1 Peter 1
There is something very sweet in the certainty with which the apostle Peter presents to us the truths contained in this epistle. There is neither hesitation nor uncertainty. The word speaks of things received, of a certainty for those to whom it is addressed. Their faith was tried, but the thing was certain. The apostle speaks here of an inexhaustible fund of truths which belonged to him; and it is not as one groping in the dark that he speaks of it. These things are too important to be left in doubt; they deserve all our attention: our hearts need it. It is not the unregenerate heart that loves the Lord Jesus. One may be brave and all that, and think that if one’s conduct is good, the result in heaven will be accordingly; but therein is no love for the Lord Jesus. And this is the mark of the Christian.
The apostle says, in verse 8: “Whom [Christ] having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Now, there is no such thing as this without the new birth, which is a new life, which has an object which pre-occupies it. It is an entirely new life, which has interests, affections, quite a new world; and without that there is no Christian, because there is not Christ.
We shall now see the two principles laid down in this chapter, and in the work here attributed to the Holy Spirit. God finds the soul in a certain position, in certain relations, and removes it to a place in quite a new state; and this separation is according to the power of the resurrection of Christ.
The apostle speaks to the Jews of the dispersion (that is, to those of whom it is spoken in John 7:35, those dispersed among the Greeks) in these words: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia; elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” etc. He addressed himself to the dispersed, to the Jews converted to Christianity, to those who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God, through the sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: grace and peace, etc. He says this because He is speaking of another election than that of the Jewish people. The Jewish nation was elected after another manner. Here he writes, as we said, to the Jews who had believed on the Lord Jesus; so that sanctifica-tion in them was not sanctification of a nation by outward means, but by the Holy Spirit, who separated the souls from among the Jews to belong to God, and to form a part of the present dispensation of grace. It was not with them as with the ancient Jews, who were separated from the Egyptians by the Red Sea; they were separated by the sanctification effected by the Holy Spirit. Observe particularly this word sanctification; the first idea is separation for God, not only from evil, but a setting apart for God, who sanctifies.
This is what God does in those whom He calls. God finds souls lying in evil. John, on this subject, says in his first epistle, chapter 5:19: “We are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness”: and it is very precious to have things clearly stated. “We are of God.” It is not merely that we should conduct ourselves aright; doubtless, that is well, but the great difference is, that we are of God, and that “the whole world lieth in wickedness.” Does that mean that we are always as we should be? No: but we are of God. One is not all one would desire to be; this will come to pass” only in heaven, for it is only there that God will make us conformed to the image of His beloved Son.
But here is what God has done: He has separated us to Himself, as a man who hews stones out of a quarry. The stone is hewn out of the quarry and set apart, destined to be cut and fashioned, in order to be placed in the appointed building. And God detaches a soul from the quarry of this world to separate it for Himself. I say not but that there is much to do, for a rough stone cut out of the quarry requires often considerable labour before it is placed in the building for which it is destined. Even so God separates, prepares, and fashions this soul to introduce it into His spiritual building. There are many useless matters to take off, but God acts every day in His grace. Howsoever, this soul is sanctified, set apart for God, from the moment it is taken out of the quarry of this world.
The apostle speaks here of sanctification before he mentions obedience and the blood of Jesus Christ. We are sanctified for these two things (v. 2): elect according to the foreknowledge of God, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. He takes us out of the quarry of this world to place us under the efficacy of the blood of Christ. The stone is entirely His and adapted to His purpose. Although He has yet to work upon it, the question is not of what He does each day, but generally of the appropriation to the end God has proposed to Himself. It is the Holy Spirit who acts in the soul and appropriates it to Himself. It may previously have been very honourable or very wicked in its conduct (that is of no moment here); only it will be more grateful, if it feels itself more evil; but as to its former condition, this matters little: it belongs now to God.
To what does God destine this soul? To obedience. Up to this period it has done little but its own will; it has followed its own way, no matter what appearances may have been, more or less good, more or less bad; it is all one. The character may have been weak, or more or less fiery, until, as with Paul, the Lord arrested him on his road: now behold this soul, hitherto filled with its own will, set apart for obedience.
