'For this is the will of God, even your sanctification' (1 Thess. 4:3).
The word sanctification signifies to consecrate and set apart to a holy use: thus they are sanctified persons 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' (1 Cor. 5:7). Though it takes not away the life, yet it takes away the love of sin.
II. A positive part, which is the spiritual refining of the soul; which in Scripture is called a 'renewing of our mind' (Rom. 12:2), and a 'partaking of the divine nature' (2 Pet. 1:4). The priests in the law were not only washed in the great laver, but adorned with glorious apparel (Ex. 28:2); so sanctification not only washes from sin, but adorns with purity.
What is 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 which sanctify you' (Lev. 21:8). Weeds grow of themselves. Flowers are planted. 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 intrinsic thing; it lies chiefly in the heart. It is called 'the adorning the hidden man of the heart' (2 Pet. 3:4). The dew wets the leaf, the sap is hid in the root; so the religion of some consists only in externals, but sanctification is deeply rooted in the soul. 'In the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom' (Ps. 51:6).
(3) Sanctification is an extensive thing: it spreads into the whole man. 'The God of peace sanctify you wholly' (1 Thess. 5:23). As original corruption has depraved all the faculties--'the whole head is sick, the whole heart faint,' no part sound, as if the whole mass of blood were corrupted--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' (Eph. 5:8). 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; it symbolizes and comports 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: 'the 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 be sanctified but in part, yet in every part.
(4) Sanctification is an intense and ardent thing. Qualitates sunt in subjecto intensive [its properties burn within the believer]. 'Fervent in spirit' (Rom. 12:11). 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; so he is holy whose 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' (Ps. 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' (Ex. 15:11). 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 remaineth in him' (1 John 3:9). He who is truly sanctified, cannot fall from that state. Indeed, seeming holiness may be lost, colours may wash off, sanctification may suffer an eclipse. 'Thou hast left thy first love' (Rev. 2:4). True sanctification is a blossom of eternity. 'The anointing which ye have received abideth in you' (1 John 2:27). 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 (2 Cor. 7:1). 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. 10:15). A Christian is continually adding a cubit 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 colours. 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 not.
(1) The first counterfeit of sanctification is moral virtue. To be just, to be temperate, to be of a fair deportment, 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. Heathens have attained to morality; as Cato, Socrates, and Aristides. Civility is but nature refined; there is nothing of Christ there, and the heart may be foul and impure. Under these fair leaves of civility the worm of unbelief may be bid. A moral person has a secret antipathy against grace: he hates vice, and he hates grace as much as vice. The snake has a fine colour, 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, which I look upon as a religious frenzy, and is far from sanctification. It 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 labour; there is nothing of the heart in it. If to tell over a few beads, or bow to an image, or sprinkle themselves with holy water were sanctification, and all that is required of them that should be saved, then hell would be empty, none would come there.
(3) The third counterfeit of sanctification is hypocrisy; when men make a pretence of that holiness which they have not. As a comet may shine like a star, a lustre may shine from their profession that dazzles the eyes of the beholders. 'Having a form of godliness, but denying the power' (2 Tim. 3:5). These are lamps without oil; whited sepulchres, like the Egyptian temples, which had fair outsides, but within spiders and apes. The apostle speaks of true holiness (Eph. 4:24), implying that there is holiness which is spurious and feigned. 'Thou hast a name to live, but art dead' (Rev. 3:1); like pictures and statues which are destitute of a vital principle. 'Clouds without water' (Jude 12). They pretend to be full of the Spirit, but are empty clouds. This show of sanctification is a self-delusion. He who takes copper instead of gold, wrongs himself; the most counterfeit saint 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 better for their blazing lamps, when they wanted 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? painted wine refresh him that is thirsty? or painted holiness be a cordial at the hour of death? A pretence of sanctification is not to be rested in. Many ships, that have had the name of the Hope, the Safeguard, the Triumph, have been cast away upon rocks; 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, 'Fain I would, but I dare not.' The dog has a mind to the bone, but is afraid of the cudgel; so men have a mind to lust, but conscience stands as the angel, with a flaming sword, and affrights: 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 judgment, but it is not humbling; 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, 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. 'Who hath called us to glory and virtue (2 Pet. 1:3); to virtue, as well as glory. 'God hath not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness' (1 Thess. 4:7). We have no call to sin, we may have a temptation, but no call; 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 ye are sanctified, but ye are justified' (1 Cor. 6:11). 'Pardoning iniquity' (Mic. 7:18); there is justification. 'He will subdue our iniquities' ( Mic. 7:19); there is sanctification. 'Out of Christ's side came blood and water' (John 19:34); 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 tenure of the covenant is, that God will be our God. But who are interested in the covenant, and may plead the benefit of it? Sanctified persons only. 'A new heart will I give you, and I will put my Spirit within you, and I will be your God' (Ezek. 36:2, 6). If a man makes a will, none but such persons as are named in the will can lay claim to the will; so God makes a will and testament, but it is restrained and limited to such as are sanctified; and it is high presumption for any one else to lay claim to the will.
(4) There is no going to heaven without sanctification. 'Without holiness no man shall see the Lord' (Heb. 12:14). God is a holy God, and he will suffer no unholy creature to come near him. A king will not suffer 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 suffer the wicked to live awhile on the earth, he will never suffer 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; may have an affrighting vision of him, but not a beatific vision; they may 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 them that are defiled is nothing pure' (Titus 1:15). Under the law, if a man who was unclean by a dead body carried a piece of holy flesh in his skirt, the holy flesh would not cleanse him, but it would be polluted by him (Hag. 2:12). This is an emblem of a sinner's polluting his holy offering. A foul stomach turns the best food into ill burnouts; so an unsanctified heart pollutes prayers, alms, 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 satisfaction, to acceptation.
