SANCTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE
Of God ‘are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written. He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.’ 1 Cor. 1:30, 31.
THE CAPTIVE GROANING
‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’
I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people.
I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes’.
I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me’
‘Woe is me! for I am undone’.
‘My comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength’
‘I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against Him’.
‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’.
‘I fell at his feet as dead’
THE CAPTIVE DELIVERED
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord’. (Paul)
And they shall trust in the name of the LORD. (God’s word through Zephaniah to the afflicted remnant)
The LORD turned the captivity of Job. (Job)
‘Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation’. (David)
Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. (Isaiah)
(The LORD said) O Daniel, a man greatly beloved. (Daniel)
‘Who is a God like unto thee that pardoneth iniquity… Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea’. (Micah)
Redeemed… with the precious blood of Christ. (Peter)
‘He laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not… I am alive for evermore and have the keys of hell and of death’ (John)
Some 30 years ago, being then a minister of a Gospel church, I was nominated to join a fraternal of ministers united in evangelical interest and aims. Evidently somebody had forewarned the chairman that I was ‘a corruption preacher’, a label given to preachers who believe and teach the Protestant, Calvinistic exposition of the paradoxical Scripture of.
Romans 7:14-25, especially the two last verses, that contain what has been called Paul’s ‘gemitus sanctorum’ (translated, the groan of the godly). This teaching rejects the exposition of Arminius, that the apostle is writing of himself as an unregenerate man, as carnal and unspiritual,
The chairman had made it known from his London pulpit that he rejected the teaching that
Paul was writing his own spiritual experience as a regenerate sinner, and had gone so far as to say that a Christian should never use such language as ‘O wretched man that I am…’ about himself, and hastened to warn the fraternal against such teaching.
We know that things in the natural world show up best by contrast. The most striking effects are produced by bringing opposites side by side. The genius of the artist is seen in the effect of contrast in the picture on his canvas, and of the musician in the music of his score. It is so in the spiritual world. In the work of salvation, particularly in that branch of the believer’s sanctification it is the method of the Holy Spirit to bring opposites side by side, thus to cause man, as a sinner, to see and discern a contrast. One such contrast is seen in the Holy Spirit’s light which is, so to speak, twin-beamed, revealing in a sinner’s soul, at one point in time, his utter depravity and God’s absolute holiness. Now, it is generally accepted by Christians that when a sinner is effectually called by grace, evidenced by evangelical repentance and saving faith in Christ as the only
Saviour of sinners, this twin-beamed light is, in degree shining in the soul of the sinner. Indeed, it is, for no sinner has ever beer saved in the past, nor will be in the future, without the Lord the Spirits beam. But it is by no means generally accepted that after conversion especially when the Lord is calling the saint to the ministry or to some special service in His vineyard, that this is His method in preparation for the execution of the work. In this, truly, ‘God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are his ways our ways’. But this way is inevitably seen as the best and only way to keep the saint humble – and to know that there are but three steps to glory; HUMILITY, HUMILITY HUMILITY; notwithstanding how distinguished we might appeal before the Church of Christ in talents, gifts, ability or achievement. I say this against the dark background of false and pernicious teaching of many professing Christians who seem to know nothing of ‘the plague of their own hearts’; who say ‘We have done with all that sort of thing. Ours is a higher life and we live in a state of perfection and holiness:
which, if only you would exercise ‘faith’, you could attain unto’. Now is this real, or is it false? If real then our noble Protestant forbears preachers of the glorious gospel of the sovereign grace of God, who
rejected Protestant perfectionism, exhorting, as did the apostle Paul, ‘that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God’, were false teachers and unsound theologians. If false, then surely the professing church of Christ should with haste cast away this counterfeit charisma to receive the true unction from the Holy One.
Before we ponder various expressions of eminently godly men of the past it should be said that there is ONE and only One who in truth could never say ‘O wretched man that I am’ of
Himself. The Lord Jesus Christ. It has been said, quite erroneously, that the Lord Jesus was the first Christian, and if we follow His example in life we shall attain eternal life.
