by Thomas Watson
"For this is the will of God, even your
sanctification." 1 Thessalonians 4:3
The word sanctification signifies to consecrate
and set apart to a holy use: thus they are sanctified people who
are separated from the world, and set apart for God's service.
Sanctification has a privative and a positive part.
I. A privative part, which lies in the purging
out of sin. Sin is compared to leaven, which sours; and to leprosy,
which defiles. Sanctification purges out "the old leaven." Though it does
not take away the life of sin—yet it takes away the love of
II. A positive part, which is the spiritual
refining of the soul; which in Scripture is called a "renewing of our
mind," and a "partaking of the divine nature." The priests in the law were
not only washed in the great laver—but adorned with glorious
apparel. Exodus 28:2. Just so, sanctification not only washes from
sin—but adorns with purity.
What is the NATURE of sanctification?
It is a principle of grace savingly wrought, whereby the
heart becomes holy, and is made after God's own heart. A sanctified person
bears not only God's name—but his image. In opening the nature
of sanctification, I shall lay down these seven positions:
(1.) Sanctification is a SUPERNATURAL thing; it is
divinely infused. We are naturally polluted, and to cleanse, God
takes to be his prerogative. "I am the Lord, who sanctifies you." Weeds grow
by themselves. Flowers must be planted and cultivated. Sanctification is a
flower of the Spirit's planting, therefore it is called, "The sanctification
of the Spirit." 1 Pet 1:2.
(2.) Sanctification is an INTERNAL thing; it lies chiefly
in the heart. It is called "the adorning the hidden man of the
heart." 1 Pet 3:4. The dew wets the leaf—but the sap is hidden
in the root. Just so, the religion of some consists only in externals—but
sanctification is deeply rooted in the soul. "In the hidden part you shall
make me to know wisdom." Psalm 51:6.
(3.) Sanctification is an EXTENSIVE thing: it spreads
into the whole man. "May the God of peace sanctify you wholly."
As original corruption has depraved all the faculties—"the whole head is
sick, the whole heart faint," no part sound, as if the whole volume of blood
were corrupted; just so, sanctification goes over the whole soul. After the
fall, there was ignorance in the mind; but in sanctification, we are
"light in the Lord." After the fall, the will was depraved; there was
not only impotence to good—but obstinacy. In sanctification, there is a
blessed pliableness in the will, with the will of God. After the fall, the
affections were misplaced on wrong objects; in sanctification, they
are turned into a sweet order and harmony—the grief placed on sin,
the love on God, the joy on heaven. Thus sanctification
spreads itself as far as original corruption; it goes over the whole soul.
"May God of peace sanctify you wholly." He is not a sanctified person who is
good only in some part—but who is all over sanctified; therefore, in
Scripture, grace is called a "new man," not a new eye or a new
tongue—but a "new man." Col 3:10. A good Christian, though he
is sanctified but in part—yet in every part.
(4.) Sanctification is an intense and ARDENT thing.
Its properties burn within the believer. "Fervent in spirit." Rom 12:2.
Sanctification is not a dead form—but it is inflamed into zeal. We call
water hot, when it is so in the third or fourth degree. Just so, he is holy
whose true religion is heated to some degree, and his heart boils over in
love to God.
(5.) Sanctification is a BEAUTIFUL thing. It
makes God and angels fall in love with us. "The beauties of holiness." Psalm
110:3. As the sun is to the world, so is sanctification to the soul,
beautifying and bespangling it in God's eyes. That which makes God glorious
must needs make us so. Holiness is the most sparkling jewel in the
Godhead. "Glorious in holiness." Sanctification is the first fruit of
the Spirit; it is heaven begun in the soul. Sanctification and
glory differ only in degree. Sanctification is glory in the seed;
and glory is sanctification in the flower. Holiness is the
quintessence of happiness.