Paul had been very learned in what concerned the religion of his fathers; he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel. He honestly believed that he had done the will of God, but there was nothing of the kind; he followed his own will, according to the direction impressed by the tradition of his fathers. Never, till the moment that Jesus stopped him on the way to Damascus, had he said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
Thus, whatever may have been the conduct of a soul before this setting apart, nothing of all that has made it do the will of God. But the aim of the life of a soul sanctified, or set apart, is to do the will of God. It may fail, but that is its aim. Jesus said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” He had no need of sanctification, in one sense, because He was holy; but the aim of His whole life was obedience. Here I am “to do thy will, O God.” He took the form of a servant, made in the likeness of men, and He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. He existed only for God; the principle of His life was obedience. He was come to do nothing but His Father’s will. As soon as a soul is sanctified, it is sanctified unto obedience; and this is manifested by the spirit of dependence which has done with its own will. It says, “What must I do?” It may fail, through weakness, in many respects, but that is its aim.
As to the second thing, we are sanctified to enjoy the sprinkling of blood; first, to obedience, then to enjoy the sprinkling of blood. The soul, thus placed under the influence of the blood of Christ, is thereby completely cleansed. The blood of the Son of God cleanses us from all sin; it is by the efficacy of His blood that we are separated from this world. The question here is not of the blood of bulls and goats, which could not sanctify the conscience of him who did the service, but it is the blood of Christ, who, by the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God. It is this blood which purifies the conscience.
The Jews, under the law, said indeed, trusting to their own strength, We will do all that thou hast spoken. They undertook to do everything when it was prescribed to them as a condition. But here it is much more; it is the Spirit that makes them say, “What wilt thou have me to do? “It is submission, it is the principle of obedience really produced in the heart: “I know not what thou wilt, but here am I to do thy will.” It is obedience without reserve. There is no question here of rules that man cannot accomplish, but of the whole will changed; no more to do one’s own will, but to do God’s will.
The book of the law was sprinkled, as well as the people; but that gave its efficacy to the requisitions of the law, while the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus gives to the changed heart the purification and the peace which belong to those who are placed under the efficacy of His blood. We are placed there as the Jews were under the blood of the goat of atonement, not however for a year only, but for ever.
As to a soul, then, that the Holy Spirit has hewn out of the quarry of this world, being honest, amiable, kept by the good providence of God, but withal doing its own will—well, God has found it there in the world and of the world, notwithstanding all its good qualities; and He has to put His love in its heart, in order that it may, without hesitation, only care about the will of God to do it. But, thus separated, it is under the blood of sprinkling, it is cleansed from all its sin. That is the first principle; the separation wrought by God Himself, who places us outside of this world, or rather of the things of this world, and makes us Christians. Without this there is no Christianity. God acts effectually; He does nothing by halves, and this is all His work. God does not deceive Himself. He must have realities. He does not deceive Himself as we deceive ourselves, and as we try to deceive others, although we deceive others less than we deceive ourselves.
I would point out to you the meaning of the word “sanctification”; it is rarely used in the Scriptures in the sense in which we generally use it, that is to say, in the progressive sense. It is only three times spoken of in this sense. It is said, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness [sanctification], without which no man shall see the Lord,” Heb. 12:14. “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly,” 1 Thess. 5:23. I quote these two passages to shew that I do not set aside this sense of the word; but it more particularly designates an act of separation, a setting apart for God. If we have not laid hold of this meaning, there will be an entire mistake as to what sanctification is. In the two above-quoted passages, the word has an every-day application. In the sense in which it is used by the apostle in the beginning of this epistle, it is perfectly in the sense of taking a stone out of the quarry of this world to fashion it for God. Sanctification is attributed to the Father in more than one place in the Bible; see Hebrews 10:10. Now, it is by this will that we are sanctified; by the offering made once of the body of Jesus Christ. It is by this will of God that we are sanctified.
