Boston: The Nature of the Sanctification of the Soul

II. More particularly, I will inquire into the nature of the sanctification of a soul. And let us consider,

1. The kinds of sanctification.
2. The Author of it.
3. The moving cause of it.
4. Wherein it consists.
5. The parts of it.
6. The subject of it.
7. The effect of it.
8. How it is carried on.
9. The means of it.

FIRST, I shall consider the kinds of sanctification distinguishable. Sanctification of a soul is twofold.

1. Initial sanctification, which is the implanting of the seeds of grace in the soul at first, and is the same with regeneration, 1 John 3:9 wherein the Spirit of Christ comes into the man’s heart with his graces, and takes possession of him for God. The whole soul is cast into a new mould and frame, and the image of God is drawn anew upon it.

2. Progressive sanctification, whereby that change is carried on more and more, the Spirit holding hand to the begun work, Acts 20:32. Satan’s image is more defaced, and the image of God more perfected in the soul; corruption more weakened, and grace more excited and strengthened. This work lasts through the saint’s whole life, and is never perfected till death.

These are one and the same work for substance, though differing in circumstances; and no man has the one, but he has the other too. Initial sanctification goes before justification in the order of nature, as being the principle from which faith doth arise; and this accounts for the apostle’s order in the text: but progressive sanctification, i. e. sanctification distinguished from regeneration, follows justification.

SECONDLY, Let us consider the Author of sanctification, whose work it is.

1. Negatively, It is not the sinner himself, nor any other creature, who is the author of it. We can well defile ourselves with all impurity, but cannot cleanse ourselves. We will lie still in our filthiness, till help come from another quarter, Eph. 2:1. We are bid to cleanse our hands and hearts: but, alas! the rule of our duty is not the measure of our strength.

2. Positively, It is the work of God; for it needs no less power than was necessary for creating a world, or raising the dead. It is the work of a whole Trinity to sanctify a soul, as lightly as many think of being holy. It is the work of the Father, Jude, ver. 1 ‘Sanctified by God the Father;’ of the Son, Eph. 5:26. ‘That he (Christ) might sanctify—it;’ of the Holy Spirit, 2 Thess. 2:13. ‘Through sanctification of the Spirit.’ But in a special manner it belongs to the Spirit; as the Father elects, the Son redeems, and the Holy Ghost sanctifies. It is the work of the Spirit of God then. For,

1. In initial sanctification the Spirit acts alone, and the poor sinner is wholly passive, and can do nothing that way. For he is dead in sin, and cannot move out of its dominion. He lies in the grave like the dry bones, which cannot live, nor stand up till they be breathed upon by the Lord himself.

2. In progressive sanctification, though the sinner does act towards his own sanctification, 2 Cor. 7:1 yet he acts not but as he is acted by the Holy Spirit, Phil. 2:13. In vain will he spread out his sails, if the wind from heaven blow not, Cant. 4:16. No blow of his struck in the battle against lusts will do execution, if the Spirit do not carry it home.

THIRDLY, The moving cause of it. Sanctification is a great benefit: whom the Lord bestows it upon, he puts an honour on, for they are set apart for himself. There is an intrinsic glory in holiness, Psal. 45:13. ‘The King’s daughter is all glorious within.’ God is glorious in it, and therefore no wonder it be the glory of the creature. When the Lord makes one holy, he does more for him than if he would give him all the gold of the Indies, or make him sole monarch of the world. Nay, the gift of sanctification is more worth than the Spirit of prophecy, or the faith of miracles: for men may be ruined notwithstanding these, but not if they have this.

The only cause of it is free grace, not any personal worth in the creature, Tit. 3:5. As the sun shines without hire, and enlightens the dark world; so does the Holy Spirit sanctify the unholy sinner freely, without any thing in him to move him thereto, Matth. 11:25, 26. For,

1. There is nothing in an unholy sinner that is pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight, Rom. 8:8. There is nothing but stench and rottenness in the dead soul, till the sanctifying Spirit enter into him. His best dispositions, actions, and performances, are sin, being without faith, and the mere product of nature unrenewed.

