The Pietists and the Perfectionists

Taken and adapted from, “The Work of the Holy Spirit”
Written by, Abraham Kuyper

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Sanctification is a gracious work of God, whereby in a supernatural way He gradually divests from sin the inclinations and dispositions of the regenerate and clothes them with holiness.

Here we meet a serious objection which deserves our careful attention. To the superficial observer, the spiritual experience of God’s children seems diametrically opposed to this professed gift of sanctification. One says: “Can it be that for more than ten years I have been the subject of a divine operation whereby my desires and inclinations were divested of sin and clothed with holiness? If this is the Gospel, then I belong not to the Lord’s redeemed; for in myself I perceive scarcely any progress; I only know that my first love has become cold and that the inward corruption is appalling. Some dream of progress, but I discover in myself scarcely anything but backsliding. No gain but loss, is the sad footing-up of the account. My only hope is Immanuel my Surety.”

While the experience of a broken heart vents its grief in this way, others exhort us not to encourage spiritual pride. They say: “We should not foster spiritual pride in God’s children, for by nature they are already thus inclined. What is more conducive to spiritual pride than the conceit of an ever-advancing holiness? Is not holiness the highest and most glorious attainment? Is it not our comprehensive prayer to be made partakers of His holiness? And would you have these souls imagine that, since they were converted a number of years ago, they have attained already a considerable degree of this divine perfection? Would you give license to older Christians to feel themselves above their younger brethren? Holiness wants to be noticed; hence you incite them to a display of their good works. What is this but to cultivate a spirit of Pharisaism?

We may not rest until this objection of the sensitive conscience is entirely removed. Not as tho we could escape all dangers of Pharisaism. This would silence every exhortation to holy living. Light without shadows is impossible; the shadows disappear only in absolute darkness. In the days of the ancient Pharisee, Jerusalem, compared with Rome and Athens, was a God-fearing city. Pharisaism was never more bold than in the days of Jesus. And history shows that the danger of Pharisaism has always been least in the Romish and greatest in the Reformed churches; and among the latter, it is strongest where the name of God is most exalted. Godliness is impossible without the shadow of Pharisaism. The brighter the light and glory of the former, the darker the shadow of the latter. To escape Pharisaism altogether one must descend into the lowest pest-holes of society, where nothing bridles the passions of men.

And this is natural. Pharisaism is not a common corruption, but the mildew of the noblest fruit the earth ever saw — viz., godliness. The circles that are free from Pharisaism also lack the highest good; how, then, could it decay there? And the circles in which this danger is greatest are the very circles in which the highest good is known and exalted.

But, apart from this aimless skirmishing with the Pharisaic phantom, the scruple mentioned above has our heartiest sympathy. If it were true that sanctification so impressed the soul as to incite it to pride, it could not be the real article; for of all unholiness pride is the most abominable. It is David’s sweet and sincere supplication: “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; then shall I be upright and shall be innocent from the great transgressions.” (Psalm 19:13) The fundamental conception of grace is so intimately connected with the idea of becoming a little child, and its gift is so strongly conditioned upon a humble disposition, that the gift which encourages spiritual pride can not be a gift of grace.

But we are confident that the doctrine of sanctification, as presented in these pages according to the Holy Scripture, has nothing in common with this caricature. Since in Paradise sin sprang from the first satanic incitement to pride, and all spiritual and carnal unholiness still grows from that poisonous root, it is evident that the first effect of the implanted, holy disposition must be the humbling of this pride, the pulling down of this stronghold; and at the same time the quickening of a humble, meek, and childlike spirit.

The idea that sanctification consists in inspiring the saint with horror for gross and outward sins, without a previous breaking down of self-conceit, is unscriptural and opposed by the Reformed churches. The Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit never applies sanctification to the believer without attacking all his sins at once. “A sincere resolution to live not only according to some, but to all the commandments of God” (Heidelberg Catechism).

Of all sins pride is the most accursed, for in all its manifestations it is the transgression of the first commandment. Hence real and divinely wrought sanctification is inconceivable without, first of all, destroying pride, and creating a humble, quiet, self-distrusting, and childlike disposition. And this solves the whole difficulty. He who fears that gradual sanctification will lead to pride and self-conceit confounds its human counterfeit with the real work divinely wrought. Wherefore, with this objection, he must attack the hypocrite, and not us. However, a wrong interpretation of what the Scripture calls “flesh” might suggest it. If “flesh” signifies sensual inclinations and bodily appetites, and sanctification consisted almost entirely in warring against these sins, sanctification thus understood might be accompanied by an increase of spiritual pride.

