Are We Sanctified?
Based on a Tract by J.C. Ryle
“Sanctify them in the truth.” —John 17:17
“This is the will of God, your sanctification.” —1 Thessalonians 4:3
The question which forms the title of this sermon is one which many, it is to be feared, will not find agreeable. Some perhaps may even turn from it with scorn and disdain. The very last thing they would like is to be a “saint,” or a “sanctified” man. Yet the question does not deserve to be treated this way. It is not an enemy, but a friend.
It is a question of the greatest importance to our souls. If the Bible is true, it is certain that unless we are “sanctified,” we will not be saved. There are three things which, according to the Bible, are absolutely necessary to the salvation of every man and woman and child. These three are, justification, regeneration, and sanctification. Whoever lacks any one of these three things, will never find himself in heaven when he dies. Where, then, is the harm of asking, “Are we sanctified?” Where is the wisdom of disliking and rejecting the question?
It is a question which is still very applicable in our day. Strange doctrines abound around the whole subject of sanctification. Some appear to confound it with justification. Others fritter it away to nothing, under the pretence of zeal for free grace. Others set up a wrong standard of sanctification before their eyes, and failing to attain it, waste their lives in searching books and churches in the vain hope that they will find what they want. In a day like this, a calm examination of the question which forms the title of this sermon, may be of great use to our souls.
I. Let us consider, in the first place, the true nature of sanctification.
II. Let us consider, in the second place, the visible marks of sanctification.
III. Let us consider, lastly, in what ways justification and sanctification agree and are like one another, and in what ways they differ and are unlike.
And so I ask for your best attention while I try to unfold the subject now before us. If unhappily you are one of those who care for nothing but this world, I cannot expect you to take much interest in what I am about to say. You will probably think it a matter of words, and names, and nice questions, about which it makes no difference what you hold and believe. But if you are a thoughtful, reasonable, sensible Christian, I have reason to hope that you will find it worthwhile to have some clear ideas about sanctification.
I. In the first place, we have to consider the nature of sanctification. What does the Bible mean when it speaks of a “sanctified” man?
Sanctification is that inward spiritual work which the Lord Jesus Christ works in a man by the Holy Spirit, when He calls him to be a true believer, separates him from his natural love of sin and the world, puts a new principle in his heart, and makes him practically godly in life. The instrument by which His Spirit carries out this work is generally the Word of God, though He sometimes uses afflictions and providential events . The subject of this work of Christ by His Spirit, is called in Scripture a “sanctified” man.
Whoever supposes that Jesus Christ only lived and died and rose again in order to provide justification and forgiveness of sins for His people, has yet much to learn. Whether he knows it or not, he is dishonouring our blessed Lord, and making Him only a half Saviour.
The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require; not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by His atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them, but also to sanctify them. In this way He is not only their “righteousness,” but their “sanctification.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)
The Scriptures cleary show that Christ undertakes the sanctification, no less than the justification, of His believing people. (John 17:19; Ephes. 5:25; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24; Coloss. 1:22.) Both are alike provided for in that “everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure,” (2 Sam 23:5) of which the Mediator is Christ. In fact, Christ in one place is called “he who sanctifies,” and His people, “those who are sanctified.” (Heb. 2:11.)
The subject before us is of such deep and vast importance, that it requires fencing, guarding, clearing up, and marking out on every side. A doctrine which is so central to salvation can never be too sharply developed, or brought too fully into light. In order to define the exact nature of sanctification, let us now look into a series of twelve connected propositions or statements drawn from Scripture on the subject.
(1) First, sanctification, then, is the invariable result of that vital union with Christ which true faith gives to a Christian.
Our Lord says in John 15, “whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” (John 15:5) The branch which bears no fruit is no living branch of the vine. The union with Christ which produces no effect on heart and life is a mere formal union, which is worthless in the eyes of God. The faith which does not have a sanctifying influence on the character is no better than the faith of devils and “by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17-20) It is not the gift of God, “the faith of God’s elect.” (Titus 1:1) In short, where there is no sanctification of life, there is no real faith in Christ. True faith works “through love.” (Gal. 5:6) It constrains a man to live for the Lord from a deep sense of gratitude for redemption. It makes him feel that he can never do too much for Him that died for him. Being much forgiven he loves much. He whom the blood cleanses “walks in the light.” (1 John 1:7) He who has a real lively hope in Christ, “purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3.)