1. There is the first thought, the will of God, which is to set us apart (to sanctify us).
2. And the means—it is the offering of Christ.
And it is always, with scarcely more than one exception, which we have already quoted, in this manner that it is spoken of in the Hebrews. Sanctification is attributed to God the Father in another passage also; Jude 1. The Father having willed to have children for Himself, the blood of Jesus does the work, and the Holy Spirit comes to accomplish the counsels of the Father, and to give them efficacy by producing the practical effect in the heart. The soul separated from the world is sanctified by that very fact. There is the old trunk which pushes forth its shoots; but God acts in pruning; and His acting, which takes place by the Holy Spirit, works the daily practical sanctification. The heart is each day more and more set apart. It is not like a vase, because in man it is the heart which is set apart. Thus, when life is communicated and thereby the man is sanctified, there is a daily work of sanctification which applies to the affections, to the habits, to the walk, etc.
Let us see how God does this:—
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” v. 3. Such is the way He does it. God sets us apart for Himself. It is not by modifying what was bad in us, but by creating us anew; by making afresh a new creature, for the old man cannot be made subject to the law. He gives a new life. If one be not thus born anew, one belongs yet to the world, which is under condemnation; but when God acts, it is altogether another thing. Being born in Adam, we have need to be born by Christ. When the heart is visited by the Holy Spirit, one is begotten again by a life which is not of this world, which urges it to another end—Christ. It is not by precepts addressed to the old man, but by another life. The precepts follow afterwards; that is to say, that the life of which we speak, which is the new birth, belongs not to this world, neither in its source, nor in its aim; it cannot have one single thing in common with the old life. This life is found here below in the body: we eat, work, etc., as before; but this is not what Christ came for. Christ came to make us comprehend quite another thing from the life here below, into which He entered; and that is the rule of the Christian’s conduct. He has for object, for aim, and for joy, what Christ has for object, aim, and joy; his affections are heavenly, as those of Christ.
If the life of Christ is in me, the life and the Spirit of Christ in me cannot find joy in that wherein Christ finds not His joy. The Spirit of Christ in me cannot be a different spirit from what was in Him; and it is evident that he who is separated from this world for God cannot find pleasure in the life of sin of this world, and prefer it to that of heaven. We know well that the Christian often fails in this rule; but this denies not that there is nothing in common between the life of heaven and that of the world. It is not a question of prohibitions as to using this or that, but of having altogether other tastes, desires, and joys; and it is, on that account, people imagine that Christians are sad, as if they were absorbed by only one thought. It is that our joys are altogether different from those of the world: the world knows not our joys.
No unrenewed person can comprehend what renders the Christian happy, that is to say, that his tastes are not for the things of this world. His thoughts rise higher. This is the joy of the Christian, that Christ is entered into heaven, and has Himself destroyed all that could have hindered us from entering there.
Death, Satan, and the wicked spirits have been conquered by Christ, and the resurrection has annihilated all that was between Him and the glory. Christ placed Himself in our position; He underwent the consequences of it; He has conquered the world and Satan. It is written, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you”: if he is already conquered, we have not to conquer him, but to resist him. When we resist him, he knows he has met Christ, his conqueror. The flesh does not resist him. Jesus gives us a living hope by His resurrection from the dead; in this way, and being in Him, we are on a foundation which cannot fail.
Christ has already shewn that He has won the victory; and what grace is here presented to us! Even that of obtaining “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith.” This treasure is in heaven. I have nothing to fear, it is in perfect safety. But this is what I fear as to myself, temptations, all sorts of difficulties, for I am not in heaven. This is true; but what gives every security is, not that we are not tried or tempted, but that we are kept in the trial here below, as the inheritance is kept in heaven for us.
Here is the position of the Christian, set apart by the resurrection of Christ, and begotten again. It is that, in waiting for the glory, we are kept by the power of God through faith, separated from the world by the power and communication of the life of Him who has won the victory over all that could have hindered us from having a part in it. And why are these trials sent to us? It is God who works the soil, in order that all the affections of the heart, thus sifted, may be purified and exercised, and perfectly in harmony with the glory of heaven and with the objects which are set before us.