2. Though there be a great difference betwixt natural men before the world, one having by far the advantage of the other in respect of their natural tempers and the way of their life; yet the Lord does not give his sanctifying grace according to these advantages, but oft-times grace takes hold of those who are most unlikely to get it, 1 Cor. 1:26, 27, &c. Publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of God before Scribes and Pharisees. And oft-times sovereign grace overlooks those of the most sweet natural dispositions, and brings in those of the most rugged.

3. Sovereign grace often chuses the time for sanctifying the sinner, when he has gone the farthest length in sin and wickedness. Paul was carried the length of blasphemy and persecution, ere sanctifying grace took hold of him, 1 Tim. 1:13. And Manasseh was carried to horrid murders and witchcraft, ere he was prevented by divine grace. Many have been carried to extraordinary acts of wickedness, whereby they have lost their lives in the course of justice whom grace has plucked as brands out of the burning, to proclaim the freedom of grace.

FOURTHLY, I shall shew wherein sanctification consists, or what the Spirit doth to a sinner when he sanctifies him. It consists in the renewing of the sinner after the image of God, Eph. 4:23, 24. The ruin of man’s nature lay in defacing the image of God which was upon him: sanctification is the renewing and repairing of it, without which God can take no delight in his creature. Now, in all renewing, the old is put away, and the new brought in. So there are two acts of the Spirit in sanctification.

1. Destroying of the body of sin, called the old man, Rom. 6:6 putting it away, Col. 2:11. The Spirit of the Lord breaks the dominion of sin in the soul, and turns it off the throne, that it cannot command the sinner as aforetime, Rom. 6:14 weakens and mortifies the several lusts thereof, Rom. 8:13. So that it is a crucified man, who has got his death’s wounds by the nails, and shall not come down till he die out.

2. Endowing the sinner with grace, even with all the graces of the Spirit, John 1:16 whereby the sinner becomes a new creature, 2 Cor. 5:17. This is the new man which is put on in sanctification; the seed of heaven, which can never misgive, but will spring up to everlasting life, being carried on towards perfection, by the same Spirit.

FIFTHLY, The parts of sanctification are two.

1. Mortification, whereby the sinner is enabled more and more to die unto sin, Rom. 6:4, 6. The Spirit applying the virtue of Christ’s death to the sinner, mortifies him to sin, blunts the edge of his affection to sin and sinful courses, so that in respect of sin, he is like a dying man. So that although he be not quite freed from it yet he is on the way to be so. His lusts are upon the cross, nailed through and pierced to the heart, not to come down till they have breathed out their last, Gal. 5:24. Like a dying man taking leave of friends, he is parting with his old lusts: like a man leaving off cares about the world, the bent of his soul is turned away from his former courses.

2. Vivification, whereby the sinner is enabled more and more to live unto righteousness, Rom. 6:4. The sanctified sinner leads a new life, in respect of which he is as a man raised from the dead, not meddling as before in the business of the world: so the sanctified sinner lives as one of another world, not conforming himself to the sinful courses of this world, but being transformed into likeness to those of the better world, Rom. 12:2. Phil. 3:20. The business of his life is to serve the Lord, and work out his own salvation; to be preparing for the eternal rest in heaven, whither his heart is carried before him.

SIXTHLY, Let us view the subject of sanctification.—Under which consider,
1. Who are sanctified.
2. What of them is sanctified,

First, Who are sanctified. It is the elect who are sanctified, even all of them, and they only, Eph. 1:4. 2 Thess. 2:13. And elect infants among the rest, dying in infancy, being naturally corrupted must needs be sanctified too, by the Holy Spirit, since they are of the number of the elect. For others may be sanctified from the womb, Jer. 1:5. And none other but the elect do partake of this grace of sanctification: so that sanctification is a certain evidence of election.
Secondly, What of them is sanctified. The whole man is sanctified, 2 Cor. 5:17. 1 Thess. 5:23. The grace of sanctification is a holy leaven, that goes through the whole lump, and makes every part of the man holy.

