Thomas Charles, 1838
Sanctification is aimed at by many, if not by most who are religiously inclined. Even the heathen talked much about a virtuous life and a conduct conformable to right reason. But it is understood only by a few.
That holiness, which adorns God's people, greatly surpasses all the painted virtues of the heathen, and all the scrupulous morals of the Scribes and Pharisees. The boasted virtue of the heathen and Pharisees, had its rise in self and terminated in self—they meant no more than to exalt themselves and to quiet their consciences. But the Christian's holiness has its origin from God, and terminates in him—his glory animates the believer, and leads him to the performance of every action by which it can be displayed.
The nature of sanctification, and the means of attaining it, are expressed in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."
It consists in possessing the mind that was in Christ, and a conformity to his image. He is the pattern which we are to copy, and the perfect example which we are to imitate. He has in his own person marked the path to glory; and we are to follow his steps.
He teaches us not only by his word, but also by the example of his life. He says both by his words and by his actions, "learn of me." His word points out the way—and he having trod the road himself, we have the prints of his feet in which we may step. It is a very great blessing to have the holiness of God exactly delineated, and painted in natural colors in his written law—but it is there like a picture, without life and motion. It is a much greater blessing to have his holiness, which is portrayed in the law, living and animated, as it is in Christ. He, as man in our own nature, pure, uncontaminated with vice, holy, blameless and unspotted—is a living law to his people.
Christ is to be considered in a threefold respect; as Man, Mediator, and God.
What he did here on earth, as mediator and God—is not proposed to us for our imitation. As a mediator he was circumcised, fasted forty days, was tempted in the wilderness, offered himself a sacrifice for sins, performed the offices of prophet, priest and king—in these respects he is not to be imitated by us.
Nor is he to be imitated in what he performed as God—in his miracles, in all those actions which manifested a supernatural power.
But as the Son of Man he is a bright example to us, and a perfect pattern of every virtue.
Jesus was perfect pattern of HUMILITY—he who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, emptied himself, and was found in fashion as a man, and took upon him the form of a servant. He placed himself in the lowest station in life, had nowhere to lay his head, nor had even money to pay the tribute required. His parents were poor; his friends and companions were the poor of this world. The afflicted, and those that were distressed and despised by the world, found a friend in him.
Jesus was perfect pattern of MEEKNESS—he was meek and lowly in spirit. When tribute was unjustly required of him, that he might not "give offence," he commanded Peter to discharge it. He was the meek and harmless lamb of God, and deceit was not found in his mouth.
Jesus was perfect pattern of PATIENCE—he endured willingly the contradiction of sinners. Though he was led as a sheep to the slaughter—yet like a lamb, dumb before his shearers, he opened not his mouth, but was obedient even unto the death of the cross. Though he was loaded with reproaches—yet he bore them all patiently.
Jesus was perfect pattern of UNWEARIED PERSEVERANCE IN DOING GOOD—he was continually going about doing good. Persecutions and ingratitude from the objects of his kindness, did not deter or dishearten him in his friendly purpose.
Jesus was perfect pattern of UNSELFISHNESS—he sought not his own advantage or profit, but the good of others.
Jesus was perfect pattern of ZEAL for God's glory, which was so great that it had consumed him.
These and many other virtues, blazed forth with the most perfect splendor and glory in the person of Christ. He represented in his human nature the image of God, in which the first man was created. He possessed and practiced all the virtues of a rational creature, without any defects—so that he is in the fullest manner proposed for our imitation, and is the standard by which we are to form a judgment of our attainments in holiness and the divine life.
But let us next consider the MEANS by which we may attain this most desirable of all blessings. It would afford but a very small consolation to a person cast on a desert coast, where he could find nothing to exist on, to hear that an island, a few leagues off, was well stored with all sorts of provisions, suitable to the necessities of man—unless he was able by some means or other to cross over to that island.
The poor man at the pool of Bethesda found no benefit from the angel troubling the water at a certain season, for he was unable to step in; for while he "was going, another stepped in before him." Nor will it avail us anything, to have received a perfect pattern, unless we be enabled to copy it. It will be no advantage to us to hear of such a happy state, unless it be one to which we can attain. Various have been the means proposed by man's fertile imagination to accomplish this, but all equally wide of the point.
The Mystic will gravely tell us, that there is no avoiding the contagion of sin, or refusing the poisonous cup daily offered to us—but by leaving all society and running into solitary deserts, and associating with the wild beasts of the forest.
The Brahmin and the monk will advise us to afflict and excruciate the body with the severest chastisements.
But all these things have been found inefficient. Let us, therefore, hearken to what an inspired apostle teaches us on this subject: "We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." It is by looking unto Jesus and beholding his glory, that the blessed change is produced in us. Nowhere else does virtue and holiness charm us with so pleasing an aspect, as in Christ—and the more frequently it is viewed with the eyes of the mind, the more the beholder is transformed into the same image.
