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John 17:17. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
The great end of the religion of Jesus Christ is to deliver fallen men from sin, and from all its consequences. In other words, it is to deliver them from guilt, depravity and misery; to restore them to the image and favor of God; and to make them perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of him to all eternity. And, truly, the most precious benefit that can be conferred on a rational creature who has departed from God, is to “turn him away from his iniquities;" to bring him back to the likeness and fellowship of infinite Excellence; and to unite him to the holy and happy society over which He who
came to seek and to save that which was lost,” presides as the Captain of salvation, as the covenant Head of all who are purchased by his atoning blood, and sanctified by his blessed Spirit. Hence the unspeakable importance of the Redeemer's prayer in our text, Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
The original meaning of the word here rendered “ sanctify," is to “ separate, or set apart” to a particular purpose. Thus we are commanded to “sanctify the Sabbath;" that is, to dedicate it to God; to set it apart from the other days of the week, for sacred employments. Thus, also, the vessels, and other furniture of the tabernacle and temple are said to have been “sanctified.” Not that they were made intrinsically holy; but they were set apart to the service of God. This kind of sanctification, however, is only external. There is another sense in which the term is employed, of far more importance; viz. to express real, internal devotedness or conformity to God. To be sanctified, in this sense, is to be restored to God's moral image; in other words, to be delivered from the power, and the pollution of sin, and to be made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.”
Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. He opens the eyes of the blinded and alienated sinner. He " takes away the hard and stony heart, and gives an heart of flesh.” This work is begun in regeneration. Then a new and holy disposition is imparted to the soul. Then the current of the affections is changed. Then in him who was “dead in trespasses and sins," a new and spiritual life is begun. He has new views, desires, pursuits, and enjoyments. And this benign work is always carried on by the same divine Power which begins it. “ Being confident,” says the apostle, “ of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it,” or finish it, “ until the day of Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit enables the happy subject of his grace more and more to “die unto sin and live unto righteousness;" to “ crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts;" and to become more and more like his blessed Master, until, at length, when released from his earthly tabernacle, he shall be presented “a perfect man in Christ Jesus; without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, before the presence of his glory with exceeding great joy.”
This most precious work of sanctification, we learn from our text, and from many other parts of Scripture, is effected by the instrumentality of the TRUTH. Sanctify them through thy truth.”. The great Author of this work, indeed, is able to sanctify a depraved creature without employing any means whatever for the purpose. But this is not his ordinary method. He works by means. He is not, it is true, confined to them. But He commonly employs them for accomplishing his purposes in the world of grace, as well as of nature. Ås the Holy Spirit is the appointed Agent, in the economy of grace, for effecting the work before us; so he has an appointed or fixed instrumentality for the purpose, and that is REVEALED TRUTH. By "truth,” we are to understand conformity to fact or reality; that which is opposed to falsehood-in other words, it is the correct exhibition of the great facts and principles which are contained in the revelation of God for guiding our faith and practice." “ Thy word,” says the Saviour, “is truth.” Every thing revealed in the word of God, relating either to doctrine, order or duty, belongs to that truth which infinite Wisdom has been pleased to impart for the instruction and sanctification of his people. For though all truth is not equally important; yet it is all really valuable and in proportion to the degree in which it is understood, embraced, and obeyed, will be its benign influence, both on individual Christians, and on the Church in her collective capacity.
The doctrine of our text, then, appears to be, that GOSPEL TRUTH IS THE GRAND MEANS WHICH GOD EMPLOYS FOR THE SANCTIFICATION
OF SINFUL MEN.