But by sinful “flesh” the Scripture denotes the entire man, body and soul, including sins which are spiritual as well as sensual; hence sanctification aims at once at the change of man’s spiritual and sensual inclinations, and first of all at his tendency to pride.

Earlier, we said that sanctification included a descent as well as an ascent. When the Lord raises us, we also descend. There is no rising of the new man without a death of the old; and every attempt to teach sanctification without doing full justice to both is unscriptural. We oppose, therefore, the attempts of the Pietist and of the Perfectionist, who say that they have nothing more to do with the old man, that nothing remains in them to be mortified, and that all that is required of them is to hurry the growth of the new man. And we equally oppose the opposite; which admits the dying of the old man, but denies the rising of the new, and that the soul receives all that it lacks.

Every true and lasting conversion, must manifest itself in these two parts, viz., a mortification of the old man, and a rising of the new, in equal proportions.

And in answer to the question, “What is the mortification of the old man?” the Heidelberg Catechism answers, “A gradual decrease,” for it says: “It is a sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.” While the quickening of the new man is expressed just as positively: “It is a sincere joy of heart in God through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works” — a declaration that is repeated in the answer of the 115th question, which thus describes this mortification: “That all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature”; and which speaks of the quickening of the new man as “becoming more and more conformable to the image of God.”

Hence there are two parts, or rather two aspects of the same thing:

(1) the breaking down of the old man;
(2) a growing conformity to the divine image.

To mortify and to quicken, to kill and to make alive, more and more — this is, according to the Confession of the fathers, the work of the Triune God in sanctification. Sin is not merely the “lack of righteousness.” As soon as righteousness, goodness, and wisdom disappear, unrighteousness, evil, and folly take their place. As God implanted in man the first three named, so does sin not merely rob him of them, but it puts the last three in their place. Sin did not only kill in Adam the man of God, but also quickened in him the man of sin; hence sanctification must effect in us the very opposite. It must mortify that which sin has quickened, and quicken that which sin has mortified.

If this rule is thoroughly understood, there can be no confusion. Our idea of sanctification necessarily corresponds to our idea of sin. They who consider sin as a mere poison, and deny the loss of original righteousness, are Pietists; they ignore the mortification of the old man, and always busy themselves adorning the new. And they who say that sin is the loss of original righteousness, and deny its positive, evil effects, are inclined to Antinomianism, and reduce sanctification to a fancied emancipation from the old man, rejecting the rising of the new. Of course, this touches the doctrine of the old man and the new.

For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  –Hebrews 12:10

The representation that the soul of the converted is an arena where the two are engaged in a hand-to-hand fight is incorrect, and has not a single satisfactory text for its support. We reject the two following representations: that of the Antinomian, who says: “The believing ego is the new man in Christ Jesus; I am not responsible for the old man, the personal, sinful ego; he may sin as much as he please”; and the representation of the Pietist, who considers him still the old man, partly renewed, and who is always busy to remodel him. These two do not belong to Christ’s Church. The Scripture teaches, not that the old man is sanctified by being changed into the new; but that the old man must be mortified until nothing of him remains. Neither does it teach that in regeneration a small part only of the old man is renewed — the remainder to be patched up gradually — but that an entirely new man is implanted. This is of greatest importance for the right understanding of these holy things. Sin wrought in us an old man, the body of sin: not merely a part, but the whole, with all that belongs to him, body and soul. Hence that old man must die, and the Pietist with all his works of piety can never galvanize a single muscle in his body. He is altogether unprofitable, and must perish under his just condemnation.

In like manner God graciously regenerates in us a new creature, which is also a complete man. Therefore we may not take the new man as the gradual restoration of the old. The two have nothing in common but the mutual basis of the same personality. The new does not spring from the old, but supersedes him. Being only in the germ, he may be buried in the newly regenerate, but he will arise and then God’s work appears gloriously. God is his Author, Creator, and Father. Not the old man, but the new man cries out: “Abba, Father!”