(6.) Sanctification is an ABIDING thing. "His
seed remains in him." He who is truly sanctified, cannot fall from that
state. Indeed, mere seeming holiness may be lost—colors may
wash off. Sanctification may suffer an eclipse. "You have left your
first love." True sanctification is a blossom of eternity. "The anointing
which you have received, abides in you." He who is truly sanctified can no
more fall away, than the angels which are fixed in their heavenly orbs.
(7.) Sanctification is a PROGRESSIVE thing. It
is growing; it is compared to seed which grows: first the blade springs up,
then the ear, then the ripe corn in the ear. Such as are already sanctified
may be more sanctified. Justification does not admit of degrees; a
believer cannot be more elected or justified than he is—but he may be more
sanctified than he is. Sanctification is still increasing, like the morning
sun, which grows brighter to the full meridian. Knowledge is said to
increase, and faith to increase. Col 1:10; 2 Cor 10:5. A Christian is
continually adding an inch to his spiritual stature. It is not with
us as it was with Christ, who received the Spirit without measure;
for Christ could not be more holy than he was. We have the Spirit only in
measure, and may be still augmenting our grace; as Apelles, when he had
drawn a picture, would be still mending it with his pencil. The image of God
is drawn but imperfectly in us, therefore we must be still mending it, and
drawing it in more lively colors. Sanctification is progressive; if it does
not grow—it is because it does not live. Thus you see the
nature of sanctification.
What are the COUNTERFEITS of sanctification?
There are things which look like sanctification—but are
(1.) The first counterfeit of sanctification is MORAL
VIRTUE. To be just, to be temperate, to have a
kind demeanor; not to have one's escutcheon blotted with ignominious
scandal, is good—but not enough; it is not sanctification. A field-flower
differs from a garden-flower. Many heathen have attained to morality;
as Cato, Socrates, and Aristides have. Civility is but nature
refined; there is nothing of Christ there, and the heart may be foul
and impure. Under these beautiful leaves of civility the worm of
unbelief may be hidden! A moral person has a secret antipathy against
grace: he hates vice, and he hates grace as much as vice. The snake has a
beautiful color—but a sting. A person adorned and cultivated
with moral virtue, has a secret spleen against sanctity. The Stoics
who were the chief of the moralized heathens, were the bitterest enemies
Paul had. Acts 17:18.
(2.) The second counterfeit of sanctification is
SUPERSTITIOUS DEVOTION. This abounds in Popery; adorations,
images, altars, vestments, and holy water—are far from sanctification. This
religious frenzy does not put any intrinsic goodness into a man, it
does not make a man better. If the legal purifications and washings,
which were of God's own appointing, did not make those who used them more
holy; and the priests, who wore holy garments, and had holy oil poured on
them—were not more holy without the anointing of the Spirit; then surely
those superstitious innovations in religion, which God never
appointed, cannot contribute any holiness to men. A superstitious
holiness costs no great labor; there is nothing of the heart in it. If
to count over a few beads, or bow to an idol, or sprinkle themselves with
holy water were sanctification, and all that is required of those who should
be saved—then hell would be empty, none would go there!
(3.) The third counterfeit of sanctification is
HYPOCRISY; when men make a pretense of that holiness which they have
not. As a comet may shine like a star—a luster may shine from
their profession, which dazzles the eyes of the beholders. "Having a form of
godliness—but denying the power." These are lamps without oil; whited
sepulchers, like the Egyptian temples, which had beautiful outsides—but
within were filled with spiders and vermin. The apostle speaks of true
holiness, Eph 4:24; implying that there is holiness which is spurious
and sham. "You have a name to live—but are dead;" like
pictures and statues which are destitute of a vital principle.
"Clouds without water." They pretend to be full of the Spirit—but are empty
This show of sanctification is a self-delusion. He
who takes copper instead of gold, wrongs himself; the most counterfeit
professor deceives others while he lives—but deceives himself when he
dies! To pretend to holiness when there is none, is a vain thing.