(2) Sanctification, again, is the outcome and inseparable consequence of regeneration.
He that is born again and made a new creature, receives a new nature and a new principle, and always lives a new life. A regeneration which a man can have, and yet live carelessly in sin or worldliness, is a regeneration never mentioned in Scripture. On the contrary, the Apostle John expressly says that “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning,” but rather—practices righteousness,—loves the brothers, and “overcomes the world.”. (1 John ii. 29; iii. 9-14; v. 4-18.) In a word, where there is no sanctification there is no regeneration, and where there is no holy life there is no new birth. This is, no doubt, a harsh saying to many minds: but, hard or not, it is simple Bible truth. It is written plainly, that he who is born of God is one whose “seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:9.)
(3) Sanctification, again, is the only certain evidence of that indwelling of the Holy Spirit which is essential to salvation.
“Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Rom. 8:9.) The Spirit never lies dormant and idle within the soul: He always makes His presence known by the fruit He causes to be borne in heart, character, and life. “The fruit of the Spirit,” says the Apostle Paul, “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” (Gal. 5:22) and the such. Where these things are to be found, there is the Spirit: where these things are absent, men are dead before God. The Spirit is compared to the wind, and, like the wind, He cannot be seen by our bodily eyes. But just as we know there is a wind by the effect it produces on waves, and trees, and smoke, so we may know the Spirit is in a man by the effects He produces in the man’s conduct. It is nonsense to suppose that we have the Spirit, if we do not also “walk by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25 NASB) We may depend on it as a positive certainty, that where there is no holy living there is no Holy Spirit. The seal that the Spirit stamps on Christ’s people is sanctification. As many as are actually “led by the Spirit of God, these,” and these only, “are sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14 NASB)
(4) Sanctification, again, is the only sure mark of God’s election.
The names and number of the elect are a secret thing, no doubt, which God has wisely kept in His own power, and not revealed to man. It is not given to us in this world to study the pages of the book of life, and see if we are there. But if there is one thing clearly and plainly laid down about election, it is this,—that elect men and women and children may be known and distinguished by holy lives. It is expressly written that they are “chosen… by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, (1 Peter 1:2) —chosen “to be saved, through sanctification,” (2 Thess 2:13)—“predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” (Rom 8:29)—and chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world that they should be holy. (Eph 1:4)—And so when the Apostle Paul saw the working “faith” and labouring “love” and patient “hope” of the Thessalonian believers, he says, “we know … that he has chosen you.” (1 Thess. i. 3, 4.) He that boasts of being one of God’s elect, while he is wilfully and habitually living in sin, is only deceiving himself, and talking wicked blasphemy. Of course it is hard to know what people really are, and many who make a fair show outwardly in religion, may turn out at last to be rotten-hearted hypocrites. But where there is not, at least, some appearance of sanctification, we may be quite certain there is no election.
(5) Sanctification, again, is a thing that will always be seen.
Like the Great Head of the Church, from whom it springs, it “cannot be hid.” “Each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44.) A truly sanctified person may be so clothed with humility, that he can see in himself nothing but weakness and defects. Like Moses, when he came down from the mount, he may not be conscious that his face shines. Like the righteous, in the mighty parable of the sheep and the goats, he may not see that he has done anything worthy of his Master’s notice and commendation:—“when did we see you hungry and feed you” (Matt. 15:37) he may say. But whether he sees it himself or not, others will always see in him a tone, and taste, and character, and habit of life different from that of other men. The very idea of a man being “sanctified,” while no holiness can be seen in his life, is just nonsense and a misuse of words. Light may be very dim; but, if there is only a spark in a dark room, it will be seen. It is just the same with a sanctified man: his sanctification will be something felt and seen, though he himself may not understand it. A “saint” in whom nothing can be seen but worldliness or sin, finds no support in the Bible.
(6) Sanctification, again, is a thing for which every believer is responsible.