However, our ego is related to the dying old man and the rising new man. The ego of a non-elect person is identified with the old man; they are the same. But in the consummation of the heavenly glory, the ego of God’s children is identified with the new man.

But during the days of our earthly life this is not so. The new man of an unregenerate, but elect person exists apart from him, but hid in Christ. He is still wedded to his old man. But in regeneration and conversion God dissolves this unholy marriage, and He unites his ego to the new man. Yet, despite all this, he is not yet rid of the old man. Before God and the law, from the viewpoint of eternity, he may be so considered, but not actually and really. And this is the cause of the conflict within and without. All evil ties are not dissolved at once, and all holy ties are not united at once. By the mystic union with Christ the child of God actually possesses the entire new man, even tho he should die to-morrow; but he has not yet the enjoyment of it. Being weaned to the new man before God, he is, by a painful process, yet to die to the old man, and by divine grace the new man is to be raised in him. And this is his sanctification: the dying of the old and the rising of the new, by which God increases and we decrease. Blessed manifestation of faith!

The Differing States of Sanctification, and the Unique Perfection of Justification

Taken and adapted from the, “Works of the Late Reverend Robert Traill”,
Volume III. Sermon VI

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“Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” 

 –Galatians 2:16 (ESV)

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Justification, I say, is perfect…

…and admits of no degrees, admits of no decays, admits of no intermission, nor of any intercession but sanctification admits of all these.  When I say justification is perfect, I mean, that every justified believer is equally and perfectly justified.  The poorest believer that is this day in the world, is justified as much as ever the apostle Paul was.  Every true believer is as much justified now, as he will be a thousand years hence.

Justification is perfect in all them that are partakers of it, and to all eternity; it admits of no degrees; and the plain reason of it is this— the ground of it is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the entitling us to it is by an act of God the gracious Judge, and that act stands for ever.  If God justifies, who is he that shall condemn (Romans 8:33)?  Sanctification is an imperfect, incomplete, changeable, thing.  One believer is more sanctified than another.  I am apt to believe that the apostle Paul was more sanctified the first hours of his conversion than any man this day in the world.  Sanctification differs greatly as to the persons that are partakers of it and differs greatly too as to the same man.

A true believer, a truly sanctified man, may be more holy and sanctified at one time than at another.  There is a work required of us, to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1), but we are nowhere required to be perfecting righteousness in the sight of God.  God hath brought in a perfect righteousness, in which we stand, but we are to take care and to give diligence to perfect holiness in the fear of God.  A saint in glory is more sanctified than ever he was; for he is perfectly so, but he is not more justified than he was.  No, a saint in heaven is not more justified than a believer on earth is, only they know it better, and the glory of that light in which they see it, discovers it more brightly and more clearly to them.

THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE SINNER, THE MATTER AND THE MANNER OF IT

Taken from, Light Shining in Darkness
Written by, William Huntington
Edited for thought and sense.

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Sanctify them through thy truth thy word is truth.
–John 17: 17

To sanctify is to appoint, ordain, consecrate, or to apart, any person or thing to a holy and special use; and thus God sanctified the sabbath day, the tabernacle, its furniture, and all the vessels of the ministry. Gen. 2:3. Exodus 40:9,-11.

These things were not only to be set apart by the appointment of God to be used in his service, but they were to be sprinkled with blood and anointed with oil. To sanctify, in one sense signifies to wash, cleanse, or purify: the priests were sanctified by washing in water, and with the anointing oil, and by blood upon the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the great toe of the right foot; the common people by washing their flesh, clothes, etc.; and others by the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctified to the purifying of the flesh. Heb. 9:13, but it is the substance of this shadow that I am at, which sanctifies wholly body, soul, and spirit.

Sanctify them through thy truth thy word is truth…

…The elect of God were sanctified in the purpose of God from everlasting; and in this purpose of grace Christ was made sanctification and redemption for them from all eternity. From everlasting I was set up. Prov. 8:23. And in his undertaking for us he sent forth from of old, yea from everlasting. Micah 5:2 In this sense we are said to be sanctified by God the Father, preferred in Christ Jesus, and called. Jude 1.