What were the foolish virgins the better, for their fine lamps, when
they lacked oil? What is the lamp of profession, without the oil of
saving grace? What comfort will a show of holiness yield at last?
Will painted gold enrich? Will painted wine refresh him who is
thirsty? Will painted holiness be a cordial at the hour of death? A
pretense of sanctification is not to be rested in. Many ships, that have had
the name of 'the Hope', 'the Safeguard', 'the Triumph', have been
dashed and destroyed upon rocks. Just so, many who have had the name
of saints—have been cast into hell.
(4.) The fourth counterfeit of sanctification is
RESTRAINING grace—when men forbear vice, though they do not hate it.
This may be the sinner's motto, "Gladly I would—but I dare not." The
dog has a mind to the bone—but is afraid of the cudgel. Just so, men have a
mind to lust—but conscience stands as the angel, with a flaming sword, and
affrights them. They have a mind to revenge—but the fear of hell is a
curb-bit to check them. There is no change of heart; sin is curbed—but
not cured. A lion may be in chains—but is a lion still.
(5.) The fifth counterfeit of sanctification is COMMON
grace—which is a slight, transient work of the Spirit—but does not amount to
conversion. There is some light in the judgement—but it is not
humbling. There are some checks in the conscience—but they are not
awakening. This looks like sanctification—but is not. Men have
convictions wrought in them—but they break loose from them again, like
the deer, which, being shot, shakes out the arrow. After conviction, men go
into the house of mirth, and take the harp to drive away the spirit of
sadness—and so all dies and comes to nothing.
Wherein appears the NECESSITY of sanctification?
In six things:
(1.) God has called us to it. "His divine
power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our
knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and
goodness." 2 Peter 1:3. We are called to goodness, as well as
glory. "God has not called us to uncleanness—but unto holiness." We have
no call to sin; we may have a temptation—but no call to sin; no call to be
proud, or unclean; but we have a call to be holy.
(2.) Without sanctification, there is no evidencing our
justification. Justification and sanctification go together. "But
you are sanctified—but you are justified." "Pardoning iniquity," Micah 7:18;
there is justification. "He will subdue our iniquities," 5:19; there is
sanctification. "Out of Christ's side came blood and water;" blood
for justification; water for sanctification. Such as have not the
water out of Christ's side to cleanse them, shall never have the
blood out of his side to save them.
(3.) Without sanctification we have no title to the new
covenant. The covenant of grace is our charter for heaven. The
condition of the covenant is, "That God will be our God." But who are
savingly interested in the covenant, and may plead the benefit of it?
Sanctified people only. "A new heart will I give you, and I will put my
Spirit within you, and I will be your God." If a man makes a will,
none but such people as are named in the will, can lay claim to the will.
Just so, God makes a will and testament—but it is limited to such as are
sanctified; and it is high presumption for anyone else to lay claim to the
(4.) There is no going to heaven without sanctification.
"Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." God is a holy God, and he will
allow no unholy creature to come near him. A king will not allow a man with
plague-sores to approach into his presence. Heaven is not like Noah's
ark—where the clean beasts and the unclean entered. No unclean
beasts come into the heavenly ark; for though God allows the wicked
to live awhile on the earth, he will never allow heaven to be pestered with
such vermin! Are they fit to see God—who wallow in wickedness? Will God ever
lay such vipers in his bosom? "Without holiness no man shall see the
Lord." It must be a clear eye that sees a bright object: only a holy heart
can see God in his glory. Sinners may see God as an enemy—but not as a
friend! They will have an affrighting vision of him—but not a beatific
vision! They will see the flaming sword—but not the mercy-seat! Oh then,
what need is there of sanctification!
(5.) Without sanctification all our holy things are
defiled. "Unto those who are defiled, is nothing pure." Under the
law, "If one of you is carrying a holy sacrifice in his robes and happens to
brush against some bread or stew, wine or oil, or any other kind of
food—will it also become holy?" No, the holy sacrifice would not purify the
other things—but it would be polluted by those things. Hag 2:12, 13. This is
an emblem of a sinner's polluting his holy offering. A foul stomach turns
the best food into ill humours. Just so, an unsanctified heart pollutes
prayers, alms, and sacraments. This evinces the necessity of sanctification.
