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Walter Marshall, 1628-1680, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

Direction One: That we may acceptably perform the duties of holiness and righteousness required in the law, our first work is to learn the powerful and effectual means by which we may attain to so great an end. This direction may serve instead of a preface, to prepare the understanding and attention of the reader for those that follow.




  1. The “Great End” is Holiness.


  1. This is a manner of life which comports with the moral law of God.


  1. Definition


  1. The Ten Commandments


  1. Or the love of God and neighbor


  1. “It consists not only in external works of piety and charity, but in the holy thoughts, imaginations and affections of the soul, and chiefly in love, from whence all other good works must flow, or else they are not acceptable to God; not only in refraining the execution of sinful lusts, but in longing and delighting to do the will of God and in a cheerful obedience to God, without repining, fretting, grudging at any duty, as if it were a grievous yoke and burden to you.”


  1. This universal obedience is our goal — but during this time of imperfection — it will be fully achieved.


  1. God will be “gracious and understanding” during our time of imperfection.


  1. It will be a state we will attain in the age to come.


  1. Consider the beauty of holiness.


  1. What could greater than to love God.


  1. These duties are the end for which we were created.


  1. These duties are renewed in us in sanctification and will be our end in glorification.


  1. These are not arbitrary duties, but rather are “holy, just and good”. (Rom. 7:12)


  1. Therefore they are called natural religion, and the law that requires them is called the natural law and also the moral law; because the manners of all men, infidels as well as Christians, ought to be conformed to it and, if they had been fully comformable, they would not have come short of eternal happiness (Matt. 5:19; Luke 10:27, 28), under the penalty of the wrath of God for the violation of it.


  1. We must come to know the means to attain this end.


  1. This knowledge is necessary


  1. Some falsely think they merely need to know “what to do” and then do it. This misses the mark


  1. They have an inadequate understanding of holiness, as if it were itself merely a means to an end.


  1. Such people also wrongly think that it is something easy to attain.


  1. At this point he makes an apt criticism of much preaching which thinks itself quite “strong” and “biblical”: “Yea, many that are accounted powerful preachers spend all their zeal in the earnest pressing the immediate practice of the law, without any discovery of the effectual means of performance – as if the works of righteousness were like those servile employments that need no skill and artifice at all, but industry and activity.” These preachers are great at making people feel guilty (because it takes no great skill to proclaim the law and point to our flaws; not even Paul “attained”).


  1. Here notes eight considerations:


  1. We lack the ability to rightly perform the demands of the law. ” If we believe it to be true, we cannot rationally encourage ourselves to attempt a holy practice, until we are acquainted with some powerful and effectual means to enable us to do it.”


  1. A consciousness of one’s own guilt before God is not sufficient to achieve holiness.


  1. A heathen can have knowledge of his guilt before God without knowing how to attain holiness. The means of attaining holiness come only from supernatural revelation.


  1. “Sanctification, by which our hearts and lives are conformed to the law, is a grace of God communicated to us by means, as well as justification, and by means of teaching, and learning something that we cannot see without the Word (Acts 26:17, 18).”


  1. The Scriptures alone provide the knowledge of the means of sanctification. 2 Tim. 3:16-17. If God has been good enough to give us such instruction, then we must receive it rightly.


  1. We can know our deficits by means of nature, but we cannot know the way of sanctification without revelation. ” The learning of it requires double work; because we must unlearn many of our former deeply- rooted notions and become fools, that we may be wise.”


  1. Without knowing the means of sanctification as set forth in the Scripture, we can be easily led into false doctrines. Unless know the means for sanctification given by God, we will led astray.


  1. In short, we will have no success in sanctification, unless we follow in the way appointed by God.


  1. A final note on the errors which befall those who do not learn the way appointed by God:


The heathens generally fell short of an acceptable performance of those duties of the law which they knew, because of their ignorance in this point: (i) Many Christians content themselves with external performances, because they never knew how they might attain to spiritual service. (ii) And many reject the way of holiness as austere and unpleasant, because they did not know how to cut off a right hand, or pluck out a right eye, without intolerable pain; whereas they would find ‘the ways of wisdom’ (if they knew them) ‘to be ways of pleasantness, and all her paths to be peace’ (Prov. 3:17). This occasions the putting off repentance from time to time, as an uncouth thing. (iii) Many others set on the practice of holiness with a fervent zeal, and run very fast; but do not tread a step in the right way; and, finding themselves frequently disappointed and overcome by their lusts, they at last give over the work and turn to wallow again in the mire – which has occasioned several treatises, to show how far a reprobate may go in the way of religion, by which many weak saints are discouraged, accounting that these reprobates have gone farther than themselves; whereas most of them never knew the right way, nor trod one step right in it, for, ‘there are few that find it’ (Matt. 7:14). (iv) Some of the more ignorant zealots do inhumanly macerate their bodies with fasting and other austerities, to kill their lusts; and, when they see their lusts are still too hard for them, they fall into despair and are driven, by horror of conscience, to make away with themselves wickedly, to the scandal of religion.




  1. Do you think worth your time and effort to seek holiness?


  1. What is the value of holiness? See, e.g., 1 Thess. 4:7; Heb. 12:14; 1 Peter 1:16; 2 Peter 3:11.


  1. What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?


  1. What does it mean to love your neighbor as your-self?


  1. Read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). Do you see that Jesus’s teaching describes you?


  1. Have you ever attempted to seek after holiness? What did you did you do? How well did it work?