Believers are eminently and peculiarly responsible, and under a special obligation to live holy lives. They are not like others: dead, and blind, and un-renewed: they are alive to God, and have light and knowledge, and a new principle within them. Whose fault is it if they are not holy, but their own? Who can they blame if they are not sanctified, but themselves? God, who has given them grace and a new heart and a new nature, has taken all excuses away from them, if they do not live for His praise. Let us consider this well. A man who professes to be a true Christian, while he sits still, content with a very low degree of sanctification (if indeed he has any at all), and calmly tells you he “can do nothing,” is a very pitiable sight, and a very ignorant man. Against this delusion let us watch and be on our guard. If the Saviour of sinners gives us renewing grace, and calls us by His Spirit, we may be sure that He expects us to use our grace, and not to go to sleep. It is by forgetting this that many believers “grieve the Holy Spirit,” and become very useless and comfortless Christians.
(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 believed, he can not 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 the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians,—“may the God of peace himself sanctify you.” (John 17:17; 1 Thess. 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.
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 the Apostle Peter exhorts believers to do; and “do so more and more.,” according to the words of the Apostle Paul. (2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Thess. 4:1)
(8) Sanctification, again, is a thing which depends greatly on a diligent use of Scriptural means.
What is meant by “Scriptural means,” is Bible-reading, private prayer, regular attendance of public worship, regular hearing of God’s Word, and regular reception of the Lord’s Supper. It is a simple matter of fact, that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. They are appointed channels through which the Holy Spirit pours out fresh supplies of grace to the soul, and strengthens the work which He has begun in the inward man. Let men call this “being legal” if they please; but the reality is that that there are no “spiritual gains without pains.” We 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 to 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 progress without them.
(9) Sanctification, again, is a thing which does not prevent a man having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict.
By conflict is meant 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. To the contrary they are more likely healthy symptoms of our condition, and prove that we are not dead, but alive.
And so inward conflict is no proof that a man is not holy, and he must not think he is not sanctified because he does not feel entirely free from inward struggle. Such freedom we will doubtless have in heaven; but we will 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.” (Cant. 6:13.)
(10) Sanctification, again, is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God.
This may seem surprising, and yet it is true. The holiest actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more or less full of defects and imperfections. They are either wrong in their motive or deficient in their performance, and in themselves are nothing better than “splendid sins,” deserving God’s wrath and condemnation.
To suppose that such actions can stand the severity of God’s judgment, atone for sin, and merit heaven, is simply absurd. “By works of the law no human being will be justified.”—“We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Rom. 3:20-28.) The only righteousness in which we can appear before God is the righteousness of another, that is, the perfect righteousness of our Substitute and Representative Jesus Christ the Lord. His work, and not our work is our only title to heaven. This is a truth which we should be ready to die to uphold.
For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. We read, “such sacrifices are pleasing to God;” (Heb. 13:16.) and “obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord;” (Col.3:20.) and “do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” (1 John 3:22 NASB)
Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comforting doctrine. Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy or walking across a room, so is our Father in heaven pleased with the poor performance of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle, and intention of their actions, and not merely at their quantity and quality. He looks at them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever something proceeds from faith, He is well-pleased.
(11) Sanctification, again, is a thing which will be found absolutely necessary as a witness to our character in the great day of judgment.
It will be utterly useless to plead that we believed in Christ, unless our faith has had some sanctifying effect, and been seen in our lives. Evidence. Evidence will be the one thing wanted when the great white throne is set, when the books are opened, when the graves give up their tenants, when the dead are arraigned before the bar of God. Without some evidence that our faith in Christ was real and genuine, we will only rise again to be condemned. The only evidence that will be admitted in that day, will be sanctification. The question will not be how we talked, and what we professed; but how we lived, and what we did. Let no man deceive himself on this point. If anything is certain about the future, it is certain that there will be a judgment; and if anything is certain about judgment, it is certain that men’s “works” and “doings” will be considered and examined in it. (John 5:29; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:13.) He that supposes works have no importance, because they cannot justify us, is greatly mistaken. Unless he opens his eyes, he will find to his cost that if he comes to the bar of God without some evidence of grace, he had better never have been born.
(12) Sanctification, in the last place, is absolutely necessary, in order to train and prepare us for heaven.
Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.