Sanctification makes our holy things accepted. A holy heart is the altar,
which sanctifies the offering; if not to our satisfaction, yet to God's
(6.) Without sanctification we can show no sign of our
election. 2 Thess 2:13. Election is the cause of our
salvation, sanctification is our evidence. Sanctification is the
ear-mark of Christ's elect sheep.
What are the SIGNS of sanctification?
First, such as are sanctified, can remember a time when
they were unsanctified. "Once we too were foolish and
disobedient. We were misled by others and became slaves to many wicked
desires and evil pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated
others, and they hated us. But then God our Savior showed us his kindness
and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of
his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy
Spirit." Titus 3:3-5. We were in our blood, and then God washed us with
water, and anointed us with oil. Ezek 16:9. Those trees of righteousness
which blossom and bear almonds, can remember when they were like Aaron's dry
rod—not one blossom of holiness growing. A sanctified soul can remember when
it was estranged from God through ignorance and vanity—and when free grace
planted this flower of holiness in it.
A second sign of sanctification is the indwelling of the
Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit which dwells in us." An
unclean spirit dwells in the wicked and carries them to pride, lust,
revenge; the devil enters into these swine! But the Spirit of God dwells in
the elect, as their guide and comforter. The Spirit possesses the saints.
God's Spirit sanctifies the imagination, causing it to mint holy
thoughts; and sanctifies the will by putting a new bias upon it,
whereby it is inclined to godliness. He who is sanctified, has the
influence of the Spirit, though not the essence of the Spirit.
A third sign of sanctification is an antipathy against
sin. "I hate every wrong path." Psalm 119:104. A hypocrite may
leave sin—yet love it; as a serpent casts its coat—but keeps its
sting! But a sanctified person can say he not only leaves sin—but
loathes it. In a sanctified soul, there is a holy antipathy against sin;
and antipathies can never be reconciled. Because a man has an antipathy
against sin—he cannot but oppose it, and seek the destruction of it.
A fourth sign of sanctification is the spiritual
performance of duties, with the heart, and from a principle of
love. The sanctified soul prays out of a love to prayer. A
man may have gifts to admiration; he may speak as an angel dropped
out of heaven—yet he may be carnal in spiritual things; his services may not
come from a renewed principle, nor be carried upon the wings of delight
in duty. A sanctified soul worships God in the Spirit. "You also, like
living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy
priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through
Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:5. God judges not of our duties by their length—but
by the love from which they spring.
A fifth sign is a holy life. "But just as he
who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do." 1 Peter 1:15. Where the
heart is sanctified, the life will be holy. The temple had
gold without, as well as within. A coin has the king's image
and superscription stamped on it. Just so, where there is sanctification,
there is not only God's image in the heart—but a superscription of
holiness written in the life. Some say they have good hearts—but
their lives are wicked. "There is a generation that are pure
in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness." If the
water is foul in the bucket, it cannot be clean in the well.