That the Lord Jesus was not a Christian can be shown by numerous reasons, chiefly, unlike a Christian, who is first, a sinner saved from sin, He was entirely without sin. His challenge to the Jews, ‘Which of you convinceth me of sin’ was left unanswered by that people. He is the holy Son of God and in this, separate from sinners. Not on the cross even, when His sacred head was bowed in incalculable suffering, and in that awful hour of soul dereliction which pressed from Him the lamentation, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me’, which was indeed the Saviour’s ‘gemitus sanctorum’, could He say ‘O wretched man that I am’ in the sense of the words as used by Paul and all believers. In that awful hour, as written in the prophecy of Isaiah, ‘The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all’. Sin was then ON Him but not IN Him.
‘O Christ what burdens bowed thy head!
Our load was laid on thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me,
A Victim led, thy blood was shed,
Now there’s no load for me’.
We should with joy and trembling ever remember Christ’s groaning on the cross for us sinners means that believers, instead of groaning for ever in hell under the load of unforgiven sin will, to all eternity, be singing with unspeakable joy the song of Moses and the Lamb.
Now let us consider various testimonies from eminent servants of the Lord whose praises (to the Lord’s glory, of course) are in the church.
John Newton, writer of many very sweet lines of Christian verse, said when referring to the expectations which he had when a young Christian, ‘These my golden expectations have been like South Sea dreams. I have lived hitherto a poor sinner, and I believe I shall die one. Have I, then, gained nothing by waiting upon the Lord? Yes, I have gained that which I once would rather have been without, such accumulated proofs of the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of my heart, as I hope, by the Lord’s blessing, has in some measure taught me to know what I mean when I say, Behold I am vile!… I was ashamed when I began to seek Him: I am ashamed now!’
The godly Samuel Rutherford of Scotland said, as a mature Christian and minister of the gospel, ‘This body of sin and corruption embitters and poisons our enjoyment. Oh, that I were where I shall sin no more.’
Jonathan Edwards of New England, America, who was much used in the Great Awakening of the
18th century said, ‘When I look into my heart and take a view of its wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell. And it appears to me, that, were it not for free grace, exalted and raised up to the infinite height of all fulness and glory of the great
Jehovah, I should appear sunk down in my sins below hell itself; far below the sight of everything but the eye of sovereign grace, that alone can pierce down to such a depth. And it is affecting to think how ignorant I was of the bottomless depths of wickedness, pride, hypocrisy and deceit left in my heart’. And this same servant of the Lord, writing his
Memoirs of Mr. Brainerd the first missionary to the Indians, whom he knew well, says, ‘His religious illumination, affections, and comfort seemed to a great degree to be attended with evangelical humiliation, consisting in a sense of his utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness; with an answering disposition and frame of heart. He was not only affected with the remembrance of his former sinfulness, before his conversion, but with the sense of his present vileness and pollution. He was not only disposed to think other saints better than he; yea, to look on himself as the worst and least of saints, but very often as the vilest and worst of mankind’.
Reader; living in this day of religious liberty bequeathed to England at the inestimable price of martyrdom paid by those who loved not even their lives to rid our country of the blasphemous and horrid rule and system of Antichrist, listen to part of the prayer of that constant martyr of Christ, Dr. John Hooper burnt at the stake under the shadow of Worcester
Cathedral in the year 1555. ‘Then said the Lord Shandois to Sir Edmund Bridges’s son, who gave ear to Master Hooper’s prayer at his request: Edmund take heed that he do nothing else but pray: if he do, tell me, and I shall quickly despatch him. While this talk was, there stepped forward one or two uncalled, who heard him speak these words following:- ‘Lord, I am hell, but thou art heaven; I am swill, and a sink of sin, but Thou art a gracious God and a merciful Redeemer. Have mercy therefore upon me, most miserable and wretched offender, after
Thy great mercy, and according to Thine inestimable goodness… well Thou knowest, Lord, wherefore I am come hither to suffer:… not for my sins and transgressions committed against Thee, but because I will not allow the contaminating of Thy blood, and the denial of the knowledge of Thy truth, wherewith it did please Thee by Thy Holy Spirit to instruct me; the which, with as much diligence as a poor wretch might, being thereto called, I have set forth Thy glory’.
