1 COR. 1:30.—But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who is made unto us—sanctification.
THE world in its greatest darkness was not insensible that man’s nature was corrupted, that they needed something wherewith they might please God, attain to happiness, and repair the wound which they understood their nature had got. And although that Jews and Gentiles had different devices whereby they thought this might be obtained, yet all agreed in that it behoved them to go into themselves for it, and to draw something out of the ruins of their natural powers wherewith to help themselves, thereby discovering they did not sufficiently understand the depth of the corruption of human nature. And this principle is so agreeable to corrupt reason, that God’s device to bring about man’s salvation from sin and misery in and by another, to wit, Christ, was to ‘the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness,’ ver. 23. And if we sound to the bottom, it is the same at this day to the unregenerate part of the Christian world.
In the text we have the sum of God’s device for the salvation of sinners, and it centres in Jesus Christ who was crucified. We may take up the text and it in these two things.
1. That the whole of man’s salvation shall be from Christ. God has made or constituted him the fountain of all salvation, from whom it must be conveyed to all that shall partake of it. As Pharaoh made Joseph ruler over Egypt; and when the famished people cried to him for bread, he bade them go to Joseph, Gen. 41:55 so God has dealt with the Mediator, and tells us by the gospel, Psal. 89:24. ‘My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.’ If we look into the ruins of the fall we may take them up under four heads, answerable to which there are remedies in Christ.
(1.) Man is ignorant naturally of the way to true happiness: he has lost God, and knows not how to find him again.—Falling into the hands of Satan, he has lost his two eyes, like Samson; gropes for the way of happiness, but cannot find it, like the Sodomites at Lot’s door. Some remains of knowledge found in the ruins of the fall were improved in the world, by study, observation of the works of God, and in some by external revelation, which yet the natural darkness of the mind did pervert. And these notions, thus improved, they called wisdom. But the way of happiness by works, the only way naturally known by Adam, being blocked up by his fall, it was impossible for them by their wisdom to fall on the other way, unless we should say, that fallen man’s natural knowledge could reach farther than his natural knowledge when it was whole and entire before the fall. So man’s wisdom is his folly.
For remedy of this, Christ is made ‘wisdom.’ The treasures of wisdom and knowledge were lodged in him, Col. 2:3 and he is constituted the grand Teacher of all that seek for eternal happiness. Therefore the philosophers and Rabbi’s must lay by their books, as insufficient to point them the way to happiness, and study that body of divinity, Jesus Christ, in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwelleth bodily. The wise men of the world must renounce confidence in their natural abilities, draw a black score over all their attainments in their Christless state, and sit down at Christ’s feet, as knowing nothing, and learn of him: and those of the shallowest capacities, giving up themselves to him, shall get ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,’ 2 Cor. 4:6.
(2.) Man is unrighteous, and cannot stand before a righteous God. His guilt binds him over to wrath, and makes him miserable before a just God, a revenger of sin. And this is so impressed on the hearts of men, that even a natural conscience sometimes makes terrible heart-quakes within him, knowing the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death.’ Now, the natural man, for remedy of this, goes about to work out a righteousness of his own, to spin a righteousness out of his own bowels, and to appease the anger of God, and gain his favour, by his obedience. But when it appears in the light of the holy law, it is nothing but as a filthy, rotten, moth-eaten garment, that cannot cover the soul before the Lord, Isa. 64:7. Let them stretch it as they will, the bed is shorter than a man can stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than he can wrap himself in it.
For remedy of this, Christ is made righteousness. He, by his obedience to the law’s commands and suffering the wrath it threatened, hath brought in everlasting righteousness, which is a large garment, able to cover all that betake themselves to it, for it is ‘the righteousness of God; a beautiful garment, sound in every part, for it is white raiment, without the least stain, being the righteousness of the Son of God, who was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. Therefore the most refined moralists may lay aside, in point of confidence, their highest attainments in morality, as filthy rags before the Lord; and the strictest professors and livers on earth, who follow after the law of righteousness, must renounce their inherent righteousness, and sit down naked before the Lord, to receive the imputed righteousness of Christ. And the vilest of men coming to him, shall find a righteousness in him to be communicated to them; so that they that are far from righteousness shall be wrapt up in a perfect righteousness, if they will take Christ to them as God has made him.