When Moses had been admitted into a familiar converse with God on the mount, where he spent forty days, the skin of his face shone with such effulgence, that the eyes of the Israelites could not bear it.
Thus it is with those who on Mount Zion view Jesus, the king of glory in his beauty, with unveiled face, by the Spirit of God. The rays of heavenly glory, issuing from Christ, pervade the inmost parts of the soul, and convey new vigor to the spiritual life. The oftener the believer beholds Christ by the Spirit, the more clearly he knows his perfections, of which his holiness is the ornament—and the more clearly he knows them, the more ardently he loves them; and the more ardently he loves them, the more like them he desires to be.
Nay, love is in itself of a transforming nature. You insensibly catch the habits and manners of a person you love, and you are sweetly and imperceptibly cast into his mold—and love itself, when reciprocal, produces a great similitude.
Again, the more ardently a believer loves God, the more frequently and attentively he will seek to behold him; as the more you love one of your fellow-mortals, the more pleasure and delight you find in his company, and the more you regret his absence. In the same way, the soul by beholding and loving, by loving and beholding—gains something by every act, and acquires a new feature of this most glorious image.
Nothing less than the supreme being himself can satisfy an awakened immortal soul. Could we conceive any being above God—then God would not content the soul; for it aspires after the supreme. But the perfections of God cannot be fully known or clearly seen, but in the face of Jesus Christ. Therefore the soul flees to him as Moses did to the rock, that it may behold his glory, and bask in his bright beams until his piercing rays pervade its inmost parts, and change it by degrees to his own glorious nature. By this means, a dead and dark soul is enlivened, and becomes exceedingly transparent, bright, glorious and beautiful.
As looking on the brazen serpent expelled the deadly poison and healed the Israelites, and as the bright beams of the sun disperse the thickest darkness—so do glorious views of the lovely Jesus dislodge sin from its mansion, and heal the wounded soul. As our growth in holiness here, depends on the views we have of Christ; so our perfection in the state of bliss, will be in consequence of the brighter and clearer discoveries we shall have of him there. We shall be like him, "because we shall see him as he is"—like him—whom? Jesus himself! O glorious state! O happy condition! Who, considering this, would not cry, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!"
These views of Christ are necessarily attended with proper views of God. In Christ, as in a looking-glass, we shall see all the perfections of the Godhead—his unsearchable wisdom, superabundant goodness, and infinite holiness, his justice and mercy, his truth and righteousness, and especially his incredible love to mortals; which is calculated to melt down the most stubborn hearts, and kindle them into brightest flames of mutual returns of love. "The love of Christ constrains us." All these perfections meet harmoniously in Christ.
Connected also with these views of Christ, is a sense of the detestable nature of sin. It was sin which made it necessary for the Lord of glory to come down from Heaven and take on him the form of a servant. Sin was the cause of his deep humiliation, abasement, and sufferings. So oppressed was he with its ponderous load, that the blood was forced to leave its usual channel, and at last he groaned and died under its weight. Viewing sin through the cross—the believer abhors it, and regards it with perfect hatred. He therefore diligently strives against it, and strenuously resists Satan, from whose iron chains he could never have been delivered, had it not been for the death of the Son of God.
Meditation on Jesus' sufferings and death produces a hatred towards sin, and a life unto righteousness. For, while the believer seriously considers the sufferings and death of Christ, he undergoes in his own soul some of the bitterness, pain and torture, (though mingled with sweetness) which Christ suffered in a far greater degree. He views the melancholy scene, and utters groan for groan, and sigh for sigh, until his soul is overwhelmed with sorrow and grief—and this produces a kind of death within.
And again, when he sees the mighty conqueror rising triumphant from the tomb, his soul is transported with joy, and ascends with him to the mansions of bliss. Thus we die and live, with and through Christ; and thus we are enabled to mortify sin—(see Romans 6 throughout.) Sin will never appear in its own deformity and horrid nature—until we see it in its effects in the Son of God—until we "behold the Lamb of God" bearing our sin on the cruel tree. Christ crucified, like a magnifying glass, exhibits to view every feature of this hideous monster.
But when we consider the many and great difficulties that are in the way of the believer, while pursuing after holiness, it seems necessary that he should be animated with many and powerful motives, to overpower all opposition. Of these we will allude to some:
1. Love is a very strong motive.
Love is the leading passion of the soul. Like a general in an army, wherever it presses, all the rest will follow. Love is strong as death, overcomes all opposition, and surmounts all difficulties.