God works all things after the counsel of his own will; and this is his will of purpose, which in time, when he began to speak to men, became the will of promise, and then in the fullness of time it became the good will of God in Christ Jesus; that is, at Christ’s appearing, he came to execute every branch of the Father’s good will and pleasure and to be manifested to us as our sanctification according to the ancient settlements, councils of old. “Then said I, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God; by the which will we are sanctified.” Heb. 10:7, 10. This branch of sanctification, being in the purpose and good will of God, must undoubtedly signify setting part and appointing us to it; and, as it was settled and done in the purpose of God, it Is then spoken of in the past tense; sanctified by God the Father from everlasting, preserved in Christ Jesus in time, from the womb to conversion; and finally called in due time to the fellowship the Lord Jesus; for, being chosen in Christ from eternity, we are preferred in him throughout our state of nature, as his own remnant.

Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you. –Isaiah 46:3-4

We are sanctified by the blood of Christ; which has appeased the offended Majesty of heaven; which blotted out our transgressions as cloud from the book of God’s remembrance; which satisfied justice, removed the curse, purged our conscience, and procured our deliverance from the prison. By the blood of the covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Heb. 13:12

We are sanctified by the Spirit of God, who reveals God’s secret purpose of grace to us, and applies the great atonement to the conscience…

…and who, by his powerful operations, regenerates and renews us, which is called “the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Ghost.” Under these operations the soul is cleansed, renewed, and the faculties of the soul are turned to God; the will submits and chooses the better part; the heart relents, and repents towards God, and becomes soft, broken, and contrite; the mind begins to be heavenly, and to mind heavenly things. Such have life and peace; the affections go after God, and are placed above, and the conscience acts an honest and just part for God; that the offering up of the Gentiles might be accepted, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. Romans 15: 16.

Thus it may be seen that each person in the Godhead has a hand in the sanctification of God’s people…

We are sanctified by God the Father in his purpose; Christ sanctified us by his own blood when he suffered without the gate; and we are made acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.

Unraveling our Experiences, Resistances, and Anxieties in the Sanctified Life

Taken and adapted from “A Body of Divinity: Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion are Explained and Defended, being the Substance of Several Lectures on the Assembly’s Larger Catechism.” Written by Thomas Ridgley. Edited for thought and sense.

_h353_w628_m6_ofalse_lfalse“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;…” 

–1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 (ESV)

Let us inquire, whether the life we live in the flesh…

…be by the faith of the Son of God, be under the influence of his Spirit, with great diffidence of our own righteousness and strength, and firm dependence upon Christ… 

If we have ground to hope that the work of sanctification is begun, let us inquire, whether it be advancing or declining. Whether we go from strength to strength, or make improvements in proportion to the privileges we enjoy.  Many have reason to complain that it is not with them as in months past; that grace is languishing, the frame of their spirits in holy duties stupid, and they be destitute of that communion with God,” which they have once enjoyed.  Such ought to remember from whence they are fallen, and repent, and do their first works; and beg of God, from whom alone our fruit is derived, that he would revive the work, and cause their souls to flourish in the courts of his house, and to bring forth much fruit unto holiness, to the glory of his own name, and their spiritual peace and comfort.

As for those who are frequently complaining of, and be-wailing their declensions in grace, who seem, to others, to be making a very considerable progress therein; let them not give way to unbelief so far as to deny or set aside the experiences which they have had of God’s presence with them; for sometimes grace grows, though without our own observation. If they are destitute of the comforts thereof, or the fruits of righteousness, which are peace, assurance and joy in the Holy Ghost, let them consider, that the work of sanctification, in this present state, is, at best, but growing up towards that perfection which is not yet arrived to. 

If it does not spring up and flourish, as to those fruits and effects thereof, which they are pressing after, but have not attained; let them bless God, if grace is taking root downward, and is attended with an humble sense of their own weakness and imperfection, and an earnest desire of those spiritual blessings which they are laboring after.  This ought to afford a matter of thankfulness, rather than to have a tendency to weaken their hands, or induce them to conclude that they are in an unsanctified state because of the many hindrances and discouragements which attend their progress in holiness.

Holy Resolution: The Task, Joy and Faith of Perseverance

Written by William Gurnall in 1662.
Taken from “The Christian in Complete Armor.”
Edited and compiled for thought and sense.