1. The soul is sanctified in all the faculties thereof, new qualities being infused into and advanced in them. (1.) The understanding naturally darkened, is renewed in saving knowledge, after God’s image, Col. 3:10. A new light is struck out in the mind; the light of grace arises there, whereby the soul knows spiritual things in another manner than before; and this advanceth unto the perfect day, Prov. 4:18. (2.) The will, naturally perverse and rebellious, gets a righteous set and bent, agreeable to the will of God, Eph. 4:24. whereby it is averse to evil, and prone to good. (3.) The unholy affections are made holy, ibid. So that their love, hatred, delight, sorrows, &c. are changed. And herewith comes along the sanctification of the conscience and memory.

2. The body is sanctified, in so far as it is made the temple of the Holy Spirit, and a member of Christ, 1 Cor. 6:15, 19. And the members thereof are changed in respect of their use, becoming instruments of righteousness employed for the Lord, Rom. 6:13. In respect of which the body is presented a holy sacrifice to God, to serve and honour him with, whether by doing or suffering, Rom. 12:1.

But although the whole man is sanctified, yet no part of the man is perfectly sanctified in this life. It is neither midnight to them as with the unregenerate, nor mid-day as with the glorified, but twilight, which is a mixture of darkness and light. Hence arises the combat betwixt the flesh and Spirit, Gal. 5:17. Every grace has a weed of the contrary corruption by the side of it, which occasions this struggle, and imperfection in the best of their works.

SEVENTHLY, I am to shew the effect of sanctification. That is holiness. The fruit of this work of the Spirit is habitual holiness, that is, an habitual aversion of the soul to evil, and inclination to good; and actual holiness in all manner of life and conversation, in good works, which have God’s word for their rule, his glory for their end, and are done in faith. Both which we have, Psal. 45:13. ‘The King’s daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold.’

EIGHTHLY, I proceed to shew how sanctification is carried on. Now, though sanctification must needs be begun in an instant, yet it is not a simple act, but a work carried on by degrees, to which many actions (and these repeated) of the Holy Spirit do concur. The believer not being perfectly renewed at first, the renovation is carried on by degrees, and the Spirit is at that work still, so as not to give it over till it be perfected, though there be many interruptions of it. And,

1. The Spirit implants grace in the soul, sows the heavenly seed there, framing the heart anew, giving it a new power, and a new set, towards God and his law; and putting in new motions and inclinations in the soul, agreeable to the holy law, and contrary to the natural sinful ones, Heb. 8:10. So that the soul is inclined to love what before it loathed, and to loath what before it loved.

2. He preserves the grace implanted, 1 Pet. 1:5. Though it is lodged in the same heart with an ill neighbour, the remains of natural corruption; yet he keeps it that it do not die out, he preserves it as a spark of fire in the midst of the ocean.

3. He excites it and quickens it, to pursue and resist the flesh, Phil. 2:13. Grace sometimes may fall so very low in the soul, that it becomes like a spark hid under the ashes: yet the sanctifying Spirit blows it up again into a flame, Cant. 4:16. As the tree in the winter divested of its leaves and verdure, when the warm sun returns in the spring, the sap driven to the root returns, and is diffused through the whole.

4. He strengthens it by new supplies, Isa. 40 ult. so as the soul is enabled more and more to hold on the battle, and gets victories of the enemy, 2 Cor. 12:9, 10. For grace is a child of heaven, which has all its nourishment and strength from the same Spirit that gave it life.

5. Lastly, At death, but not till then, he perfects it, Heb. 12:23. Then the new man is brought to its perfect stature, Eph. 4:13. Often may the soul be ready to say, One day I will perish by the hand of such a lust. But the Spirit of God will perfect the work he has begun. And when the walls of the leprous house are taken down, the leprosy shall be quite removed. From what has been said, we may infer,

Inf. 1. The case of unsanctified sinners is a wretched case; they are lying with the lost world, in their filthiness, utterly unfit to serve God acceptably, or to have communion with him here or hereafter. For they are not sanctified, not separated, purified, nor prepared for God’s service.

