|Sanctification — Its Necessity
It is not enough to see the value of holiness. We must acknowledge its absolute necessity in the plan of salvation. There are many willing to grant its value, and they concur that Christians should pursue holiness out of gratitude for the gospel. But they have made such a drastic separation between justification and sanctification that they imagine that a man may remain destitute of holiness, yet still be saved. Sanctification is made to appear as something optional—as if it were a good and proper thing to possess, but practically irrelevant as far as salvation is concerned. This is "evangelical" antinomianism in one of its worst forms, and it is rampant in some sections of the church.
We will therefore make two points about the necessity of sanctification:
1. As a Part of Salvation
We may say that sanctification is the fruit of accepting salvation. But leaving the matter there does not enforce its necessity as radically as the Bible, which says:
Follow . . . holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord...—Heb.12:14.
While it is true that no man will be saved by inwrought holiness, it is equally true that no man is saved who is without it. Holiness is not just a fruit of God's salvation; it is a part of it. This point is so vital to grasp. It requires careful consideration. Clearly understood, it would cause a revolution in many evangelical circles where people are resting on a salvation which is devoid of holiness and devoid of a genuine hope of heaven.
. . . God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth... — 2 Thess. 2:13.
Salvation has two aspects. It means salvation from something and salvation to something. The to is just as much a part of being saved as the from. Israel was saved from serving Pharaoh in Egypt to serving God in the new theocracy. So salvation means being saved
from sin to righteousness,
Thus, the Bible declares that we are "delivered from the hand of our enemies" to serve God "without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life." Luke 1:74, R.S.V. The blood of Christ is able to "purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Heb. 9:14. Believers are "delivered from the law" to "serve in newness of Spirit." Rom. 7:6.
from death to life,
from guilt to innocence,
from condemnation to justification,
from disobedience to obedience,
from defilement to purity,
from pollution to holiness.
This means that if you receive God's salvation in faith, a new life of obedience and holiness will be part of it. This point is powerfully stated by the Puritan, Walter Marshall, whose book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, has often been described as one of the finest presentations on sanctification ever written in the English language. Says Marshall:
And others, when they are taught by the scriptures, that we are saved by faith, through faith, without works, do begin to disregard all obedience to the law, as not at all necessary to salvation, and do account themselves obliged to it only in point of gratitude; if it be wholly neglected, they doubt not but free grace will save them harmless. Yea, some are given up to strong Antinomian delusions, that they account it a part of the liberty from the bondage of the law, purchased by the blood of Christ, to make no conscience of breaking the law in their conversation.
But though salvation be often taken in scripture, by way of eminency, for its perfection in the state of heavenly glory; yet, according to its full and proper signification, we are to understand by it, all that freedom from the evil of our natural corrupt state, and all those holy and happy enjoyments that we receive from Christ our Saviour, either in this world by faith, or in the world to come by glorification. Thus justification, the gift of the Spirit to dwell in us, the privileges of adoption, are parts of our salvation, which we partake of in this life. Thus also, the conformity of our hearts to the law of God, and the fruits of righteousness with which we are filled by Jesus Christ, in this life, are a necessary part of our salvation. God saveth us from our sinful uncleanness here, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, as well as from hell hereafter (Ezek. xxxvi.29; Titus iii.5). Christ was called JESUS, that is, a Saviour, because he saved his people from their sins (Matt. i.21). Therefore it is a part of our salvation, to deliver us from our sins; which is begun, in this life, by justification and sanctification, and perfected by glorification in the life to come . . .
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 hath prepared that we should walk in them (Eph. ii.1O). 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 fulfil the royal law of liberty, and that we may serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter (Gal. v.13; Rom. vii.6). Yea, holiness in this life is such a part of our salvation, as is a necessary means to make us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in heavenly light and glory; without holiness we can never see God (Heb. xii.14); and, are as unfit for the glorious presence, as swine for the presence-chamber of an earthly prince . . .