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May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might,

for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father,
who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.   
Colossians 1:11-12 (ESV)
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The believer is to persevere in his Christian course to the end of his life…

…his work and his life must go off the stage together. This adds weight to every other difficulty of the Christian’s calling.  We have known many who have gone into the field, and liked the work of a soldier for a battle or two, but soon have had enough, and come running home again; but few can bear it as a constant trade.

Oh this persevering is a hard word! 

This taking up of the cross daily, this praying always, this watching night and day, and never laying aside our clothes and armor; I mean, indulging ourselves to remit and unbend in our holy waiting on God, and walking with God; this sends many sorrowful away from Christ; yet this is the saint’s duty, to make religion his every-day work, without any vacation from one end of the year to the other.  These few instances are enough to show what need the Christian has of resolution.

This gives us then a reason why there are so many that profess and so few Christians indeed…

…so many that run, and so few obtain; so many go into the field against Satan, and so few come out conquerors; because all have a desire to be happy, but few have courage and resolution to grapple with the difficulties that meet them in their way to happiness.  The greatest part of those who profess the gospel, when they come to push of pike,—to be tried what they will do, deny, endure for Christ,—grow sick of their enterprise. Alas! their hearts fail them!

Let this then exhort you, Christians, to labor for this holy resolution and prowess which is so needful for your Christian profession…

…that without it you cannot be what you profess.  The fearful are in the forlorn of those that march for hell, Revelation 21. The violent and valiant are they which take heaven by force; cowards never won heaven.  Say not, you have royal blood running in your veins, and are begotten of God, except you can prove your pedigree by this heroic spirit, to dare to be holy in spite of men and devils.  The eagle tries her young ones by the sun; Christ tries his children by their courage, that dare look on the face of death and danger for his sake, Mark 8:.34-35.  Oh how uncomely a sight is it, a bold sinner, and a fearful saint!  One resolved to be wicked, and a Christian wavering in his holy course.

Take heart, therefore, you saints, and be strong; your cause is good. 

God himself espouses your quarrel, who has appointed you his own Son, general of the field, called ‘the Captain of our salvation,’ Hebrews 2.  He shall lead you on with courage, and bring you off with honor.  He lived and died for you; he will live and die with you; for mercy and tenderness to his soldiers, there is none like him.

Every exploit your faith does against sin and Satan, causes a shout in heaven…

…while you valiantly prostrate this temptation, scale that difficulty, regain the other ground you even now lost, out of your enemies’ hands. Your dear Saviour, who stands by with a reserve for your relief at a pinch, his very heart leaps within him for joy, to see the proof of your love to him, and zeal for him in all your combats, and will not forget all the faithful service you have done in his wars on earth; but, when you come out of the field, will receive you with the like joy as he was entertained himself, at his return to heaven, of his Father.

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Gurnall is known by his “Christian in Complete Armour,” published in three volumes, dated 1655, 1658 and 1662. It consists of sermons or lectures delivered by the author in the course of his regular ministry, in a consecutive course on Ephesians 6: 10–20. It is described as a magazine whence the Christian is furnished with spiritual arms for the battle, helped on with his armour, and taught the use of his weapon; together with the happy issue of the whole war. It is thus considered a classic on spiritual warfare. The work is more practical than theological; and its quaint fancy, graphic and pointed style, and its fervent religious tone render it still popular with some readers. Richard Baxter and John Flavel both thought highly of the book. Toplady used to make copious extracts from it in his common-place book. John Newton, the converted slave trader, said that if he was confined to one book beside the Bible, he’d choose Christian Armour. Cecil spent many of the last days of his life in reading it, and repeatedly expressed his admiration of it.Charles Haddon Spurgeon commented that Gurnall’s work is “peerless and priceless; every line full of wisdom. The book has been preached over scores of times and is, in our judgment, the best thought-breeder in all our library.” The writing style is akin to that of the King James Bible, so in 1988 [Banner of Truth Trust] did a revised and abridged version in contemporary English.
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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  William Gurnall (1617 – 12 October 1679) was an English author and clergyman born at King’s Lynn, Norfolk. He was educated at the free grammar school of his native town, and in 1631 was nominated to the Lynn scholarship in Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1635 and MA in 1639. He was made rector of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Lavenham in Suffolk in 1644; and before he received that appointment he seems to have officiated, perhaps as curate, at Sudbury.

At the Restoration he signed the declaration required by the Act of Uniformity 1662, and on this account he was the subject of a libellous attack, published in 1665, entitled Covenant-Renouncers Desperate Apostates.