(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 (Titus 3:3). We were in our blood, and then God washed us with water, and anointed us with oil (Ezek. 16:9). Those trees of righteousness that 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 Spirit. 'The Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us' (2 Tim. 1:14). As the unclean spirit dwells in the wicked and carries them to pride, lust, revengethe devil enters into these swine (Acts 5:3)the Spirit dwells in the elect, as their guide and comforter. The Spirit possesses the saints. God's Spirit sanctifies the fancy, causing it to mint holy thoughts; and sanctifies the will by putting a new bias upon it, whereby it is inclined to good. He who is sanctified has the influence of the Spirit, though not the essence.
A third sign of sanctification is an antipathy against sin (Ps. 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. As there are antipathies in nature between the vine and laurel, so 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, and 'calls the Sabbath a delight' (Is. 58:13). 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 (1 Pet. 2:5). God judges not of our duties by their length, but by the love from which they spring.
A fifth sign is a well-ordered life. 'Be ye holy in all manner of conversation' (1 Pet. 1:15). Where the heart is sanctified the life will be so too. The temple had gold without as well as within. As in a piece of coin there is not only the king's image within the ring, but his superscription without; 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 vicious. 'There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness' (Prov. 30:12). If the water be foul in the bucket, it cannot be clean in the well. 'The king's daughter is all glorious within' (Ps. 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 religion, and makes proselytes to the faith.
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 be to be vile, I will yet be more vile' (2 Sam. 6:22). Let others persecute him for his holiness, he says as Paul, 'None of these things move me' (Acts 10:24). 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' (Job 27:6). He will rather part with his life than his conscience.
Use one: The main thing a Christian should look after is sanctification. This is the unum necessarium, 'the one thing needful.' Sanctification is our purest complexion, it makes us as the heaven, bespangled with stars; it is our nobility, by it we are born of God, and partake of the divine nature; it is our riches, therefore compared to rows of jewels, and chains of gold (Song of Solomon 1:10). It 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 firstfruits 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 love by giving us health, riches, success; but by drawing his image of sanctification on us by the pencil of the Holy Ghost 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' (1 John 5:19). 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 wants [lacks] reason, as him a Christian who wants grace. Nay, which is worse, some are buoyed up to such a height of wickedness, that they hate and deride sanctification. They hate it. It is bad to want [lack] it, it is worse to hate it. They embrace the form of religion, but hate the power. The vulture hates sweet smells, so do they the perfumes 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 (Gen. 21:9); 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 thy life' (Prov. 4:13).
What are the chief inducements to sanctification ?
(1) It is the will of God that we should be holy, as saith the text, 'This is the will of God, your sanctification.' As God's word must be the rule, so his will, 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. 'Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity' (Titus 2:14). 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 endeavour 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.
(4) Sanctification is that which God bears a great love to. Not any outward ornaments, high blood, or worldly grandeur, draws God's love, but a heart embellished with holiness does. 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 thy faith.' Amor fundatur similitudine. 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 that makes us differ from the wicked. God's people have his seal upon them. 'The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth 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 knoweth who are his,' and a seal of sanctification, 'Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.' This is the name by which God's people are known, 'The people of thy holiness' (Is. 63:18). As chastity distinguishes a virtuous woman from a harlot, so sanctification distinguishes God's people from others. 'Ye have received an unction from the Holy One' (1 John 2:20).
(6) It is as great a shame to have the name of a Christian, yet want sanctity, as to have the name of a steward and want fidelity; or the name of a virgin, and want chastity. It exposes 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 (2 Pet. 2:14); to be so devout at the Lord's table, as if men were stepping into heaven, and so profane the week after, as if they came out of hell; to have the name of Christians while unholy is a scandal to religion, and makes the ways of God evil spoken of.
(7) Sanctification fits for heaven: 'Who hath called us to glory and virtue' (2 Pet. 1:3). 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; 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 (1 Kings 1:39). 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 thy truth' (John 17:17). The word is both a glass 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' (Acts 15:9). 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. Faith and the love of sin are inconsistent.
(3) Breathe after the Spirit. It is called 'the sanctification of the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13). The Spirit sanctifies the heart, as lightning purifies the air, and as fire refines metals. Omne agens generat sibi simile. [The Spirit at work generates its own likeness everywhere.] 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 map of heaven.
(4) Associate with sanctified persons. 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 in our company. 'He that walketh with the wise shall be wise' (Prov. 13:20). Association begets assimilation.
(5) Pray for sanctification. Job propounds a question. 'Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean' (Job 14:4). 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' (Ps. 51:10). Lay thy 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 honour thee; nor die with such a heart, for I cannot see thee. Oh create in me a new heart! Lord, consecrate my heart, and make it thy temple, and thy praises shall be sung there for ever.
Use three: Has God brought a clean thing out of an unclean? has he sanctified you? Wear this jewel of sanctification with thankfulness. 'Giving thanks to the Father, who hath made us meet for the inheritance' (Col. 1:12). Christian, thou couldst defile thyself, but not sanctify thyself; but God has done it, he has not only chained up sin, but changed thy nature, and made thee as a king's daughter, all glorious within. He has put upon thee the breastplate of holiness, which, though it may be shot at, can never be shot through. Are there any here that are sanctified? God has done more for you than millions, who may be illumined, but are not sanctified. He has done more for you than if he had made you the sons of princes, and caused you to ride upon the high places of the earth. 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' (Luke 18:43). Make heaven ring with God's praises.