(3.) Man is unholy, unfit for communion with a holy God here or hereafter. His soul is dead in sin, his lusts live and are vigorous in him; so that he is no more meet for heaven than a sow for a palace. The natural man, to help himself in this point, calls together his natural powers as in a solemn day, and endeavours to set about his duty, and turn the stream of his life and conversation into the channel of the law. Some prevail this way to the reformation of their outward conversation; but there is as much difference betwixt true holiness and their attainment, as between a living body and an embalmed corpse. Others find all their endeavours to no purpose, and so they come to despair of sanctification, and therefore even lay the reins on the necks of their lusts, Jer. 2:25. And how can it be otherwise in either of them? for, like fools or madmen, they go into the mire to wash themselves clean; the house that must be razed from the foundation, they go to patch up and repair; for in their attempts for holiness, they act as if they had need of nothing but activity to use and improve their natural abilities for sanctification; which is as opposite to the doctrine of the gospel, as to say, the cripple needs but to set himself to rise and walk, and he will be cured, is contrary to common sense: for our natural abilities will serve us no more for sanctification, than the cripple’s legs will serve him to walk. Let men learn from Job, that where the whole body is all full of boils and sores, their hands are not fit to scrape the sores on the rest of their body, being as ill themselves as any other part: therefore he took a potsherd, and scraped himself. And while to the unbelieving there is nothing pure; their very natural powers being defiled, can never purify the man.
But for remedy in this, Christ is made sanctification. There is a fulness of the spirit of holiness lodged in him, to be communicated to the unholy; and to him God sends the unholy sinner, that out of his fulness he may receive, and grace for grace. Therefore the most sober natural man and strictest professor, who has hammered out of his mere natural abilities, assisted by external revelation, a life blameless before the world, being estranged still to the life of faith, must know that he has but put a new face on the old man, which Christ never intended to repair, but to destroy, Rom. 6:6; and must begin anew to attain true holiness, from and by him whom the Father has made sanctification to us. And the most polluted sinner, whose lusts are most raging, may confidently try this grand method of sanctification, which can no more fail him than God’s device can fail to reach the end he designed for it.
(4.) Man by the fall is become mortal, liable to many bodily infirmities and miseries, and at length must go to the grave, the house appointed for all living. Nature could find no remedy for this. The learned Athenians mocked at the resurrection of the dead, Acts 7:32; the Sadducees among the Jews denied it, Matth. 22:23. The unrenewed part of the world, who, by the benefit of external revelation, have embraced the doctrine of the resurrection, and particularly of the happy resurrection, have no other way to attain it, but what they follow to attain righteousness and sanctification; and that being insufficient to attain them, must be so also in this respect; for all their Christless endeavours leave them still under guilt and corruption; these bonds of death, wherewith the second death will draw them down into the pit, when they are raised out of their graves at the last day still hold them fast.
But man’s salvation cannot be complete without a remedy for this; therefore Christ is made ‘redemption,’ who will give in due time deliverance to his people from misery and death, which is called ‘the redemption of the body,’ Rom. 8:23. And in this sense he calls himself ‘the resurrection and the life,’ John 11:25. So redemption is in him, in so far as he has got above death and the power of the grave by his resurrection, and that as a public person, thereby ensuring the happy resurrection of all that are in him. Therefore, if ever we would get our heads above these waters, we must come to him.
Boston, T. (1848). The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 2. (S. M‘Millan, Ed.) (Vol. 2, pp. 5–8). Aberdeen: George and Robert King.