Character excerpts from Wikipedia

Our Frame of Mind in the Pursuit of Holiness

Written by John Owen. 1616 -1683. A pre-eminent English Puritan theologian, pastor, and independent.
Edited for thought and sense.

admin-ajaxLet us consider what should be the frame of mind in the pursuit of holiness…

…namely, what regard we ought to have unto the command on the one hand, and to the promise on the other,—to our own duty, and to the grace of God. Some would separate these things, as inconsistent.

They argue that a command, as they suppose, leaves no room for a promise, at least not such a promise as wherein God should take on himself to work in us what the command requires of us; and, they think, that a promise takes off all the influencing authority of the command. “If holiness be our duty, there is no room for grace in this matter; and if it be an effect of grace, there is no place for duty.” But all these arguings are a fruit of the wisdom of the flesh before mentioned, and we have before disproved them.

The “wisdom that is from above” teacheth us other things.

1.  With Regard to the Command

It is true, our works and grace are opposed in the matter of justification; if it be of works it is not of grace, and if it be of grace it is not of works, as our apostle argues, Rom. 11:6. But our duty and God’s grace are nowhere opposed in the matter of sanctification, yea, the one doth absolutely suppose the other. Neither can we perform our duty herein without the grace of God; nor doth God give us this grace unto any other end but that we may rightly perform our duty. He that shall deny either that God commands us to be holy in a way of duty, or promises to work holiness in us in a way of grace, may with as much modesty reject the whole Bible. In both of these, therefore, we are to have a due regard if we intend to be holy.

Our regard unto the command consists in three things:

  1.  That we get our consciences always affected with the authority of it, as it is the command of God. This must afterward be enlarged on. Where this is not, there is no holiness. Our holiness is our obedience; and the formal nature of obedience arises from its respect unto the authority of the command.
  2. That we see and understand the reasonableness, the equity, the advantage of the command. Our service is a reasonable service; the ways of God are equal, and in the keeping of his commands there is great reward. If we judge not thus, if we rest not herein, and are thence filled with indignation against every thing within us or without us that opposes it or rises up against it, whatever we do in compliance with it in a way of duty, we are not holy.
  3. That hereon we love and delight in it, because it is holy, just, and good; because the things it requires are upright, equal, easy, and pleasant to the new nature, without any regard to the false ends before discovered.

2.  With Regard to the Promise

We have regard unto the promise to the same end:

  1. When we walk in a constant sense of our own inability to comply with the command in any one instance from any power in ourselves; for we have no sufficiency of ourselves, our sufficiency is of God. As for him who is otherwise minded, his heart is lifted up.
  2. When we adore that grace which hath provided help and relief for us. Seeing without the grace promised we could never have attained unto the least part or degree of holiness, and seeing we could never deserve the least dram of that grace, how ought we to adore and continually praise that infinite bounty which hath freely provided us of this supply!
  3. When we act faith in prayer and expectation on the promise for supplies of grace enabling us unto holy obedience.
  4. When we have special regard with respect unto especial temptations and particular duties. When on all such occasions we satisfy not ourselves with a respect unto the promise in general, but exercise faith in particular on it for aid and assistance, then do we regard it in a due manner.

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Owen (1616 – 24 August 1683) was an English Nonconformist church leader, theologian, and academic administrator at the University of Oxford.  He was briefly a member of parliament for the University, sitting in the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 to 1655.

During his eight years of official Oxford life Owen showed himself a firm disciplinarian, thorough in his methods, though, as John Locke testifies, the Aristotelian traditions in education underwent no change. With Philip Nye he unmasked the popular astrologer, William Lilly, and in spite of his share in condemning two Quakeresses to be whipped for disturbing the peace, his rule was not intolerant. Anglican services were conducted here and there, and at Christ Church itself the Anglican chaplain remained in the college. While little encouragement was given to a spirit of free inquiry, Puritanism at Oxford was not simply an attempt to force education and culture into “the leaden moulds of Calvinistic theology.” Owen, unlike many of his contemporaries, was more interested in the New Testament than in the Old. During his Oxford years he wrote Justitia Divina (1653), an exposition of the dogma that God cannot forgive sin without an atonement; Communion with God (1657), Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance (1654), his final attack on Arminianism; Vindiciae Evangelicae, a treatise written by order of the Council of State against Socinianism as expounded by John Biddle; On the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656), an introspective and analytic work; Schism (1657), one of the most readable of all his writings; Of Temptation (1658), an attempt to recall Puritanism to its cardinal spiritual attitude from the jarring anarchy of sectarianism and the pharisaism which had followed on popularity and threatened to destroy the early simplicity.