Love makes all things easy. It is said of Jacob, that when he served a hard master seven years for Rachel, they seemed to him but a few days, for the love which he had for her. Genesis 29.20. And many find it easy to do much for parents, children, and friends, because they love them.
But there is no love like that which a redeemed sinner bears to Him who has loved him and washed him from his sins in his own blood!
Further, love produces the greatest effects when it is mutual. We are willing to do and suffer much to gain the affection of a person we regard, though we are not sure of success. But when the affection is reciprocal, it adds strength to every motive. Now the believer does not love at an uncertainty—he knows that Jesus loved him first. He knows that Jesus loved him when he was in a state of enmity; and that nothing but the manifestation and power of this love could have taught his hard and unfeeling heart to love Him whom he never saw. 1 Peter 1.8. This love therefore affords two sweet and powerful encouragements in his service:
First, A cordial desire to please. Love does what it can, and is sorry that it can do no more. We seldom think much either of time, pains, or expense—when the heart is warmly engaged. The world, who do not understand this heartfelt spring of true religion, think it strange that the believer will not run into the same excess of riot with them. 1 Peter 4.4. They wonder what pleasure he can find in secret prayer, or in reading and hearing the word of God—and they pity the poor mortal who has such a lives thus, and gravely advise him not to carry things so far.
But the believer can give them a short answer in the Apostle's words, "The love of Christ constrains me!" 2 Corinthians 5.14. His ruling passion is as powerful as theirs, which makes his pursuits no less uniform and abiding, though the objects are as different as light from darkness. They love the perishing pleasures of sin, the mammon of unrighteousness, and the praises of men. But he loves God and the Savior and the things of another world.
Secondly, A pleasing assurance of being accepted. If we know not whether what we do will be favorably received or not, we become remiss and indifferent. But it is not so with the Lord's people; for they are assured that he will not overlook the smallest services they may be engaged in, or the slightest sufferings they may undergo, for his name's sake; and this greatly animates them. He has told them in his word, that if they give but a cup of cold water in his name, and for his sake, he will accept and acknowledge it, as if it were done immediately to himself! Mark 9.41.
2. Another very powerful motive which animates the believer, is confidence and assurance of success.
The Lord considers the Christian's cause as his own, and has engaged to finish the good work that he has begun. When the children of Israel were marching to the land of Canaan to attack the strongholds of the well-fortified inhabitants, the assurance of success which the Almighty had given them, the assurance of His being with them, and delivering the nations into their hands—made them overlook all difficulties, and encouraged them to attack nations, united together by compacts and interests, each of whom were much more powerful than themselves.
So it is with the believer. Though his enemies are many and powerful, the difficulties on the road great, and he himself but a feeble and weak creature—yet the Lord has promised to be his strength and shield, and however great his danger may be, his strength shall be equal to it. This consideration makes every difficulty vanish. Should the one increase tenfold—yet if the other be increased in equal proportion, it amounts to the same thing. What is hard and difficult for a child—is easy for a man. What is hard for flesh and blood—is easy to faith and grace.
The power on which the believer depends is not his own, nor in his own keeping, but is treasured up in the covenant of grace, or in the Lord Jesus, in whom all fullness dwells—and it is always to be obtained by prayer.
Tempestuous indeed is the believer's passage through this world—yet his life is secured; and he is confident of reaching the happy shore to which he sails, and of entering safely into the desired haven, by and by—and this comforts him in all dangers and difficulties, be the storm ever so alarming.
We shall now consider some of the chief BRANCHES of sanctification:
1. Love to the Savior.
When the understanding is enlightened to see the amiableness and loveliness of Jesus, and the glorious perfections of the Godhead beaming forth in him—the soul becomes inflamed with ardent love to Him. Nothing then is so delightful, so charming, so desirable, as to dwell on the contemplation of his glories. The soul sees Him as altogether lovely, and the chief among ten thousand. It is therefore enraptured with his excellencies, and feels an inexpressible longing after him.
God's own infinite excellencies render him lovely in his own sight. He being the chief good and possessing all conceivable perfections, He cannot but love himself; nay, it would be contrary to right and justice for him not to be filled with delight on a view of his own infinite excellencies. The more, therefore, a creature loves God, the more he acts in unison with Him—the more conformable he becomes to the Divine image.
The believer also acts from a principle of love. He has no will of his own; but "Christ lives in him". Love to Christ makes the soul embrace willingly what he bids—and being enabled to run the way of his commandments, the believer avoids everything that may displease him. The glory of God is the mark which he holds in view, and the end which he aims at in everything. He considers God as the center of his happiness; and nothing wounds him so much as when he hears God's name blasphemed, or sees his precepts transgressed. He can say with David, "Rivers of waters flow down my eyes, because men keep not your law".