Is it for naught that gold is put in the furnace, or because it is not gold? No; it is to purify it. God, by trials, takes out of our hearts that which is impure, in order that, when the glory arrives, we may enjoy it.
Let us see a little what the apostle says on this subject. “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold which perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” What are we about then, as the process of sanctification is carried on? It is that although we have not seen Jesus, we love Him; and although now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls.
It is there the heart finds itself. Thus, whatever be the circumstances of the present life, Christ is present in the midst of our temptations, and the heart always finds itself close to Jesus, the source of its happiness; and, while saying that His love is boundless—passes all knowledge—we can say also that we have the intelligence of it.
The magnet always turns towards the pole; the needle always trembles a little when the storm and tempest roar, but its direction changes not; the needle of the Christian heart points always towards Christ. A heart which understands, which loves Jesus, which knows where Jesus has passed before it, looks to Him to sustain it through its difficulties; and however rugged and difficult the way, it is precious to us, because we find there the trace of the steps of Jesus (He has passed there); and specially because this road conducts us, through difficulties, to the glory in which He is. Seeing, says the apostle, that it need be, in order that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried by fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
It is not only that we have been begotten again, but that we receive the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls. The end of all will be to see Christ and the glory that He has gained for me. He says here, the salvation of the soul, because the question is not of a temporal deliverance, as in the case of the ancient Jews. I see now this glory through a veil, but I long to see myself there. And being now in the trial, I look to Him who is in the glory, and who secures it to me. The gold will be completely purified; but the gold is there; as to me, as to my eternal life, it is the same thing as if I was in the glory. Salvation and glory are not the less certain, though I am in the trial, than if I were already in the rest. And this is practical sanctification: habits, affections, and a walk formed after the life and calling one has received from God.
If I engage a servant, I require him to be clean, if I am so myself. God says, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” And as it is with the servant I desire to introduce into my house, so is it with us. God requires that we should be suited to the state of His house; He will have a practical sanctification in His servants. Moreover, the aim of the apostle is, that our faith be firm and constant; He gives us, in verse 21, full security, in saying to us “that your faith and hope might be in God,” not merely in that which justifies us before a just-judging God. It is a God who is for us, who willed to help us, and who introduced us into His family, setting us apart for obedience, and to share in the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. He has loved us with an eternal love. He has accomplished all that concerns us. He keeps us by His power through faith, in order to introduce us into glory.
He places us in trial; He makes us to pass through the furnace, because He will wholly purify us. It is Himself who has justified us; who shall condemn us? It is Christ who died, or rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, and who also maketh intercession for us: who shall separate us from His love? (Rom. 8:33). Our faith and our love being in God, what have we to fear? We have, in Zechariah, a very encouraging example; Zech. 3. The Lord caused Zechariah to see Joshua the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said to Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan! the Lord, who hath chosen Jerusalem, rebuke thee. Is not this the brand that I have plucked out of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments (the sin, the corruption of man), and he stood before the angel. And the angel said, Take away the filthy garments from him. And he said to him, Behold I have made thine iniquity to pass from thee, and have clothed thee with new garments (the righteousness of God applied). Satan accuses the children of God; but when God justifies, who can condemn? Would you then that God were not content with His work which He has wrought for Himself? And it is in order that we be holy and unblamable in love before Him.
Can you say, “He has sanctified me,” in the sense that He has given you Jesus for the object of your faith? If it be thus, He has placed you under the sprinkling of His precious blood, in order that you may be a Christian, and happy in obedience. You may say now, He is the object of my desires, of my hope. You may not yet have understood all that Christ is for you, and you may have much to do in practice; but the important thing is to understand that it is God who has done all and has placed you under the efficacy of that resurrection life, in order that you may be happy and joyful in His love. It is remarkable to what a point God makes all things new in us; it is because He must destroy our thoughts, in order that we may have peace.