In October 1653 he was one of several ministers whom Cromwell summoned to a consultation as to church union. In December, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by Oxford University. In the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 he sat, for a short time, as the sole member of parliament for Oxford University, and, with Baxter, was placed on the committee for settling the “fundamentals” necessary for the toleration promised in the Instrument of Government. In the same year he was chairman of a committee on Scottish Church affairs. He was, too, one of the Triers, and appears to have behaved with kindness and moderation in that capacity. As vice-chancellor he acted with readiness and spirit when a Royalist rising in Wiltshire broke out in 1655; his adherence to Cromwell, however, was by no means slavish, for he drew up, at the request of Desborough and Pride, a petition against his receiving the kingship. Thus, when Richard Cromwell succeeded his father as chancellor, Owen lost his vice-chancellorship. In 1658 he took a leading part in the conference of Independents which drew up the Savoy Declaration (the doctrinal standard of Congregationalism which was based upon the Westminster Confession of Faith).

 

Part 2. Christ our Sanctification: Differences and Examples Between Pietistic Vs. Biblical Sanctification

Taken from, Chapter 1. Sanctification via Union With Christ
Written by, John Hendryx

Recieving Communion #2But how many of us try to clean ourselves up to perfection before approaching the Lord’s Table…

…as if there were some degree or level of purity that we could reach that would make us acceptable to God? The command to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself should be sufficient to make you recognize your utter inability to do so. In all likelihood, the thinking that we have to make ourselves right and acceptable before God before he will accept us probably derives its origin from the influential but flawed theology of Pietism. For what man could ever clean himself up enough to make himself acceptable to God? And if he could clean himself up to that degree, then what further need would he have of a Savior or the nourishment of the Lord’s Supper? He would be self-sufficient apart from it.

The whole point of both the gospel and the Lord’s Supper for Christians is to continually recognize our own spiritual bankruptcy and dependency on the grace and promises of Christ.

In his letter to the Galatians Paul asks the Judaizing Christians an important question. [These persons who were in the visible church, were in danger of thinking they could add to Christ’s work or make themselves acceptable by some other way.] Paul asks them, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3). No, of course not, this is folly, because what God still wants from us as Christians is a broken Spirit, one which still recognizes its own moral and spiritual inability and complete need of God’s grace to move on. One that says, “have mercy on me, I am insufficient for the task.” Anyone who thinks, therefore, that they can approach the Lord’s table with a pure undefiled heart are really missing the main point of the gospel itself.

This erroneous concept of post-Christian self-sufficiency…

I believe, comes from the mentality that we were saved at some point of time in the past, when we prayed or confessed our faith, but now since we are already a Christian it is our job to keep ourselves 100% pure. If not 100%, what will God accept? 99%? We don’t even approach that. We start by grace but think the Christian life is maintained by self-effort and that Christ blesses us in accord with how well we are doing. We believe we got into the kingdom without works but now think that to maintain good standing before God we must personally maintain our just standing before God. Now we must scale the mountain of the Christian life by making ourselves good enough for God.

We think this way because the covenant of works is etched on our conscience since creation.

It is unnatural to think that someone else has accomplished our standing before God and it still offends our pride, even as Christians. But I believe the Scriptures affirm that the more we grow in grace, the more we despair of ourselves and recognize our need for Jesus Christ. At the time of salvation the Holy Spirit made us lose all self-confidence so we might trust in Christ alone. So I would argue that the first principle of our growth in grace is likewise, to despair of all hope in self and, as Paul said, to have “no confidence in the flesh”.

Our sanctification is a fruit of the Spirit as we lose ourselves in the wonder of Christ and His work for us.

We can never separate the spiritual benefit of sanctification from Christ Himself, the Benefactor. So true Christianity is not a religion about focusing on our own spirituality but rather a focus on our union with Christ, apart from whom, the Scriptures declare, we are without hope. The degree that we focus on our own spirituality and spiritual ability to please God is the degree that we exhaust ourselves by trying to draw from our own native resources.