The notion of a purgatory after death, which will turn sinners into saints, is a lying invention of man, and is nowhere taught in the Bible. We must be saints before we die, if we are to be saints afterwards in glory. The favourite idea of many, that dying men need nothing except absolution and forgiveness of sins to make them fit for heaven, is a profound delusion.
We need the work of the Holy Spirit as well as the work of Christ; we need renewal of heart as well as the atoning blood; we need to be sanctified as well as to be justified. It is common to hear people saying on their death beds, “I only want the Lord to forgive me my sins, and take me to rest.” But those who say such things forget that the rest of heaven would be utterly useless if we had no heart to enjoy it. What could an unsanctified man do in heaven, if by any chance he got there?
Let that question be honestly considered, and honestly answered. No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not agreeable to his tastes, habits, and character. When an eagle is happy in an iron cage, when a sheep is happy in the water, when a fish is happy on the dry land,—then, and not till then, may we think that the unsanctified man could be happy in heaven.
These twelve propositions about sanctification have been placed before your mind, and I can only ask that you ponder them well. Each of them could be expanded and handled more fully, and all of them deserve private thought and consideration. Some of them may be disputed and contradicted; but I submit that none of them can be overthrown or proved untrue. I only ask you to give them a fair and impartial hearing and hope that they may assist you in attaining clear views of sanctification.
II. We now go on to take up the second point which we proposed to consider. That point is the visible evidences of sanctification.
In a word, what are the visible marks of a sanctified man? What may we expect to see in him?
This is a very wide and difficult part of our subject. It is wide, because it requires the mention of many details which cannot be fully handled in our limited time. It is difficult, because it cannot possibly be treated without the potential of offending some. But at any risk, truth ought to be spoken; and there is some kind of truth which especially requires to be spoken in our day.
(1) And so first, true sanctification then does not consist in talk about religion.
This is a point which ought never to be forgotten. The vast increase in the flow of information in these latter days makes it absolutely necessary to raise a warning voice. People hear so much of Gospel truth that they contract an unholy familiarity with its words and phrases, and sometimes talk or write or blog so fluently about its doctrines that you might think them true Christians. In fact it is sickening and disgusting to hear the cool and flippant language which many pour out about “conversion,—the Saviour,—the Gospel,—finding peace,¾free grace,” and the like, while they are notoriously serving sin or living for the world. Can we doubt that such talk is abominable in God’s sight, and is little better than cursing, swearing, and taking God’s name in vain? The tongue is not the only member that Christ commands us give to His service. God does not want His people to be mere empty tubs, sounding brass, and tinkling cymbals. We must be sanctified, not only in “word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
(2) True sanctification does not consist in outward formalism and external devoutness.
This is an enormous delusion, but sadly a very common one. Thousands appear to imagine that true holiness is to be seen in an excessive quantity of bodily religion,—in constant attendance on Church services, reception of the Lord’s Supper, and observance of fasts,—in self-imposed austerities and petty self-denials. No doubt some people take up these things from conscientious motives, and feel that they help their souls. But often this external religiousness is made a substitute for inward holiness and falls utterly short of sanctification of heart. Above all, when we see that many followers of this outward, sensuous, and bodily style of Christianity are absorbed in worldliness, and plunge headlong into its habits and vanities without shame, it is important to speak clearly on the subject. There may be an immense amount of “bodily service,” while there is not a hint of real sanctification.
(3) Sanctification does not consist in withdrawal from our place in life, and the abandonment of our social duties.
In every age it has been a snare with many to take up this approach in the pursuit of holiness. Hundreds of hermits have buried themselves in some wilderness, and thousands of men and women have shut themselves up within the walls of monasteries and convents, under the vain idea that by so doing they would escape sin and become eminently holy. They have forgotten that no locks and bars can keep out the devil, and that wherever we go we carry that root of all evil, our own hearts.
To become a monk, or a nun, or to join a monastery, is not the high road to sanctification. True holiness does not make a Christian avoid difficulties, but face and overcome them. Christ would have His people show that His grace is not a mere green-house plant, which can only thrive under shelter, but a strong hardy thing which can flourish in every relation of life.
