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Introductory Thoughts on Sanctification

February 26, 2015

“I now feel it a duty to offer a few introductory hints to those whose attention is specially directed to the subject of sanctification in the present day. I know that I do so at the risk of seeming presumptuous, and possibly of giving offence. But something must be ventured in the interests of God’s truth. I shall therefore put my hints into the form of questions, and I shall request my readers to take them as “Cautions for the Times on the subject of holiness.”

(1) I ask, in the first place, whether it is wise to speak of faith as the one thing needful, and the only thing required, as many seem to do now-a-days in handling the doctrine of sanctification?-Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do, that the holiness of converted people is by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it.

That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness-that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ-that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness-that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy-that the life that we live in the flesh we must live by the faith of the Son of God-that faith purifies the heart-that faith is the victory which overcomes the world-that by faith the elders obtained a good report-all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith. The very same Apostle who says in one place, “The life that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,” says in another place, “I fight-I run-I keep under my body;” and in other places, “Let us cleanse ourselves-let us labour, let us lay aside every weight.” (Gal. ii. 20;! Cor. ix. 26; 2 Cor. vii.! ; Heb. iv. 11; xii.! .)

Moreover, the Scriptures nowhere teach us that faith sanctifies us in the same sense, and in the same manner, that faith justifies us! Justifying faith is a grace that “worketh not,” but simply trusts, rests, and leans on Christ. (Rom. iv. 5.) Sanctifying faith is a grace of which the very life is action: it “worketh by love,” and, like a main-spring, moves the whole inward man. (Gal. v. 6.) After all, the precise phrase “sanctified by faith” is only found once in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus said to Saul, “I send thee, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” Yet even there I agree with Alford, that “by faith” belongs to the whole sentence, and must not be tied to the word “sanctified.” The true sense is, “that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them that are sanctified.” (Compare Acts xxvi. 18 with Acts xx. 32.)

As to the phrase “holiness by faith,” I find it nowhere in the New Testament. Without controversy, in the matter of our justification before God, faith in Christ is the one thing needful. All that simply believe are justified. Righteousness is imputed “to him that worketh not but believeth.” (Rom. iv. 5.) It is thoroughly Scriptural and right to say “faith alone justifies.” But it is not equally Scriptural and right so say “faith alone sanctifies.” The saying requires very large qualification. Let one fact suffice. We are frequently told that a man is “justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” by St. Paul. But not once are we told that we are “sanctified by faith without the deeds of the law.” On the contrary, we are expressly told by St. James that the faith whereby we are visibly and demonstratively justified before man, is a faith which “if it hath not works is dead, being alone.” (James ii. 17.) I may be told, in reply, that no one of course means to disparage “works” as an essential part of a holy life. It would be well, however, to make this more plain than many seem to make it in these days.

(2) I ask, in the second place, whether it is wise to make so little as some appear to do, comparatively, of the many practical exhortations to holiness in daily life which are to be found in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the latter part of most of St. Paul’s epistles? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it. That a life of daily self-consecration and daily communion with God should be aimed at by everyone who professes to be a believer-that we should strive to attain the habit of going to the Lord Jesus Christ with everything we find a burden, whether great or small, and casting it upon Him-all this, I repeat, no well-taught child of God will dream of disputing. But surely the New Testament teaches us that we want something more than generalities about holy living, which often prick no conscience and give no offence. The details and particular ingredients of which holiness is composed in daily life, ought to be fully set forth and pressed on believers by all who profess to handle the subject.

True holiness does not consist merely of believing and feeling, but of doing and bearing, and a practical exhibition of active and passive grace. Our tongues, our tempers, our natural passions and inclinations-our conduct as parents and children, masters and servants, husbands and wives, rulers and subjects-our dress, our employment of time, our behaviour in business, our demeanour in sickness and health, in riches and in poverty-all, all these are matters which are fully treated by inspired writers. They are not content with a general statement of what we should believe and feel, and how we are to have the roots of holiness planted in our hearts. They dig down lower. They go into particulars. They specify minutely what a holy man ought to do and be in his own family, and by his own fireside, if he abides in Christ. I doubt whether this sort of teaching is sufficiently attended to in the movement of the present day. When people talk of having received “such a blessing,” and of having found “the higher life,” after hearing some earnest advocate of “holiness by faith and self-consecration,” while their families and friends see no improvement and no increased sanctity in their daily tempers and behaviour, immense harm is done to the cause of Christ.

True holiness, we surely ought to remember, does not consist merely of inward sensations and impressions. It is much more than tears, and sighs, and bodily excitement, and a quickened pulse, and a passionate feeling of attachment to our own favourite preachers and our own religious party, and a readiness to quarrel with everyone who does not agree with us. It is something of “the image of Christ,” which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings. (Rom. viii. 29.)”

– JC Ryle

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