There is nothing morally in common between the first and the second Man; the first sinned and drew down the whole human race in his fall; the last Adam is the source of life and power. This applies to every truth of Christianity, and to all that is in this world. There are but these two men. Nicodemus is struck with the wisdom of Jesus, and with the power manifested in His miracles; but the Lord stops him, and cuts the matter short with him, by saying, “Ye must be born again.” He was not in a condition to be instructed. He did not understand the things of God, for to do so a man must be born again; in short, he Sad not life. I do not say that he could not arrive at it; because, further on, we see him paying honour to Jesus, in bringing the necessary spices to embalm Him.
I have been led to this thought because the end of this chapter recalled to me chapter 40 of Isaiah. I do not speak of the accomplishment of the prophecy which will take place at a later day for the Jews, but of a grand principle. This chapter begins by these words: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Before God begins, He must cause it to be understood that all flesh is as grass.
If God will comfort His people, what saith the Lord? “All flesh is grass,” etc. It must begin there. The grass is withered, because the spirit of the Lord hath blown upon it. But the word of God shall stand for ever. Therein was the foundation of hope. Had it been possible for anyone to have obtained anything, it would have been the Jews, who had all; but they were nothing more than the grass of the field, than the grass that withers. When God will comfort man who has failed, in the responsibility which attaches to him, it is thus He begins: “All flesh is grass,” etc.; and it is for this reason that there is such a confusion in the heart of the newly converted man, and even of the Christian, if he does not pay attention to it: namely, that the word comes to tell him the grass is withered, the flesh is incapable of producing any good, and that he does not yet rest on this, that the word of the Lord endures for ever, and that the blessing, consequently, cannot fail to His own. Till we cease in our efforts to get good from the flesh, and till we are assured that the word of the Lord endures for ever, we shall be always troubled and weak before the assaults of the enemy.
The people had trampled on the ordinances, broken the law, crucified the Messiah, done all possible evil. Has the word of God changed? In nowise. God alters nothing in His election, nor in His promises. Paul asks, Has God rejected His people? God forbid. Peter addresses himself to the people: there is no more of them apparently. The grass is withered, but there is the word of God, and He can say to them, You are now a people, you have obtained mercy. Now, we are going to see that this word becomes the instrument of blessing and of practical sanctification. God never sanctifies what withers like grass. He introduces, on the contrary, what is most enduring and most excellent of man into heaven.
The word withers man, the breath of the Lord has passed over. Introduce man’s glory into heaven, it is dreadful! This work is painful, because of the often prolonged wrestlings of the pride and the self-will of the flesh; and God does not begin His work by modifying what already exists. Neither can He, because He will destroy it. He can neither require nor produce fruits before the tree be planted. But He begins by communicating a new life, and detaches the creature from the things to which its flesh is attached; and the Holy Spirit communicates to it the things of the world to come, and the instrument He employs is the word, that word whereof it is said, “it abideth for ever.” The word, which was of promise for the nation, becomes an instrument of life for our souls. We are begotten by the word of truth, which judges also as a two-edged sword all that is not of this new life. Let us examine the difference between our justification and our sanctification. Justification is something, not in ourselves, but a position in which God has placed us before Himself; and those who possess this righteousness, those to whom it is applied by God, being the children of the second Man, possess all that He has and all that He loves. He who has this righteousness of God is born of God, and possesses all that belongs to his Father, who assimilates the rights of His children to those of His Son who is heir of all things. So soon as I am a child of the last Adam, I am in the blessing and righteousness in which Christ Himself is found; and just as I have inherited from the first Adam all the consequences and results of his fall, even so, being born of the last Adam, I inherit all that He has acquired, just as I had inherited from the former.
If it be thus, it is evident that I have part in the glory of Christ; and if life be not there, it is nought. God presents His love to us. He reveals it to us, and His word abides eternally. And here is the way God begins with the soul. He presents this truth to us, ever fresh before Himself; it is not a result produced in us that He makes us see; on the contrary, it is, that man, such as he is, has no part in this righteousness, because the flesh, which is as grass, cannot be in relation with God. He reveals and imparts to us a justification He has accomplished.
