LETTER TO A DEAR BROTHER ASSERTING WHAT WE MEAN WHEN WE DECRY ‘PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION’
My dear Brother Glen, thank you for sending me your thoughts on the matter of Sanctification. As in many other matters of theology I must say that your thoughts are the same as mine, as are your concerns in the matter. After nearly thirty one years of walking with the Lord and studying this subject on and off I be fully persuaded that ‘Sanctification’ is both a ‘one-time thing and a PROCESS!
You said in your letter – “We have been sanctified (set apart) and we ARE BEING sanctified as we grow in Christ, becoming more like him. It is dangerous to ignore this process. And all His children will experience this process for if we are without chastisement, then are ye bastards and not sons.”
I heartily concur with what you have written. Please allow me to particularize . . . .
When we decry ‘progressive sanctification’ all we are saying is that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” (John 3:6) and will remain so till we are delivered from the body of this death. There is no promise made that in this life, we shall be set free from the indwelling and the in-working of sin.
As Brother Philpot said long ago – “Many think that their flesh is to become “progressively holier and holier” — that sin after sin is to be removed gradually out of the heart — until at last they are almost made perfect in the flesh. But this is an idle dream, and one which, sooner or later will be crudely and roughly broken to pieces!
The flesh will ever remain the same — and we shall ever find that the flesh will lust against the Spirit. Our fleshly nature is corrupt to the very core. It cannot be mended. It cannot be sanctified. It is the same at the last, as it was at the first — inherently evil, and as such will never cease to be corrupt until we put off mortality — and with it the body of sin and death.”
But that is not to say there is no ‘process’ of sanctification wrought in God’s saints from the time of their regeneration until they are called to glory. While the ‘Old man’ remains unchanged there is a change wrought in the ‘New man’ by the operation of the Spirit or the Apostle had not said – “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” [2Cor 3:18] THIS is a process! To the same effect he says, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” [2Cor 4:16]
“These blessings (of both Justification and Sanctification) walk hand in hand; and never were, never will be, never can be parted. No more than the delicious scent can be separated from the beautiful bloom of the rose or carnation: let the flower be expanded, and the fragrance transpires. Try if you can separate gravity from the stone or heat from the fire. If these bodies and their essential properties, if these causes and their necessary effects, are indissolubly connected, so are our justification and our sanctification” (James Hervey, 1770).
Justification is by a righteousness without us, sanctification is by a holiness wrought in us. Justification is by Christ as Priest, and has regard to the penalty of sin; sanctification is by Christ as King, and has regard to the dominion of sin: the former cancels its damning power, while the latter delivers from its reigning power.
Justification is a judicial act, by which the sinner is pronounced righteous; sanctification is a moral work, by which the sinner is made holy: the one has to do solely with our standing before God, the other chiefly concerns our state. They differ in their cause: the one issuing from the merits of Christ’s satisfaction, the other proceeding from the efficacy of the same. They differ in their end: the one bestowing a title to everlasting glory, the other being the highway which conducts us there. “And an highway shall be there,…and it shall be called The way of holiness“ (Isaiah 35:8).
To sanctify, then, means in the great majority of instances, to appoint, dedicate or set apart unto God, for a holy and special use. Yet that act of separation is not a bare change of situation, so to speak, but is preceded or accompanied by a work which (ceremonially or experimentally) fits the person for God. Thus the priests in their sanctification (Leviticus 8) were sanctified by washing in water (type of regeneration: Titus 3:5), having the blood applied to their persons (type of justification: Romans 5:9), and being anointed with oil (type of receiving the Holy Spirit: 1 John 2 :20, 27). As the term is applied to Christians it is used to designate three things, or three parts of one whole:
First, the process of setting them apart unto God or constituting them holy: Hebrews 13:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
Second, the state or condition of holy separation into which they are brought: I Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 4:24.
Third, the personal sanctity or holy living which proceeds from the state: Luke 1:75; 1 Peter 1:15.
We be fully persuaded that ‘Personal holiness’ or experimental sanctification is equally imperative as is the forgiveness of sins in order to eternal bliss! When the Apostle wrote to the Hebrew Christians that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord” [Heb 12:15] he was not speaking of their ‘positional sanctification’ in Christ but their practical living!