"The king's daughter is all glorious within." Psalm 45:13. There is
holiness of heart. "Her clothing is of wrought gold." There is
holiness of life. Grace is most beautiful, when its light so shines that
others may see it; this adorns true religion, and makes proselytes to the
A sixth sign is steadfast resolution. He is
resolved never to part with his holiness. Let others reproach it—he loves it
the more. Let water be sprinkled on the fire—it burns the more. He says, as
David, when Michal reproached him for dancing before the ark, "If this is to
be vile—I will yet be more vile!" Let others persecute him for his holiness,
he says as Paul, "None of these things move me!" He prefers sanctity
before safety; and had rather keep his conscience pure than
his skin whole. He says as Job, "My integrity I will hold fast, and
not let it go!" He will rather part with his life, than his
Use one: The main thing a Christian should look after, is
sanctification. This is "the one thing needful." Sanctification
gives us a pure complexion, it makes us as the heavens, bespangled with
stars. Sanctification is our nobility, by it we are born of God, and partake
of the divine nature. Sanctification is our riches, therefore compared to
rows of jewels, and chains of gold. Canticles 1:10. Sanctification is our
best certificate for heaven. What evidence have we else to show? Have
we knowledge? So has the devil. Do we profess religion? Satan
often appears in Samuel's mantle, and transforms himself into an angel of
light. But our certificate for heaven is sanctification. Sanctification is
the first fruits of the Spirit; the only coin that will pass current in the
other world. Sanctification is the evidence of God's love. We cannot know
God's saving love by his giving us health, riches, or success; but only by
the drawing his image of sanctification on us, by the pencil of the Holy
Spirit—it is known.
Oh the misery of such as are destitute of a
principle of sanctification! They are spiritually dead. Eph 2:1. Though they
breathe—yet they do not live. The greatest part of the world
remains unsanctified. "The world lies in wickedness." That is, the major
part of the world. Many call themselves Christians—but blot out the
word 'saints'. You may as well call him a man—who lacks reason; as
him a Christian—who lacks grace.
Some are buoyed up to such a height of wickedness, that
they hate and deride sanctification. They hate it. It is bad to lack
holiness—it is worse to hate it. They embrace the form of
religion—but hate the power. As the vulture hates sweet smells—so
they hate the the perfume of holiness. They say in derision, 'These
are your holy ones!' To deride sanctification argues a high degree of
atheism, and is a black brand of reprobation. Scoffing Ishmael was
cast out of Abraham's family; and such as scoff at holiness shall be cast
out of heaven!
Use two: Above all things pursue after sanctification.
Seek grace more than gold. "Keep her, for she is your life!"
What are the chief INDUCEMENTS to sanctification?
(1.) It is the will of God that we should be holy.
"This is the will of God—your sanctification." As God's Word must be
the rule, so his will must be the reason of our actions. This is the
will of God—our sanctification. Perhaps it is not the will of God we should
be rich—but it is his will that we should be holy. God's will
is our warrant.
(2.) Jesus Christ has died for our sanctification.
Christ shed his blood to wash off our impurity. The cross was both an
altar and a laver. "Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who
gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for
himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Titus
2:13-14. If we could be saved without holiness, Christ needed not have died.
Christ died, not only to save us from wrath—but from sin!
(3.) Sanctification makes us resemble God. It
was Adam's sin—that he aspired to be like God in omniscience; but we
must endeavor to be like him in sanctity. It is a clear glass—in
which we can see a face; it is a holy heart—in which something of God can be
seen. Nothing of God can be seen in an unsanctified man—but you may see
Satan's picture in him. Envy is the devil's eye, hypocrisy
his cloven foot; but nothing of God's image can be seen in him. "Just as He
who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written--Be
holy, because I am holy." 1 Peter 1:15-16.
(4.) Sanctification is that which God bears a great love
to. God is not drawn to any person's outward beauty, great
abilities, noble blood, or worldly grandeur. But he is drawn to a heart
embellished with holiness! Christ never admired anything but the beauty
of holiness. He slighted the glorious buildings of the temple—but
admired the woman's faith, and said, "O woman, great is your faith." As a
king delights to see his image upon a piece of coin; so where God
sees his likeness—he gives his love. The Lord has two
heavens to dwell in—and the holy heart is one of them!
(5.) Sanctification is the only thing which makes us
differ from the wicked. God's people have his seal upon them.
"The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal—The Lord knows those
who are his. And, Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from
iniquity." 2 Tim 2:19. The godly are sealed with a double seal—a seal
of election, "The Lord knows who are his;" and a seal of
sanctification, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from
iniquity." This is the name by which God's people are known, "The people of
your holiness." Isa 63:18. As chastity distinguishes a virtuous woman
from a harlot, so sanctification distinguishes God's people from
others. "You have received an anointing from the Holy One." I John 2:20.