It is doing our duty in that state to which God has called us,—like salt in the midst of corruption, and light in the midst of darkness,—which is an essential element in sanctification. It is not the man who hides himself in a cave, but the man who glorifies God as parent or child, in the family and in the street, in business and in trade, who is the Scriptural type of a sanctified man. Our Master Himself said in His last prayer, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15.)
(4) Sanctification does not consist in the occasional performance of right actions.
Rather sanctification is the habitual working of a new heavenly principle within, which runs through all a man’s daily conduct, both in great things and in small. Its seat is in the heart, and like the heart in the body, it has a regular influence on every part of the character. It is not like a pump, which only produces water when worked upon from the outside, but a perpetual fountain, from which a stream is ever flowing spontaneously and naturally.
People may do many right things under the influence of sickness, affliction, death in the family, public calamities, or a sudden uneasiness of conscience. Yet all the time any intelligent observer can see plainly that they are not converted, and that they know nothing of “sanctification.” A true saint, like Hezekiah, will be whole hearted. He will undertake all he does “in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking … God, … with all his heart”, and “hate every false way.” (2 Chron. 31:21; Ps 119:104.)
(5) Genuine sanctification will show itself in constant respect to God’s law, and a constant effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life.
There is no greater mistake than to suppose that a Christian has nothing to do with the Law and the Ten Commandments, because he cannot be justified by keeping them. The same Holy Spirit who convinces the believer of sin by the law, and leads him to Christ for justification, will always lead him to a spiritual use of the Law, as a friendly guide, in the pursuit of sanctification. Our Lord Jesus Christ never made light of the Ten Commandments: on the contrary, in His first public discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, He expounded them, and showed the searching nature of their requirements. The Apostle Paul never made light of the Law: on the contrary, he says, “the law is good, if one uses it lawfully.”—“I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” (1 Tim. 1:8, Rom. 7:22.) He who pretends to be a saint, while he sneers at the Ten Commandments, and thinks nothing of lying, hypocrisy, fraud, bad-temper, slander, drunkenness, and breach of the seventh commandment, is under a fearful delusion. He will find it hard to prove that he is a “saint” in the last day!
(6) Genuine sanctification will show itself in an constant endeavour to do Christ’s will, and to live by His practical precepts.
These precepts are to be found scattered everywhere throughout the four Gospels, and especially in the Sermon on the Mount. As we have seen, these words were clearly spoken with the intention of promoting holiness with respect to the daily life of the Christian. To hear some men talk, and read some men’s writings, one might imagine that our blessed Lord, when He was on earth, never taught anything but doctrine, and left practical duties to be taught by others! The slightest knowledge of the four Gospels ought to tell us that this is a complete mistake. What His disciples ought to be and to do, is continually set out in our Lord’s teaching. A truly sanctified man will never forget this. He serves a Master who said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14.)
(7) Genuine sanctification will show itself in an continuous desire to live up to the standard which the Apostle Paul sets before the Churches in his writings.
That standard is to be found in the closing chapters of nearly all his Epistles. The common idea of many persons that the Apostle Paul’s writings are full of nothing but doctrinal statements and controversial subjects,—justification, election, predestination, prophecy, and the like,—is an entire delusion, and a sad proof of the ignorance which is prevalent about religion.
When you are reading the Apostle Paul’s writings take care to notice in them a large amount of plain practical directions about the Christian’s duty in every relation of life, and about our daily habits, temper, and behaviour to one another. These directions were written down by inspiration of God for the perpetual guidance of professing Christians. He who does not pay attention to them may possibly measure up as a member of a church, but he certainly is not what the Bible calls a “sanctified “man.
(8) Genuine sanctification will show itself in regular attention to the active graces which our Lord so beautifully exemplified, and especially to the grace of charity.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another..” (John 13:34, 35.) A sanctified man will try to do good in the world, and to lessen the sorrow and increase the happiness of all around him. He will aim to be like his Master, full of kindness and love to every one; and this, not in word only, by calling people “dear,” but by deeds and actions and self-denying work, as he has the opportunity.
The selfish Christian professor, who wraps himself up in his own conceit of superior knowledge, and seems to care nothing whether others sink or swim, go to heaven or hell, so long as he walks to church or chapel in his Sunday best, and is called a “sound member,”—such a man knows nothing of sanctification. He may think himself a saint on earth, but he will not be a saint in heaven. Christ will never be found the Saviour of those who know nothing of following His example. Saving faith and real converting grace will always produce some conformity to the image of Jesus. (Coloss. 3:10.)