“This entire sanctification of our whole inner and outer man is absolutely indispensable. As there must be a change of state before there can be of life — “make the tree good, and his fruit (will be) good” (Matthew 12:33) — so there must be sanctification before there can be glorification. Unless we are purged from the pollution of sin, we can never be fit for communion with God. “And there shall in no wise enter into it (the eternal dwelling place of God and His people) anything that defiles, neither whatever works abomination” (Rev. 21:27). “To suppose that an unpurged sinner can be brought into the blessed enjoyment of God, is to overthrow both the law and the Gospel, and to say that Christ died in vain” (John Owen)
Way back in 1600 Walter Marshall wrote – “Conclude we, then, that holiness in this life is absolutely necessary to salvation, not only as a means to the end, but by a nobler kind of necessity — as part of the end itself. Though we are not saved by good works as Procuring causes, yet we are saved to good works, as fruits and effects of saving grace, ‘which God has prepared that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2:10). It is, indeed, one part of our salvation to be delivered from the bondage of the covenant of works; but the end of this is, not that we may have liberty to sin (which is the worst of slavery) but that we may fulfill the royal law of liberty, and that ‘we may serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter’ (Galatians 5:13; Romans 7:6). Yes, holiness in this life is such a part of our ‘salvation’ that it is a necessary means to make us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in heavenly light and glory: for without holiness we can never see God (Hebrews 12:14), and are as unfit for His glorious presence as swine for the presence-chamber of an earthly king.”
Experimental sanctification or personal holiness is indeed an integral part of salvation itself. One of the most serious defects of modern day ministry is the ignoring of this basic fact. Of too many present-day “converts” it has to be woefully said, “Ephraim is a cake not turned” (Hos. 7:8) — browned underneath, unbaked on the top. Christ is set forth as a fire-escape from Hell, but not as the great Physician to deal with the malady of indwelling sin, and to fit for Heaven. Much is said upon how to obtain forgiveness of sins, but little is preached on how to be cleansed from its pollutions. The necessity for His atoning blood is set forth, but not the indispensability of experimental holiness. Consequently, thousands who mentally assent to the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice, know nothing about heart purity.
Again; there is a woeful disproportion between the place which is given to faith and the emphasis which the Scriptures give to that obedience which flows from sanctification. It is not only true that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), but it is equally true that without holiness “no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Not only are we told “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15), but it is also written, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God!” (1 Corinthians 7:19).
It is not for nothing that God has told us, “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Not only is there in all the promises a particular respect unto personal, vital, and practical “godliness,” but it is that very godliness which, pre-eminently, gives the saint a special interest in those promises.
Alas, how many there are today who imagine that if they have “faith ,”it is sure to be well with them at the end, even though they are not holy. Under the pretense of honoring faith, Satan, as an angel of light, has deceived, and is still deceiving, multitudes of souls. But when their “faith” be examined and tested, what is it worth? Nothing at all so far as insuring an entrance into Heaven is concerned: it is a power-less, lifeless, and fruitless thing; it is nothing better than that faith which the demons have (James 2:19). Whereas the faith of God’s elect is unto “the acknowledgment of the truth which is after godliness” (Titus 1:1). Saving faith is a “most holy faith” (Jude 20): it is a faith which “purifies the heart” (Acts 15:9), it is a faith which “works by love” (Galatians 5:6), it is a faith which “overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4), it is a faith which brings forth all manner of good works (Heb. 11). In a word it quickens and motivates us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God!” [2Cor 7:1]
To be sanctified or live a holy life is just as requisite as to be justified. He who thinks to come to enjoyment of God without holiness, makes Him an unholy God, and puts the highest indignity imaginable upon Him. There is no other alternative: we must either leave our sins, or our God. We may as easily reconcile Heaven and Hell, as easily take away all difference between light and darkness, good and evil, as procure acceptance for unholy persons with God. While it be true that our interest in God is not built upon our holiness, it is equally true that we have none without it.
Many have greatly erred in concluding that, because piety and obedience are not meritorious, they can get to Heaven without them. The free grace of God towards sinners by Jesus Christ by no means renders holiness needless and useless. Christ is not the minister of sin, but the Maintainer of God’s glory. He has not purchased for His people security in sin, but salvation from sin!
In closing please allow me to say that if a man has indeed received the ‘Grace of God’ as he claims he has, then it will teach him something and that is – “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, he should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world!” [Titus 2:12]
“Those who have been justified are now being sanctified; those who have no experience of present sanctification have no reason to suppose they have been justified.” – F.F. Bruce
“None can know their election but by their conformity to Christ; for all who are chosen are chosen to sanctification.” – Matthew Henry
“Whom God legally saves, He experimentally saves; whom He justifies, them He also sanctifies. Where the righteousness of Christ is imputed to an individual, a principle of holiness is imparted to him; the former can only be ascertained by the latter. It is impossible to obtain a Scriptural knowledge that the merits of Christ’s finished work are reckoned to my account, except by proving that the efficacy of the Holy Spirit’s work is evident in my soul.”
“For just as weight cannot be separated from a stone, or heat from a fire; so cannot justification from sanctification.”– A.W. Pink
[Much of the above is gleaned and paraphrased from the works of John Owen and A.W. Pink. For controversy we have no taste, and we shall not accept any challenge against those who desire to debate the truths discussed in the above paper.]