Great multitudes of ignorant people, that live under the gospel, harden their hearts in sin, and ruin their souls for ever, by trusting on Christ for such an imaginary salvation, as consisteth not at all in holiness, but only in forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from everlasting torments. They would be free from the punishment due to sin; but they love their lusts so well, that they hate holiness, and would not be saved from the service of sin. The way to oppose this pernicious delusion is, not to deny, as some do, that trusting on Christ for salvation is a saving act of faith; but rather to show, that none do or can trust on Christ for true salvation, except they trust on him for holiness: neither do they heartily desire true salvation, if they do not desire to be made holy and righteous in their hearts and lives. If ever God and Christ give you salvation, holiness will be one part of it; if Christ wash you not from the filth of your sins, you have no part with him (John xiii.8) . . .
What a strange kind of salvation do they desire, that care not for holiness?
But, let them not be deceived, God is not mocked. They understand not what true salvation is, neither were they ever yet thoroughly sensible of their lost estate, and of the great evil of sin; and that which they trust on Christ for, is but an imagination of their own brains: and therefore their trusting is gross presumption. True gospel faith maketh us come to Christ with a thirsty appetite, that we may drink of living water, even of his sanctifying Spirit (John vii.37,38); and cry out earnestly to save us, not only from hell, but from sin; saying, Teach me to do thy will; thy Spirit is good (Ps. clxiii.1O); Turn thou me, and I shall be turned (Jer. xxxi.18); Create in me a clean heart, 0 God; and renew a right Spirit within me (Ps. li.1O). This is the way whereby the doctrine of salvation by grace doth necessitate us to holiness of life, by constraining us to seek for it by faith in Christ, as a substantial part of that salvation which is freely given us through Christ. — Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (London, Edinburgh: Oliphants Ltd., 1954), pp.98-101.
2. As a Fitness for Heaven
Holiness is a necessary preparation for the life of heaven; indeed, it is heaven already begun in the soul. Without it a man would have no fitness to enjoy the life to come. It would be hard to state this better than Bishop J.C. Ryle, who wrote:
. . . we must be holy, because without holiness on earth we shall never be prepared to enjoy heaven. Heaven is a holy place. The Lord of heaven is a holy Being. The angels are holy creatures. Holiness is written on everything in heaven. The book of Revelation says expressly, "There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie." (Rev. xxi. 27.)
I appeal solemnly to everyone who reads these pages, How shall we ever be at home and happy in heaven, if we die unholy? Death works no change. The grave makes no alteration. Each will rise again with the same character in which he breathed his last. Where will our place be if we are strangers to holiness now?
Suppose for a moment that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself, and by whose side would you sit down? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth?
Now perhaps you love the company of the light and the careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reveller and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven.
Now perhaps you think the saints of God too strict and particular, and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. There will be no other company in heaven.
Now perhaps you think praying, and Scripture-reading, and hymn singing, dull and melancholy, and stupid work—a thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed. You reckon the Sabbath a burden and a weariness; you could not possibly spend more than a small part of it in worshipping God. But remember, heaven is a never-ending Sabbath. The inhabitants thereof rest not day or night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty," and singing the praise of the Lamb. How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?
Think you that such an one would delight to meet David, and Paul, and John, after a life spent in doing the very things they spoke against? Would he take sweet counsel with them, and find that he and they had much in common? — Think you, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the Crucified One, face to face, after cleaving to the sins for which He died, after loving His enemies and despising His friends? Would he stand before Him with confidence, and join in the cry, "This is our God; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation"? (Isa. xxv. 9.) Think you not rather that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be to be cast out! He would feel a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amidst Christ's holy flock. The voice of Cherubim and Seraphim, the song of Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, would be a language he could not understand. The very air would seem an air he could not breathe.