(9) Genuine sanctification, in the last place, will show itself in regular attention to the passive graces of Christianity.
By passive graces are meant those graces which are especially shown in submission to the will of God, and in bearing and forbearing towards one another. Few people perhaps, unless they have examined the point, have an idea how much is said about these graces in the New Testament, and how important a place they seem to fill. This is the special point which the Apostle Peter dwells upon in commending our Lord Jesus Christ’s example to our notice: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Pet. 2:21-23.)
This is the one piece of profession which the Lord’s prayer requires us to make: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors;” (Matt 6:12) and the one point that is commented upon at the end of the prayer.—This is the point which occupies one third of the list of the fruits of the Spirit, supplied by the Apostle Paul. Nine are named, and of these “patience, kindness, and gentleness,” are without doubt passive graces. (Gal. 5:22, 23.)
This is a subject that all Christians would do well to consider carefully. The passive graces are no doubt harder to attain than the active ones, but they are precisely the graces which have the greatest influence on the world. It is surely nonsense to pretend to sanctification unless we follow after the patience, kindness, and gentleness, and forgivingness of which the Bible makes so much. People who are regularly giving way to irritable and angry tempers in daily life, and are constantly sharp with their tongue, and disagreeable to those around them, spiteful people, vindictive people, revengeful people, malicious people,—of whom, alas, the world is only too full—all such know little, as they should know, about sanctification.
Such are the visible marks of a sanctified man. This is not to say that they are all to be seen equally in all God’s people. In the best they are not fully and perfectly exhibited. But we can know for sure that these things are the Scriptural marks of sanctification, and that they who know nothing of them may well doubt whether they have any grace at all. Genuine sanctification is a thing that can be seen, and the marks which have just been sketched out are more or less the marks of a sanctified man.
III. We go on to consider, in the last place, the distinction between justification and sanctification. How are they similar and how are they different?
Though it not may appear so to everyone, this is a very important subject. Too many are apt to look at nothing but the surface of things in religion, and regard nice distinctions in theology as questions of words and names, which are of little real value. But all who are in earnest about their souls, should realize that there is great danger in glossing over Christian doctrine; if you desire inward peace, seek to have clear views about the matter before us. Justification and sanctification are two distinct things, we must always remember. Yet there are points in which they agree, and points in which they differ. Let us try to find out what they are.
In what, then, are justification and sanctification alike?
(i) Both proceed originally from the free grace of God. It is of His gift alone that any are justified or sanctified at all.
(ii) Both are part of that great work of salvation which Christ, in the eternal covenant, has undertaken on behalf of His people. Christ is the fountain of life, from which pardon and holiness both flow. The root of each is Christ.
(iii) Both are to be found in the same persons. Those who are justified are always sanctified, and those who are sanctified are always justified. God has joined them together, and they cannot be separated.
(iv) Both begin at the same time. The moment a person begins to be a justified person, he also begins to be a sanctified person. He may not feel it, but it is a fact.
(v) Both are alike necessary to salvation. No one ever reached heaven without a renewed heart as well as forgiveness. The one is just as necessary as the other.
Such are the points on which justification and sanctification agree. Let us now reverse the picture, and see in what they differ.
(i) Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man righteous, though it may be in a very feeble measure.
(ii) The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but the everlasting perfect righteousness of our great Mediator Christ, imputed to us, and made our own by faith. The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own righteousness, imparted, and produced in us by the Holy Spirit, but mingled with much infirmity and imperfection.
(iii) In justification our own works have no place at all, and simple faith in Christ is the one thing necessary. In sanctification our own works are of vast importance, and God calls us to fight, and watch, and pray, and strive, and take pains, and make efforts.
(iv) Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven.
(v) There is no growth or increase in Justification: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work, it continually grows so long as a man lives.
(vi) Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God’s sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures, and the moral renewal of our hearts,
(vii) Justification gives us our title to heaven, and boldness to enter in. Sanctification gives us our meekness for heaven, and prepares us to enjoy it when we dwell there.