According to the modern exponents of the doctrine of sanctification, these words of the godly Hooper were the breathings of a carnal or
defeated Christian. On the contrary, they are the utterances of one at the very zenith of triumphal faith.
C. H. Spurgeon, preacher extraordinary, when delivering a sermon on one occasion to thousands of hearers said, ‘There are some professing Christians who can speak of themselves in terms of admiration; but from my inmost heart, I loathe such speeches more and more every day that I live. Those who talk in such a boastful fashion must be constituted very differently from me. While they are congratulating themselves I have to lie humbly at the foot of Christ’s cross, and marvel that I am saved at all, for I know that I am saved. I have to wonder that I do not believe Christ more, and equally wonder that I am privileged to believe in Him at all – to wonder that I am not holier, and equally to wonder that I have any desire to be holy at all considering what a polluted, debased nature I still find within my soul, notwithstanding all that divine grace has done in me’. That Spurgeon would in this day be labelled ‘a corruption preacher’ by the claimants to ‘the higher life’ is certain. CHis censure of the Arminian expositors and teachers who say that the written experience of the apostle Paul as found in the Epistle to the Romans chapter 7, especially the last verses, is not that of a regenerate person is that ‘they make a wilful mistake’.
VNeed I quote more? Space is too short to tell of John Calvin, Martin Luther, Robert Murray
M’Cheyne, Charles Simeon, and many others whose experience and teaching respecting the doctrine of sanctification were identical to those mentioned. I will finally quote from the language of Bishop William Beveridge, ‘I do not only betray the inbred venom of my heart by poisoning my inward actions, but even my most religious performances, with sin. I cannot pray but I sin… My repentance needs to be repented of, and not only the worst of my sins, but even the best of my duties. I cannot pray but I sin. I cannot hear or even preach a sermon but I sin. Nay, I cannot so much as confess my sins but my very confessions are still aggravations of them. My repentance needs to be repented of, my tears want washing, and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over again with the blood of my Redeemer.
Thus, not only the worst of my sins, but even the best of my duties, speak me a child of
Adam’. Oh, what creature-humbling testimonies do we have from every age whether patriarchal, prophetical, apostical, or gospel. The lines of Joseph Hart come to mind:-
‘What tongue can fully tell
That Christian’s grievous load,
Who would do all things well,
And walk the ways of God,
v But feels within foul envy lurk
And lust, and work, engendering sin.’
I was a co-founder of the Banner of Truth whose beginning was at Oxford. How surprisingly and marvellously conspicuous was the Lord’s hand in the beginnings of the Banner, in providing things needful in both material and spiritual concerns. One has said that ‘the
Lord’s commission carries the Lord’s provision’; this certainly was both tried and proved to be true in 1955, the time of the Banner’s genesis. This could make an interesting and long paragraph, but space forbids its inclusion in this paper.
