by J. C. Ryle
I now propose to consider, in the last place, the distinction between justification and sanctification. Wherein do they agree, and wherein do they differ?
This branch of our subject is one of great importance, though I fear it will not seem so to all my readers. I shall handle it briefly, but I dare not pass it over altogether. Too many are apt to look at nothing but the surface of things in religion and regard nice distinctions in theology as questions of "words and names," which are of little real value. But I warn all who are in earnest about their souls that the discomfort which arises from not "distinguishing things that differ" in Christian doctrine is very great indeed; and I especially advise them, if they love peace, to seek clear views about the matter before us. Justification and sanctification are two distinct things, we must always remember. Yet there are points in which they agree and points in which they differ. Let us try to find out what they are.
In what, then, are justification and sanctification alike?
a. Both proceed originally from the free grace of God. It is of His gift alone that believers are justified or sanctified at all.
b. Both are part of that great work of salvation which Christ, in the eternal covenant, has undertaken on behalf of His people. Christ is the fountain of life, from which pardon and holiness both flow. The root of each is Christ.
c. Both are to be found in the same persons. Those who are justified are always sanctified, and those who are sanctified are always justified. God has joined them together, and they cannot be put asunder.
d. Both begin at the same time. The moment a person begins to be a justified person, he also begins to be a sanctified person. He may not feel it, but it is a fact.
e. Both are alike necessary to salvation. No one ever reached heaven without a renewed heart as well as forgiveness, without the Spirit’s grace as well as the blood of Christ, without a fitness for eternal glory as well as a title. The one is just as necessary as the other.
Such are the points on which justification and sanctification agree. Let us now reverse the picture and see wherein they differ.
a. Justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.
b. The righteousness we have by our justification is not our own, but the everlasting perfect righteousness of our great Mediator Christ, imputed to us, and made our own by faith. The righteousness we have by sanctification is our own righteousness, imparted, inherent and wrought in us by the Holy Spirit but mingled with much infirmity and imperfection.
c. In justification our own works have no place at all, and simple faith in Christ is the one thing needful. In sanctification our own works are of vast importance, and God bids us fight and watch and pray and strive and take pains and labor.
d. Justification is a finished and complete work, and a man is perfectly justified the moment he believes. Sanctification is an imperfect work, comparatively, and will never be perfected until we reach heaven.
e. Justification admits of no growth or increase: a man is as much justified the hour he first comes to Christ by faith as he will be to all eternity. Sanctification is eminently a progressive work and admits of continual growth and enlargement so long as a man lives.
f. Justification has special reference to our persons, our standing in God’s sight, and our deliverance from guilt. Sanctification has special reference to our natures and the moral renewal of our hearts.
g. Justification gives us our title to heaven and boldness to enter in. Sanctification gives us our fitness for heaven and prepares us to enjoy it when we dwell there.
h. Justification is the act of God about us and is not easily discerned by others. Sanctification is the work of God within us and cannot be hid in its outward manifestation from the eyes of men.
I commend these distinctions to the attention of all my readers, and I ask them to ponder them well. I am persuaded that one great cause of the darkness and uncomfortable feelings of many well–meaning people in the matter of religion is their habit of confounding, and not distinguishing, justification and sanctification. It can never be too strongly impressed on our minds that they are two separate things. No doubt they cannot be divided, and everyone that is a partaker of either is a partaker of both. But never, never ought they to be confounded, and never ought the distinction between them to be forgotten.
The nature and visible marks of sanctification have been brought before us. What practical reflections ought the whole matter to raise in our minds?
1. For one thing, let us all awake to a sense of the perilous state of many professing Christians. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord; without sanctification there is no salvation (Heb. 12:14). Then what an enormous amount of so–called religion there is which is perfectly useless! What an immense proportion of church–goers and chapel–goers are in the broad road that leads to destruction! The thought is awful, crushing and overwhelming. Oh, that preachers and teachers would open their eyes and realize the condition of souls around them! Oh, that men could be persuaded to "flee from the wrath to come"! If unsanctified souls can be saved and go to heaven, the Bible is not true. Yet the Bible is true and cannot lie! What must the end be!
2. Let us make sure work of our own condition and never rest until we feel and know that we are "sanctified" ourselves. What are our tastes and choices and likings and inclinations? This is the great testing question. It matters little what we wish and what we hope and what we desire to be before we die. What are we now? What are we doing? Are we sanctified or not? If not, the fault is all our own.
3. If we would be sanctified, our course is clear and plain: we must begin with Christ. We must go to Him as sinners, with no plea but that of utter need, and cast our souls on Him by faith, for peace and reconciliation with God. We must place ourselves in His hands, as in the hands of a good physician, and cry to Him for mercy and grace. We must wait for nothing to bring with us as a recommendation. The very first step towards sanctification, no less than justification, is to come with faith to Christ. We must first live and then work.
4. If we would grow in holiness and become more sanctified, we must continually go on as we began, and be ever making fresh applications to Christ. He is the Head from which every member must be supplied (Eph. 4:16). To live the life of daily faith in the Son of God and to be daily drawing out of His fullness the promised grace and strength which He has laid up for His people—this is the grand secret of progressive sanctification. Believers who seem at a standstill are generally neglecting close communion with Jesus, and so grieving the Spirit. He who prayed, "Sanctify them," the last night before His crucifixion is infinitely willing to help everyone who by faith applies to Him for help and desires to be made more holy.
5. Let us not expect too much from our own hearts here below. At our best we shall find in ourselves daily cause for humiliation and discover that we are needy debtors to mercy and grace every hour. The more light we have, the more we shall see our own imperfection. Sinners we were when we began, sinners we shall find ourselves as we go on: renewed, pardoned, justified, yet sinners to the very last. Our absolute perfection is yet to come, and the expectation of it is one reason why we should long for heaven.
6. Finally, let us never be ashamed of making much of sanctification and contending for a high standard of holiness. While some are satisfied with a miserably low degree of attainment, and others are not ashamed to live on without any holiness at all, content with a mere round of church–going and chapel–going, but never getting on, like a horse in a mill, let us stand fast in the old paths, follow after eminent holiness ourselves and recommend it boldly to others. This is the only way to be really happy.
Let us feel convinced, whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness and that the man who gets through life most comfortably is the sanctified man. No doubt there are some true Christians who from ill health, or family trials, or other secret causes, enjoy little sensible comfort and go mourning all their days on the way to heaven. But these are exceptional cases. As a general rule, in the long run of life, it will be found true, that "sanctified" people are the happiest people on earth. They have solid comforts which the world can neither give nor take away. "The ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness." "Great peace have those who love Your law." It was said by One who cannot lie: "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." But it is also written, "There is no peace unto the wicked" (Prov. 3:17; Ps. 119:165)
P. S. THE subject of sanctification is of such deep importance, and the mistakes made about it so many and great, that I make no apology for strongly recommending” Owen on the Holy Spirit” to all who want to study more thoroughly the whole doctrine of sanctification. No single paper like this can embrace it all. I am quite aware that Owen's writings are not fashionable in the present day, and that many think fit to neglect and sneer at him as a Puritan! Yet the great divine who in Commonwealth times was Deanof Christ Church, Oxford, does not deserve to be treated in this way. He had more learning and sound knowledge of Scripture in his little finger than many who depreciate him have in their whole bodies. I assert unhesitatingly that the man who wants to study experimental theology will find no books equal to those of Owen and some of his contemporaries, for complete, Scriptural, and exhaustive treatment of the subjects they handle.
Excerpt from Holiness by J. C. Ryle