I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear that heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man. It cannot be otherwise. People may say, in a vague way, "they hope to go to heaven;" but they do not consider what they say. There must be a certain "meekness for the inheritance of the saints in light." Our hearts must be somewhat in tune. To reach the holiday of glory, we must pass through the training school of grace. We must be heavenly-minded, and have heavenly tastes, in the life that now is, or else we shall never find ourselves in heaven, in the life to come.
And now, before I go any further, let me say a few words by way of application.
(1) For one thing, let me ask everyone who may read these pages, Are you holy? Listen, I pray you, to the question I put to you this day. Do you know anything of the holiness of which I have been speaking?
I do not ask whether you attend your church regularly—whether you have been baptized, and received the Lord's Supper—whether you have the name of Christian—I ask something more than all this: Are you holy, or are you not?
I do not ask whether you approve of holiness in others—whether you like to read the lives of holy people, and to talk of holy things, and to have on your table holy books — whether you mean to be holy, and hope you will be holy some day — I ask something further: Are you yourself holy this very day, or are you not?
And why do I ask so straitly, and press the question so strongly? I do it because the Scripture says, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." It is written, it is not my fancy—it is the Bible, not my private opinion—it is the word of God, not of man—"Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." (Heb. xii. 14.)
Alas, what searching, sifting words are these! What thoughts come across my mind, as I write them down! I look at the world, and see the greater part of it lying in wickedness. I look at professing Christians, and see the vast majority having nothing of Christianity but the name. I turn to the Bible, and I hear the Spirit saying, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
Surely it is a text that ought to make us consider our ways, and search our hearts. Surely it should raise within us solemn thoughts and send us to prayer.
You may try to put me off by saying "you feel much, and think much about these things: far more than many suppose." I answer, "This is not the point. The poor lost souls in hell do as much as this. The great question is not what you think, and what you feel, but what you DO."
You may say, "It was never meant that all Christians should be holy, and that holiness, such as I have described, is only for great saints, and people of uncommon gifts." I answer, "I cannot see that in Scripture. I read that every man who hath hope in Christ purifieth himself." (1 John iii. 3.)—"Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
You may say, "It is impossible to be so holy and to do our duty in this life at the same time: the thing cannot be done." I answer, "You are mistaken. It can be done. With Christ on your side nothing is impossible. It has been done by many. David, and Obadiah, and Daniel, and the servants of Nero's household, are all examples that go to prove it."
You may say, "If I were so holy I would be unlike other people." I answer, "I know it well. It is just what you ought to be. Christ's true servants always were unlike the world around them—a separate nation, a peculiar people;—and you must be so too, if you would be saved!"
You may say, "At this rate very few will be saved." I answer, "I know it. It is precisely what we are told in the Sermon on the Mount." The Lord Jesus said 50 1,900 years ago. "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matt. vii. 14.) Few will be saved, because few will take the trouble to seek salvation. Men will not deny themselves the pleasures of sin and their own way for a little season. They turn their backs on an "inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." "Ye will not come unto Me," says Jesus, "that ye might have life." (John v.40.)
You may say, "These are hard sayings: the way is very narrow." I answer, "I know it. So says the Sermon on the Mount." The Lord Jesus said 50 1,900 years ago. He always said that men must take up the cross daily, and that they must be ready to cut off hand or foot, if they would be His disciples. It is in religion as it is in other things, "there are no gains without pains." That which costs nothing is worth nothing.
Whatever we may think fit to say, we must be holy, if we would see the Lord. Where is our Christianity if we are not? We must not merely have a Christian name, and Christian knowledge, we must have a Christian character also. We must be saints on earth, if ever we mean to be saints in heaven. God has said it, and He will not go back: "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." "The Pope's calendar," says Jenkyn, "only makes saints of the dead, but Scripture requires sanctity in the living." "Let not men deceive themselves," says Owen; "sanctification is a qualification indispensably necessary unto those who will be under the conduct of the Lord Christ unto salvation. He leads none to heaven but whom He sanctifies on the earth. This living Head will not admit dead members." — J.C. Ryle, Holiness, pp.43-47.