God cannot give precepts of sanctification to such as have no justification. The effects of the life of Christ are to convince of sin, and also to cause fruit-bearing. When the gospel was presented at the beginning, it was to Gentiles who, till then, had had no part in the promises of God. There was no need to speak to them of sanctification. And now that all the world calls itself Christian, I must see whether I be really a Christian; but this idea is not found at all in the Bible. The state of sin was spoken of, and the gospel was preached; now, men say, Am I really a Christian? which thing was not so then. A man takes his practical life to see whereabouts he is, believing that the question is of sanctification, when it is only of justification. This question was not necessary at the commencement. Now, people look at the fruits to see if they have life, and confound with sanctification that which is only a conviction of sin previous to justification by faith and peace with God. Until a soul has consented to say, Jesus is all, and I have nothing—till then, I say, there is nothing in this soul which relates to Christian sanctification. These things must be set right before the soul can have peace. At the preaching of Peter three thousand persons were made happy; they were not in doubt; from the moment a man embraced the gospel, he was a Christian, he was saved.
The progress of practical sanctification must not be confounded with justification, because practical sanctification is wrought in a saved soul that has eternal life. It is an entirely new thing, of which there is no trace before I have found Christ. If we comprehend this passage, “Without holiness [sanctification] no man shall see the Lord” (there is nothing troubles a soul as that often does), it is clear that if I do not possess Christ, I cannot see the Lord; that is very simple. If I have not in myself the life of the second Adam, as I had before the life of the first, never shall I see His face. The tastes natural to the one will develop themselves therein, as they developed themselves in the other. The first inquiry to be made in such a case is, Have you peace with God, the pardon of your sins? If not, the question is of the justification of a sinner. Having then “purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit”—that is the power “through the Spirit”—the essential thing is the obedience to the truth. People seek purification, and desire to bear fruit, but this is not what God first asks of us; it is obedience, and obedience to the truth.
Whereof does the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, speak? He has much to say to us, but first of all, “All flesh is grass.” He says that no good thing exists in man; the Spirit convinces the world of sin. The whole world lies in wickedness; that world would none of Christ, and the Holy Spirit cannot present Himself without saying, You have rejected the Christ. The Holy Spirit comes into this world and proves to it its pride and its rebellion. Behold, the Son is no longer there, and why? The world has rejected Him. The Spirit comes to say, “The grass is withered,” etc.; then, when this is acknowledged, He communicates the peace that He has preached. He says truly, You are sinners; but He does not speak to sinners of sanctification; He will produce it by the truth, and He tells them the truth. Can man produce it? Nay. It is Christ, He who is the way, the truth, and the life. The Holy Spirit speaks to the sinner of the grace, of the righteousness, of God—of peace, not to make, but made; that is the truth. He convinces the world of what it is, and He speaks to it of that will of God by which the believer is sanctified, that thus we may be obedient to the truth, in submitting to the love of God; and when the soul is subject to the truth, life is there.
He communicates life, “being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” The word abides eternally. It is thus that God first produces the principle of sanctification, which is the life of Christ in us; if the practical means be inquired for, it is the word of truth.
Does the Holy Spirit tell pagans to make progress in sanctification? Does He say this to men unconverted? No. When a sinner has understood the truth, such as God presents it, then the Holy Spirit puts him in relation with God the Father, and this sinner rejoices in all that which Christ has acquired for him. Thus, having “purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit,” etc., “being born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” Dear friends, you will find that it is ever thus.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, it is written, as to the unbelieving contrasted with the Christians, that they have not received (or rather accepted) the love of the truth, that they might be saved. “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth … but we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”
It is, then, the belief of the truth; it is not the belief of the fruits. The Holy Spirit cannot present to me the works He has produced in me, as the object of my faith. He speaks to me of my faults, of my shortcomings, but never of the good works that are in me. He produces them in me, but He hides them from me; for if we think of it, it is but a more subtle self-righteousness. It is like the manna which, being kept, produced worms. All is spoilt: it is no more faith in action. The Holy Spirit must always present to me Christ, that I may have peace.