The obsession we have with inner piety is evident in many of our approaches to the Lord’s Table.

This, believe it or not, is actually counter-productive to the Christian life for it focuses on us rather than what Christ has accomplished for us. The Gospel as represented in the elements of the Lord’s Table is about God remembering not to treat us as our sins justly deserve because of Christ. It is God’s covenant promise toward us … but we approach it as if it were Law rather than gospel, for we spend most of it reflecting on how good we have been, rather than the goodness and all-sufficiency of Christ toward us. But that is precisely what the bread and wine point to. The Table should be a celebration and a time of awe and thankfulness for what Christ has done for us in reconciling us to God, not a glum time to navel gaze and obsess on our own perfectionism. This would be to misapprehend its very purpose.

communionThis constant self-focus in our worship is probably one of the main reasons for a lack of interest in frequent communion.

Thinking that our morality is what God is after, we resist the idea of coming to Him often in this way. The feast becomes something about us rather than God’s promises to us in Christ. Pietism, therefore, actually militates against the gospel for Christians by making us, perhaps unconsciously, believe that, as Christians, our performance is what we bring before God, to make us acceptable at the Eucharist. But the preached gospel and the visible gospel (the Table) are both given, not because we are equal to the task but given to remind us that God’s favor is on us because of Christ and that in nourishing ourselves on Christ and the word, we might have strength, trust and delight in Christ to do what He commands. Christ is risen for us.

It is about what God has done, not what we do. How is it that we so quickly forget the gospel as Christians?

Grace is not something we can muster up ourselves. We approach the Lord’s Table because we need grace. If we were not dependent and needy then we would not need the gospel or the elements of the Lord’s Supper. Only Christ can give us such grace — this is what Christ wants us to recognize and a recognition of our own spiritual bankruptcy and His all-sufficiency is how we actually grow in grace. The gospel is about the promises of God, and our pietism does nothing to change His promise one way or another. We exhibit true piety only out of the overflow of the new life that is in us, not out of some hope that God will finally find us pleasing in ourselves. No, God is already fully pleased with us in Christ. There is nothing we can add to what Christ has done. The gospel in the elements is a seal of God’s promise to us and we should therefore rejoice and rest in it.

communion_21The reason He instituted the gospel and the Lord’s Supper for us is precisely because grace depends on Him.

Our failure to recognize this is one of the greatest reasons, I believe, for a weak church. Pietism is actually counter-productive toward sanctification when it tells us that we must be perfect to approach the Table. Rather, it is the Spirit who works through the gospel and the sacraments that cries out to God through us …only He brings us into communion with Christ, not our piety. The Gospel and the sacraments are God’s seal to his unswerving promise toward us. The covenant is ratified as we listen and partake. While we must approach the table ourselves, the stress of its purpose is ALWAYS on the faithfulness of God toward us.

As Christians, God indeed gives us demands to obey His law…

…but He works through us via the gospel to sanctify us that we might love His Law. If one reads the Sermon on the Mount we recognize that the law’s demands on all of us are more difficult than imagined, not less so than the Old Testament. But as a result, many think that we begin in the Spirit and are perfected by the flesh, as if the Law could give us the power to sanctify ourselves. Our sanctification, rather, is no more grounded on our ability than justification. The law commands us to live a certain way, but does not give us the power to do it. The fault is not with the law, but with us. But thanks be to God, this obedience that is required of us by the Law has already been rendered by Christ. Because of what Christ has accomplished, the Spirit now works in us the life that the Law was unable to accomplish.

The ideas of the world about piety have seeped into the church and it teaches us that that the purpose of Christianity is simply to make us better people.

But I would argue that Christianity is not about us but about Christ and what He has accomplished. This breaks our pride for it breaks our autonomy and discounts the very possibility of human contribution. Christ has accomplished what the law in us never gave us the power to do. Apart from this Christocentric understanding, the law can only lead us to either hopeless self-despair or self-righteous pride. Let us then remember the gospel way of Christ and feed on Him alone for our sustenance.

Thus, the error of Pietism is that it is not Christocentric enough.

May the Holy Spirit be pleased to unite us continually to Christ that we may abide in Him and bear much fruit to His glory.