BOOK REVIEW: Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

Lafayette, Sovereign Grace Publisher, Inc, 2001, pg. 136.

Summary: Walter Marshall (1628-1679) was a little-known Puritan/Congregationalist writer who struggled to have a sense security in his salvation because of the prevailing articulation of the gospel by the Roman Catholics, Quakers, the Anglicans, and his fellow Puritans. In attempting to halt the rise of antinomianism and social discord, many Christians had begun to preach moralism. Ultimately, Marshall concluded that a religion of moralism is the default setting of the flesh:

The most of men, that have any sense of religion, are prone to imagine, that the sure way to establish the practice of holiness and righteousness, is to make it the procuring condition of the favor of God, and all happiness. This may appear by the various false religions that have prevailed most in the world. In this way the Heathens were brought to their best devotion and morality, by the knowledge of the judgment of God, that those that violate of the great duties to God and their neighbor, are worthy of death; and by their consciences accusing or excusing them, according to the practice of them (Rom. 1:32; 2:14, 15)…Yet, because our own consciences testify, that we often fail in the performance of these duties, we are inclined by self-love to persuade ourselves, that our sincere endeavors to do the best that we can, shall be sufficient to procure the favor of God and pardon for all our failings…it is very difficult to persuade men out of a way that they are naturally addicted to, and that has forestalled and captivated their judgments, and is bred in their bone, and therefore cannot easily be gotten out of the flesh (Dir. 6, 1st para., pg. 40).

Moralism in its Christian guise holds that “a person’s repentance and sincere obedience to Christ contributed to personal justification” (cf. C. Fitzsimons Allison, The Rise of Moralism, quoted from the description of 2003 edition). The religion or moralism according to Marshall and the Bible is “bred in [our] bone.” And it exists in formal theology and informal practice and habits of mind.

Further, he argues that “men’s mistaking the true way of sanctification, is the cause of perverting the scripture in other points of faith, and of declining from the truth to Popish, Socinian, and Arminian tenets; because men cannot seriously take that for truth, which they judge not to be according to godliness” (121). Almost all errors of theology are traced to this root.

The principle work of God of which our Lord informs us is—“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).

Faith is the victory in salvation and sanctification.

Benefits/Detriments: A sweet balm and succor to my soul. It’s fairly scholastic, but I would rank it with Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Owen’s Communion with God, and Lewis’s The Great Divorce. I don’t know of anything better on sanctification from a technical standpoint. Take and read.

Exemplar quotes.

“And, no doubt, Christ is thus united to many infants, who have the spirit of faith, and yet cannot act faith, because they are not come to the use of their understanding; but those of riper years, that are joined passively to Christ by the spirit of faith, will also join themselves with Him actively, by the act of faith, and, until they act this faith, they cannot know or enjoy their union with Christ, and the comfort of it, or make use of it, in acting any other duties of holiness acceptably in this life” (34).

“Even those that in a new state in Christ, and do serve the law of God with their mind, do yet with their flesh serve the law of sin (Rom. 7:25). As far as remains it remains in them, it lusts against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17); and it remains dead, because of the sin, even when the Spirit is life to them, because of righteousness (Rom. 8:10); and must be wholly abolished by death, before we can be perfected in that holiness and happiness that is by faith in Christ” (37).

“Repentance is indeed a duty which sinners owe naturally to God; but the great question, How shall sinners be able to perform it? This question is resolved only by the gospel of Christ, Repent and believe. The way to repent is to begin with believing” (54).

“The way to get rid of your raging lusts, is by faith, that purifies the heart, and works by love (Acts 15:9; Gal. 5:6). The soul must be brought to take pleasure in God and Christ by faith, or else it will lust after fleshly and worldly pleasures. And the more you strive against lusts without faith, the more they are stirred up; through you prevails so far as to restrain the fulfilling of them. Beg a holy fear of God, with fear of coming short of the promised rest through unbelief (Heb. 4:1)” (56).

“To help you hear, I have given you before, in this treatise, a description of saving faith; and have shown that it contains two acts in it; the one is, believing the truth of the gospel; the other is, believing on Christ as revealed, and freely promised to us in the gospel, for all his salvation. Now, your great endeavor must be, to perform both these acts; as I shall show concerning each of them in particular…There is some false imagination or other in them contrary to the belief of the truth of the gospel; which is a stronghold of sin and Satan, that must be pulled down, before they can receive Christ into their hearts by believing in on Him” (81).

“If a prophet, or an angel from heaven were sent of God, on purpose to declare, that the sentence of everlasting damnation is declared against you; it would be your duty to believe, that God sent him to give you a timely warning, for this very end, that you might believe, and turn to God by faith and repentance…Jonah preached nothing but certain destruction to Nineveh, to be executed upon them in forty days (chap. 3:4); yet the intent of that terrible message was, that those heathenish people might escape destruction by repentance” (84).

“If the swimmer will not commit his body wholly to the water to bear him up, but catch at weeds, or struggle to feel out the ground, may sink to the bottom. Christ will be our salvation, or nothing. If we seek to be saved any other way, as the Galatians did, by circumcision, Christ will profit us nothing (Gal. 5:2)” (85-86).

“Our way to mortify sinful affections and lusts, must be, not by purging them out of the flesh, but by putting of the flesh itself, and getting above into Christ by faith, and walk in that new nature that is by him. Thus, ‘the way of life is above the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath’ (Prov. 15:24). Our willing, resolving, and endeavoring, must be, to do the best, not that lies in ourselves, or in our own power, but that Christ, and the power of His Spirit, shall be pleased to work in us: for, in us (that is, in our flesh) there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18)” (96).

Shane Walker is preaching pastor at First Baptist Church in Watertown, Wisconsin. This post appeared on the blog of Andover Baptist Church in Linthicum, Maryland.