The same principle is in John 17:16: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” The world was not Christ’s aim. During His whole life, though He was not gone out of the world, He was no more of the world than if He had been in heaven. When practice is in question, He says, “They are not of the world, as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth.” Truth is not of the world: this world is a vast lie, which is demonstrated in the history we possess in the Bible. There we find the manifestation of sin in the natural man, and the manifestation of the life of God in the renewed man by His word. “Sanctify them by thy truth.” “For their sakes I sanctify myself.” What does the Lord Jesus here for us? He sets Himself apart. He sanctifies Himself; it is not that He may be more holy, but He makes Himself the model Man. It is not a law requirement; but it is Christ Himself who is life and power, whereof He presents the perfect result. It is Christ who presents the fulfilment and the perfection; He is the vital spring of all; and in considering these things, the reflection of them is in me by faith, which reproduces them in the inner man and in the life.
We find something interesting on this subject in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The law was not this. It was not a light that condemned; but the life was this light, and we have seen it full of grace and truth—not of truth only, but of grace; and of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. When we have received Christ, there is not a single grace which is not for me, and in me. There is no Christian who has not every grace that is in Jesus: suppose even a state of failure, it is the strongest case, but this hinders not that we possess all in Him. Failure is a sad thing, but this changes not the position; for the Christian has not received a part only of Christ, but the whole of Christ.
On the one hand, it is encouragement, when I say to myself, I must seek after such a grace; the answer is, Thou possessest it; and, on the other hand, it humbles me, for if I possess it, why is it not manifested? This always supposes that we have received the truth that God has made peace. We must always return to this: “Sanctify them through thy word; thy word is truth.” Is it by looking into myself that I shall find this sanctification? No; but by looking to Jesus, in whom it is, Christ having been made unto us of God “righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” I see this humility in Christ, and take pleasure in it; when I look to Him by faith, my soul is in peace. His Spirit is always in me, and I am sanctified by faith in Him, according to that grace which makes me one with Him. Christ gives me all that, and this truth reveals to me that the redemption is made, and I enjoy it, having obeyed the truth.
If any one seeks after sanctification without being assured of his justification, and is troubled about it, doubting whether he be a Christian, then I ask him, What have you to do with sanctification? You have not to think about that for the present. Assure yourself first of all that you are saved: pagans, unbelievers, do not sanctify themselves. If you have faith, you are saved; sanctify yourself in peace. The only question is to consider your sinful state. First, have you obeyed the truth? have you submitted to it? What does God speak to you about? He speaks of peace made. He says to you, that He has given His Son; He says to you, that He has “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is the truth to which you have to submit, and to receive above all, specially before you busy yourself about sanctification, which depends on Him who has given you eternal life.
Begin, then, by obeying the truth. The truth tells you of the righteousness of God, which is satisfied in Jesus, and which is yours; or rather that you are in Christ; then you will enjoy peace, and you will be sanctified in practice. This practical sanctification flows from the contemplation of Jesus. Here is what the apostle Paul says to us on this subject, in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
You see that it is in beholding Jesus that we are transformed from glory to glory. Life, the principle of life, is there, and not in your anxieties; the development of this life of Jesus is progressively realised by looking to Him. It is faith which sanctifies, as also it justifies: it looks unto Jesus.
When Moses came down from the mountain, from before God, he did not know that he also shone with glory, but those who saw him knew it. Moses had looked towards God; others saw the effect. Blessed be God that it is thus in a practical sense! As to practice then, the question is the sanctification of Christians because they are saved, because they are sanctified to God as regards their persons (not those who are not yet so). It is not to exact (on God’s part), but to communicate life. Now, this communication proceeds from Jesus, who is its source. He communicates life, which is holiness. O that God might always shew us the grace to make us always more and more feel that all flesh is as grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever! “And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you”; it is of this incorruptible seed we are born. What ought not our confidence to be in this word!