fast age, many have run far ahead of prophets, apostles, martyrs, reformers and the most eminent saints of all ages. As we read the lives and words of these heroes of faith, we find that the more Christ-like and consecrated they were, the more did they deplore their slow progress and their remaining sin.
While, therefore, we have no Scripture warrant to expect sinlessness here, while we must "die daily," "mortify our members," and "fight the good fight of faith," between the old Adam, whose remnants cleave to us, and the new man in Christ Jesus, we can still do much to promote our sanctification, and make it more and more complete. We can use the powers that God has given us to carry on the warfare with sin. We can increase these powers, or rather permit divine Grace to increase them, by a diligent use of the means of Grace. In the chapter on the Word of God as a means of Grace, we showed that the Holy Spirit sanctifies through the Word. In the chapters on baptism and the baptismal covenant, we showed how that holy sacrament is a means of Grace, whose efficacy is not confined to the time of its administration, but that it is intended to be a perennial fountain of Grace, from which we can drink and be refreshed while life lasts. In the chapters on the Lord's Supper, we learned that it also was ordained and instituted to sustain and strengthen our spiritual life.
We have, therefore, all the means necessary for our sanctification. Do we prayerfully use them? Might we not be much further on in the work of holiness than we are? Do we use the truth as we should, that we maybe "sanctified through the truth?" Do we "desire the sincere milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby?" Does it "dwell richly among us?" Know we not, or have we forgotten it, that "as many of us as have been baptized into Christ, were baptized into His death?" Do we say, with those early Christians, "henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus?" And when we go to our Lord's Table do we realize that His "flesh is meat indeed, and His blood is drink indeed?" Do we go in the strength of that heavenly nourishment many days? Might we not, by making a more sincere, hearty and diligent use of all these means of Grace, live nearer to Christ, lean more confidingly on Him and do more effectually all things through Him who strengthened us?
Yes, doubtless, we must all confess that it is our own fault that we are not sanctified more fully than we are; that if, in the strength derived from a proper use of the means of Grace, we would watch more over self, pray more, meditate more on divine things and thus surround ourselves more with a spiritual atmosphere, we would be more spiritual. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." "Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord."
"And what am I? My soul, awake,
"What image does my spirit bear?
"Searcher of hearts, O search me still;