(viii) Justification is the act of God about us, and is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification is the work of God within us, and cannot be hidden in its outward effects from the eyes of men.
Let us remember these distinctions, and ponder them well. One great cause of the darkness and uncomfortable feelings of many well-meaning people in the matter of religion, is their habit of confusing justification and sanctification. It can never be too strongly impressed on our minds that they are two separate things. No doubt they cannot be divided, and every one that is a partaker of either is a partaker of both. But they should never be confused with one another, and the difference between them should never be forgotten.
And now, as we come to a close, a few plain words of application. The nature and visible marks of sanctification have been brought before us. What practical reflections ought the whole subject to raise in our minds?
(1) For one thing, let us all awake to a sense of the perilous state of many professing Christians.
“Strive … for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord;” without sanctification there is no salvation. (Heb. 12:14.) Then what an enormous amount of so-called religion there is which is perfectly useless! What an immense proportion of church-goers are in the easy way that leads to destruction! (Matt 7:13) The thought is awful, crushing, and overwhelming. Would that believers would open their eyes and realize the condition of souls around them! Would that men could be persuaded to “flee from the wrath to come!” (Matt 3:7) If unsanctified souls can be saved and go to heaven, the Bible is not true. Yet the Bible is true and cannot lie! What an awful day of reckoning is approaching for many!
(2) For another thing, let us be sure of our own condition,
and never rest till we feel and know that we are “sanctified” ourselves. What are our tastes, and choices, and likings, and inclinations? This is the great testing question. It does not matter what we wish, and what we hope, and what we desire to be before we die. What are we now? What are we doing? Are we sanctified or not? If not, the fault is all our own.
(3) For another thing, if we would be sanctified, our course is clear and plain,—we must begin with Christ.
We must go to Him as sinners, with no plea but that of utter need, and cast our souls on Him by faith, for peace and reconciliation with God. We must place ourselves in His hands, as in the hands of a good physician, and cry to Him for mercy and grace. We must wait for nothing else to make us fit. The very first step towards sanctification, no less than justification, is to come with faith to Christ. We must first live, be born again, and then we can work.
(4) For another thing, if we would grow in holiness and become more sanctified, we must continually go on as we began,
and be ever coming to Christ for help. He is the Head from which every member must be supplied. (Ephes. 4:16.) To live the life of daily faith in the Son of God, and to be daily drawing out of His fulness the promised grace and strength which He has laid up for His people,—this is the grand secret of progressive sanctification. Believers who seem at a standstill are generally neglecting close communion with Jesus, and so grieving the Spirit. He that prayed, “Sanctify them,” the last night before His crucifixion, is infinitely willing to help everyone who by faith comes to Him for help, and desires to be made more holy.
(5) For another thing, let us not expect too much from our own hearts here below.
At our best, we will find in ourselves daily cause for humiliation, and discover that we are needy debtors to mercy and grace every hour. The more light we have, the more we will see our own imperfection. Sinners we were when we began, sinners we will find ourselves as we go on; renewed, pardoned, justified,—yet sinners to the very last. Our absolute perfection is yet to come, and the expectation of it is one reason why we should long for heaven.
(6) Finally, let us never be ashamed of making much of sanctification, and contending for a high standard of holiness.
While some are satisfied with a miserably low degree of advancement, and others are not ashamed to live on without any holiness at all,—content with a mere round of church-going, but never advancing, like a horse on a treadmill,—let us stand fast in the old paths, follow after eminent holiness ourselves, and recommend it boldly to others. This is the only way to be really happy.
Let us feel satisfied, whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness, and that the man who gets through life most comfortably is the sanctified man. No doubt there are some true Christians who from ill-health, or family trials, or other secret causes, enjoy little outward comfort, and go mourning all their days on the way to heaven. But these are exceptional cases.
As a general rule, in the long run of life, it will be found true, that “sanctified” people are the happiest people on earth. They have solid comforts which the world can neither give nor take away. They have the ways of wisdom, “ways of pleasantness” —“Great peace have those who love your law.
And finally it was said by One who cannot lie, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light..”—But it is also written, “There is no peace for the wicked.” (Prov. 3:17; Ps. 119:165; Matt. 11:30; Isa. 48:22.)