The Nature Of Sanctification (4)

7. Sanctification, again, is a thing which admits of growth and degrees. A man may climb from one step to another in holiness, and be far more sanctified at one period of his life than another. More pardoned and more justified than he is when he first believes he cannot be, though he may feel it more. More sanctified he certainly may be, because every grace in his new character may be strengthened, enlarged and deepened. This is the evident meaning of our Lord's last prayer for His disciples, when He used the words, 'Sanctify them', and of St Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians: 'The very God of peace sanctify you' (Joh_17:17; 1Th_5:23). In both cases the expression plainly implies the possibility of increased sanctification, while such an expression as 'justify them' is never once in Scripture applied to a believer, because he cannot be more justified than he is. I can find no warrant in Scripture for the doctrine of 'imputed sanctification'. It is a doctrine which seems to me to confuse things that differ, and to lead to very evil consequences. Not least, it is a doctrine which is flatly contradicted by the experience of all the most eminent Christians. If there is any point on which God's holiest saints agree it is this: that they see more and know more and feel more and do more and repent more and believe more as they get on in spiritual life, and in proportion to the closeness of their walk with God. In short, they 'grow in grace', as St Peter exhorts believers to do; and 'abound more and more', according to the words of St Paul (2Pe_3:18; 1Th_4:1).

8. Sanctification, again, is a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of scriptural means. When I speak of 'means', I have in view Bible reading, private prayer, regular attendance on public worship, regular hearing of God's Word and regular reception of the Lord's Supper. I lay it down as a simple matter of fact, that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them. They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit conveys fresh supplies of grace to the soul, and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man. Let men call this legal doctrine if they please, but I will never shrink from declaring my belief that there are no 'spiritual gains without pains'. I should as soon expect a farmer to prosper in business who contented himself with sowing his fields and never looking at them till harvest, as expect a believer to attain much holiness, who was not diligent about his Bible reading, his prayers and the use of his Sundays. Our God is a God who works by means, and He will never bless the soul of that man who pretends to be so high and spiritual that he can get on without them.

9. Sanctification, again, is a thing which does not prevent a man having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict. By conflict I mean a struggle within the heart between the old nature and the new, the flesh and the spirit, which are to be found together in every believer (Gal_5:17). A deep sense of that struggle, and a vast amount of mental discomfort from it, are no proof that a man is not sanctified. Nay, rather, I believe, they are healthy symptoms of our condition and prove that we are not dead, but alive. A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within: He may be known by his warfare as well as by his peace. In saying this, I do not forget that I am contradicting the views of some well-meaning Christians, who hold the doctrine called 'sinless perfection'. I cannot help that. I believe that what I say is confirmed by the language of St Paul in the seventh chapter of Romans. That chapter I commend to the careful study of all my readers. I am quite satisfied that it does not describe the experience of an unconverted man, or of a young and unestablished Christian; but of an old experienced saint in close communion with God. None but such a man could say, 'I delight in the law of God after the inward man' (Rom_7:22). I believe, furthermore, that what I say is proved by the experience of all the most eminent servants of Christ that have ever lived. The full proof is to be seen in their journals, their autobiographies and their lives. Believing all this, I shall never hesitate to tell people that inward conflict is no proof that a man is not holy, and that they must not think they are not sanctified because they do not feel entirely free from inward struggle. Such freedom we shall doubtless have in heaven, but we shall never enjoy it in this world. The heart of the best Christian, even at his best, is a field occupied by two rival camps, and the 'company of two armies' (Son_6:13). Let the words of the thirteenth and fifteenth Articles be well considered by all churchmen: 'The infection of nature doth remain in them that are regenerated.' Although baptized and born again in Christ, we offend in many things; and if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ‹2›

to be continued