2. Deep humiliation of heart.
This is an inseparable attendant of love to God. When Almighty God manifests his own perfections, as they shine forth in Jesus Christ, in such a degree as to fill the heart with ardent love—then we abhor ourselves in dust and ashes, because we have sinned against such a good and holy God. Every bright view we have of God's perfections reflects back on ourselves—and shows to us more than ever the exceeding heinousness of our sins. The angels are said to prostrate themselves before the throne of Heaven, covering their faces—to signify their inability to bear the luster of His majesty; and hiding their feet, to express their sense of vileness in comparison with God's holiness.
But the believer's humility differs much from theirs. He is blinded with tears of grief and sorrow—with contrition of heart and abhorrence of himself. They and he live in the valley of humiliation; but the believer waters his with the tears of repentance. "Standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume." Luke 7:38
O what self-annihilation is there in a godly man, when he has a lively sense of the Divine purity! Yes, how detestable is he in his own sight! He abhors himself as the vilest sinner, and repents in dust and ashes. Job 23.6. Genesis 18.27. When Isaiah saw God's glory, he was ready to faint away, and cried out, "I am a man of unclean lips!" This spirit of an undeserving beggar, with which the Christian is clothed, can never be assumed by hypocrites and pretenders to religion—it being so exceedingly contrary to our nature. But it is the believer's brightest ornament, and serves as a coat of armor to keep off many a fiery dart shot at him by his hellish foes, which would have wounded his inmost soul.
When the sinner falls down at God's feet—He spreads his mantle over him and keeps him under the shadow of his wings as in a strong tower. This man is highly valued by God himself—for He delights in and dwells with the humble and contrite in heart.
Whoever possesses this heart-humility within him, will manifest it in his life and conduct. He will no more show pride, passion, and resentment towards his fellow-creatures. Having learned of Jesus—he is meek and lowly both before God and towards man. Conscious of the manifold transgressions and numerous sins which he has to be pardoned every day and every hour of the day—he can easily forgive his fellow-sinners when they offend him. Sensible of his own frailty—he is tender and merciful to others.
We may safely say, that whatever views and feelings we have, which do not tend to humble us before God, which do not lead as to abhor ourselves, and make us compassionate and tender towards our fellow-creatures—they cannot be from God, but from Satan transformed into an angel of light. "God sees the proud afar off, but gives grace to the humble and meek"—not to make him proud of his attainments, but to make him still more humble, and still more vile in his own eyes.
The believer needs not to proclaim to the world what blessed and glorious views he has, and what happy feelings he enjoys; for these will manifest themselves in his poverty and humility of spirit, if they are from God.
Hence we see, that to grow in grace, and to grow in humility—mean the same thing, and should convey the same idea to our minds.
This humble state may appear to those who are superficially religious—to be gloomy and comfortless. But if we advert to what the Scriptures say of it, we shall find it to be quite the reverse. Though it be a valley—yet it is a valley well-watered with the healthful streams of salvation; and through it, the still waters of comfort flow. Here are the rich green pastures in which the Shepherd of Israel feeds his flock, and restores their souls to the image of God.
What is said of Satan may, with equal propriety, be said of his subjects, "They walk in dry places." But God's sheep have a portion well watered with the upper and lower fountains. In this valley is the well of living waters, and through it the streams of Lebanon flow. Canticles 4.15. Here is the garden of the Lord, enriched with many sweet-smelling flowers. Here is his vineyard, stored with all manner of pleasant fruits, yes, "the fruits of the valley." Canticles 6.11. Here the generous vines flourish, and the fragrant pomegranates bud. It is a land flowing with milk and honey.
Here let sinners come from their dry and lofty places, and drink wine and milk without money and without price. Though the inhabitants sometimes, with David, water their couches with their tears—yet God bottles their tears, and these shall be turned into wine at the marriage-supper of the Lamb! The woman mentioned in Luke 7 was an eminent inhabitant of this valley. So full was she of the waters of life, that she poured them down in streams on the Savior; she washed him with tears—who washed her in his blood! "She loved much"—this expression shows her happiness and the excess of joy which filled her heart. Her comfort was proportioned to her grief—and her joy was proportioned to her sorrow. These go hand in hand in the Christian. If rivers of tears flow from their eyes—they drink also of that river which makes glad the city of God.
Hence it appears, that they and they only, who live in this humble and penitent state, "find pasture" and thrive. It is barren and dry everywhere else—and God's sheep go astray when they leave this valley. If it is good to walk humbly with God, notwithstanding all our eminent graces and high attainments—the contrary must be hurtful to ourselves, and dishonorable to God. If Enoch found Heaven by walking humbly with his God—then those who are encompassed about with pride as with a chain, walk in slippery places, and shall be cast into destruction. The Lord looks upon him who is "poor and of a contrite heart;" but his "face is against the proud."