There can be no doubt that when the Banner ship was launched (allow the term, since, for some years I was a mariner) it was not a ship without a rudder or without a set course before it. That was to stem the tide of Arminianism which had come in like a flood. A little reading or re-reading of the early magazines will evidence the truth of this. It was a joy to know that the re-prints of the Banner publications were being received and avidly read by many. The expression of a friend was typical; This is as a breath of fresh and wholesome air from heaven. The publications were exclusively of past writers and preachers who taught and preached the Protestant, Calvinistic, Lutheran doctrine of sanctitication, rejecting the
Arminian view. In my view this should be noted in respect to the early days of the Banner because in the judgment of some of the Lord’s people, the rejection of the Protestant doctrine of
sanctification has opened the flood-gates to the pernicious extravagances of the modern charismatic movement that has troubled and divided the church of God in our time. A footnote written in Calvin’s Commentary to the Romans (1850 edition) chapter 7, is appropriate, ‘As the Apostle was far more enlightened and humble than Christians in general are, doubtless this clog (indwelling sin) was more uneasy to him than it is to them, though most of us find our lives at times greatly embittered by it. So that this energetic language, which many imagine to describe an unestablished believer’s experience, or even that of an unconverted man, seems to have resulted from the extraordinary degree of Paul’s sanctification, and the depth of self-abasement and hatred of sin, and the reason of our not readily understanding him seems to be because we are far beneath him in holiness, humility, acquaintance with the spirituality of God’s law, and the evil of our own hearts, and in our degree of abhorrence of moral evil’.
It is not generally known that what is called Arminian error, that comes from the name
Arminius, a Dutch theologian of the 16th century was first detected when Arminius was expounding the 7th chapter of
Romans. There are two main branches of the Christian faith, namely justification by faith, and sanctifieation by faith. Since the thrust of Arminianism is against the sovereignty of God touching both of these tremendous truths, and many are aware of its baneful effect upon the doctrine of justification, few, indeed very few, are mindful of its evil influence upon the doctrine of sanctifieation. The false charismatic
movement has taken advantage of this for few there are who can give an effective answer in defence of the truth.
Had it been possible, which, of course, it is not, for the Lord to have consulted with me as to the best method of my sanctification during my time-state on earth I know that my idea for my best in this regard would have been very much the same as that propounded by Arminius and Co. It would have been sanctification by my free will and not by God’s free grace. It would have been a method to rid my earthly life entirely from the presence of sin so that I should never be vexed by it. In a word it would be a state of sinless perfection and that by my own effort. Sanctification, not by faith but by works. But God is sovereign in the work of sanctification as well as that of justification, and surely as Sovereign, He works in a mysterious way this wonder to perform. It is natural for man to think that God’s way is to improve man’s sinful nature and gradually to change it from unholiness to holiness. Not so!
Sanctification is not the eradication of the root of sinful self within us while we are in this world. It begins with the planting of a new nature that is holy and divine within us. Thus the Christian soul becomes the scene of battle and conflict between two antagonistic natures; and a spiritual person is painfully conscious of this, for it is part of his experience as a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ. The strange and paradoxical plurality of ‘I’s’ belonging to ONE person found in Paul’s autobiographical verses in Romans
7 and Galatians 2:20, is solved when we know this. It is important that we know that our sanctification is BY FAITH, that is, by faith in Christ AND HIS CROSS. Most Christians are familiar with the objective view of the cross because it is related to that basic article of the faith – that ‘Christ died for our sins’. But another view, though equally important is not so well known, THE BELIEVER is crucified WITH CHRIST, which teaches us that the Lord’s method in sanctification is the crucifixion of sinful self. This God has done and it is part of the mystery of faith to know it. ‘RECKON yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord’.
I would urge the reader to examine himself (or herself) whether he is in the faith. If you are a stranger to what can be called the greatest fight in the world you have reason to doubt whether you are in the faith. The conflict of the two antagonistic natures as evidenced in the Bible characters, aforesaid in this paper and other of the Lord’s servants in Gospel times, show how appropriate is this subject, and one of practical importance at a time when many are drawn to the perfectionist view of sanctification. Beware, I say. Ponder what may be the most solemn words spoken by Christ. ‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord,
Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity’. In Old Testament times we find Balaam and Saul prophesying,
who were both unsanctified men. Judas was sent out (under the NewTestament) both to preach and to work miracles. So from gifts, prophesying, preaching, working of miracles and other deeds however extraordinary there comes not that sanctification which gives the sinner a title to heaven – because, without HOLINESS no man shall ;
From Oxford Papers written by the late Sidney Norton