(6.) It is as great a shame to have the name of a
Christian—yet lack sanctity—as to have the name of a steward
and lack fidelity; or the name of a virgin, and lack chastity. It
exposes true religion to reproach—to be baptized into the name of Christ
while unholy, and to have eyes full of tears on a sabbath, and on a week-day
eyes full of adultery! To be so devout at the Lord's table, as if
they were stepping into heaven; and so profane the day after, as if
they came out of hell! To have the name of 'Christian' while living unholy,
is a scandal to true religion, and makes the ways of God to be evil spoken
(7.) Sanctification fits for heaven. "Who has
called us to glory and virtue." Glory is the throne,
and sanctification is the step by which we ascend to it. As you first
cleanse the vessel, and then pour in the wine; just so, God first
cleanses us by sanctification, and then pours in the wine of glory.
Solomon was first anointed with oil, and then was a king.
First God anoints us with the holy oil of his Spirit, and then sets
the crown of happiness upon our head. Pureness of heart and
seeing God are linked together. Matt 5:8.
How may sanctification be ATTAINED?
(1.) Be conversant in the word of God.
"Sanctify them through your truth." John 17:17. The Word is both a mirror
to show us the spots of our soul, and a laver to wash them away.
The Word has a transforming virtue in it; it irradiates the mind, and
consecrates the heart.
(2.) Get faith in Christ's blood. "Having
purified their hearts by faith." She in the gospel, who touched the
hem of Christ's garment, was healed. A touch of faith purifies! Nothing can
have a greater force upon the heart, to sanctify it, than faith. If I
believe Christ and his merits are mine—how can I sin against him?
Justifying faith does that in a spiritual sense, which miraculous
faith does—it removes mountains, the mountains of pride, lust, envy. True
faith, and the love of sin, are inconsistent.
(3.) Breathe after the Spirit. "The
sanctification of the Spirit." The Spirit sanctifies the heart, as the storm
purifies the air, and as fire refines metals. The Spirit at work, generates
his own likeness. The Spirit stamps the impression of its own sanctity upon
the heart, as the seal prints its likeness upon the wax. The Spirit of God
in a man perfumes him with holiness, and makes his heart a picture of
(4.) Associate with sanctified people. They
may, by their counsel, prayers, and holy example, be a means to make you
holy. As the communion of saints is in our creed, so it should be our
company. "He who walks with the wise shall be wise." Association
(5.) Pray for sanctification. Job propounds a
question. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" God can do it!
Out of an unholy heart—he can produce grace! Oh! make David's prayer your
own, "Create in me a clean heart, O God." Lay your heart before the Lord,
and say, "Lord, my unsanctified heart pollutes all it touches. I am not fit
to live with such a heart, for I cannot honor you; nor die with such
a heart, for I cannot see you. Oh create in me a new heart! Lord,
consecrate my heart, and make it your temple, and your praises shall be sung
Use three: Has God brought a clean thing out of an
unclean? Has he sanctified you? Wear this jewel of sanctification with
THANKFULNESS. "Always thanking the Father, who has enabled you to
share the inheritance that belongs to God's holy people, who live in
the light." Colossians 1:12. Christian, you could defile yourself—but
you could not sanctify yourself. But God has done it—he has not only
chained up sin—but changed your nature—and made you as a
king's daughter—all glorious within! He has put upon you the breastplate of
holiness, which, though it may be shot at, can never be shot
Are there any here who are sanctified? God has done more
for you than for millions, who may have many temporal blessings—but are not
sanctified. He has done more for you than if he had made you an earthly
king! Are you sanctified? Heaven is begun in you—for happiness is
nothing but the quintessence of holiness. Oh, how thankful should you
be to God! Do as that blind man in the gospel did after he had received his
sight, who "followed Christ, glorifying God." Make heaven ring with God's