2. Behold the beauty of holiness, and fall in love with it, and labour to attain it. The holy man is more excellent than his neighbour, as set apart for God: ‘Israel shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations,’ because they are a holy people. It is the purity of the soul, God’s image drawn on the man, it is a newness of nature from heaven, and like heaven. By it a man is a vessel fit for the Master’s use, honourably employed now, and most honourably hereafter.

3. See the way how ye may be made holy. The fire from your own hearth will not purge you; faithless vows, resolutions, and endeavours, will not do it, Isa. 50 ult. The Spirit of the Lord can only perform the work. O! cry for the Spirit, wait on in ordinances for the blowing of the Spirit. Come to Christ by faith, that ye may partake of his Spirit.

4. Sanctification is not the work of a day, but a work that must be in a continual progress. Sit not down on any measure of grace attained. They that are converted still need the Spirit for their sanctification. Beware of grieving the Spirit, lest the work be interrupted. Make no truce with the enemy, but pursue the lusts of the body of sin vigorously.

5. Lastly, See here that there are none so unholy, but they may be made holy. It is a work of grace, and grace is powerful to overcome the strongest lusts. It is a work of free grace, and therefore no vileness nor unworthiness of the creature, that is content to be made holy, can hinder it. This may lay the pride of some, who think they deserve grace, and whose hearts fret against the Lord, if grace be not given them in an hour of temptation. Man’s heart perverteth his way, and fretteth against the Lord. And this may encourage those who think the Lord will never look on them.

LASTLY, Let us consider the means of sanctification.—The outward means that the Spirit makes use of in this work, and which have all their efficacy from him, are,

1. Ordinances, public, private, and secret, Isa. 12:3 especially the word, and sacraments thereto appended, Eph. 5:26. And they that would be holy must use these means of sanctification, whereby the Spirit begins and carries on the work.

2. Providences; smiling and favourable dispensations have a tendency that way, Rom. 2:4 but especially afflictions are means which the Spirit makes use of for this end, Isa. 27:9. ‘By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit to take away his sin.’
I shall now shut up this subject with a few inferences, besides those I drew under the former heads.

Inf. 1. Those who are unrenewed are unsanctified. Where there is no change of heart and life, there is no grace, 2 Cor. 5:17. Ah! how many live as they were born, and are like to die as they live? They have no changes, but from evil to evil: no change from sin to holiness, and yet are unconcerned with their unrenewed state, sleeping until they sleep the sleep of death.

2. A partial change is not sanctification. Those who are changed, but not in the whole man, are not truly sanctified, but are yet in their natural pollution. Sanctification is not a new head full of knowledge, with the old heart and life; nor is it a new life, with the old heart and nature. But it is a change that goes through the whole soul and body, which must needs be followed with a new life, 2 Cor. 5:17.

3. True sanctification puts work into the hand of the sanctified, that will occupy them while they live. Dying to sin, and living to righteousness, are works that will fill up every minute we have in the world.

4. Let none be so foolish as to sit down contented without sanctification, but study holiness as ever ye would see heaven. We want a title to heaven, we must get that in justification and adoption: we want a meetness for heaven, and we must get that in sanctification. The sanctified are elected, and shall be glorified, 1 Pet. 1:1, 2, 4. And they that live and die unsanctifled, shall never see heaven, Heb. 12:14. ‘For without holiness no man shall see the Lord.’

5. Lastly, As ever ye would be holy, attend and improve the means of grace. Let not your afflictions drive you from God, neither be stupid under them, but fall in with the design of providence in them, for your sanctification.

Boston, T. (1848). The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1. (S. M‘Millan, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 654–661). Aberdeen: George and Robert King.

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