To illustrate and establish this position is the design of the present discourse. But before we proceed to the direct discussion of the subject, it may not be improper to interpose a word of caution on two or three important points. And,
First: We are not to suppose that Truth is able of itself to produce the sanctifying effect of which we speak. This blessed effect is produced, our text tells us, through the truth--that is, by means of it
the instrumental cause; not by its own inherent power as a primary agent. The truth, or the word of God, is the “sword of the Spirit.” The power which wields it is Divine. Without that divine energy, it would be as inert and powerless as any other word. Though it were held forth with all the logical force, and with all the touching eloquence that ever attended an angel's address, still never would it slay a single corruption, or penetrate effectually to the seat of moral sensibility and action, in a single soul, were it not borne home to the heart, and savingly applied by the almighty Spirit of God. We may sày of this, as well as of every other saving influence on the soul of man—"Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”
A second caution, to be ever borne in mind, when contemplating this subject, is, that the Holy Spirit, in applying the truth to the understanding, the conscience, and the heart of the sinner, does it in a manner fully consistent with his liberty and responsibility as a moral agent. No violence is done to any faculty. The truth is so exhibited, and the intellectual and active powers of the soul, so benignly influenced and wrought upon, that the happy subject of this influence is not forced against his will, but “made willing” to receive and obey the truth in the love of it. He is not wrought upon, as a workman operates upon a piece of inanimate matter; or as an officer of justice drags a reluctant criminal, contrary to his inclination, to a place of confinement. But by an almighty and sovereign moral influence, addressed to him as a rational creature; an influence immediately impressed on the soul; an influence by which he is made to see the reasonableness and excellence of divine things, and to give up his pride, prejudices and rebellion;—he cheerfully and cordially chooses the right way, and yields himself to the service of God, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” It has been sometimes asserted, indeed, that man is active in his own regeneration. This doctrine is either founded on a quibble, or it is a gross heresy. If it be intended to say, that the power of God in the regeneration of a sinner is exerted, not upon inert matter, but upon an active being;-that the moment he is made alive by the power of the Holy Ghost
, he begins to act spiritually and voluntarily; that in the instant of his vivification, he becomes active in holy affection and choice;- it is, doubtless, true; and there is nothing to complain of, but a vague expression, and a needless controversy about words. But if it be intended to convey the idea that the sinner originates as well as exercises his first holy choice; that the principle of obedience, or the cordial disposition to obey, which is prior, in the order of nature, to all holy acts, and from which they spring, is the product of his own activity;--in a word, that in the production of that state of
the soul from which holy exercises flow, the sinner is not acted upon, but acts; then the consequence is obvious. The sinner is the author of his own life. He is regenerated by himself, and not by the Holy Spirit. And, of course, the whole Bible doctrine of divine influence, as the only source of sanctification, is virtually abandoned.
The third and last preliminary remark which I beg may be kept in view, is, that the manner in which the Holy Spirit applies the truth to the soul, and by means of it renews and sanctifies the man, is unknown to us. I mean that what may be called the philosophy of this happy effect, is beyond our comprehension. * The wind bloweth,” said our Divine Master, “ where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” If we cannot unfold the philosophy of nutrition by food received into the animal body; much less can we understand how that Spirit who made every faculty, and sustains them every moment in exercise, can reach and immediately act upon them, without impairing their liberty; can enlighten, control and purify them, by the instrumentality of his own truth, and thus transforin them into his own image. Of the essence of things, or of the real nature of causation, in any case, or on any subject, we know nothing. Surely, then, it is no wonder that we cannot explain the nature and process of that divine causation by which the spiritually dead are made alive to God.” Our inability, however, to explain the process by which this blessed effect is produced, ought by no means to shake our belief in the fact, that it is by means of the truth that the sanctification of the soul is commenced and carried on. This, it is hoped, will be made to appear by adverting to the following considerations.
I. By attending to THE STRUCTURE OF THE HUMAN MIND. The character of every man is determined by the character of his mind. As it is the soul that may be said, emphatically, to constitute the man; so the state of the soul is decided by the principles and affections which govern it. A man's "principles” are his real impressions or convictions concerning moral and religious truth, or, in other words, concerning facts and duty. His principles are the basis of his conduct. No man is better than his principles; it is well if he be as good. Indeed, strictly speaking, it is impossible that any man should be better than his principles. This would be to suppose that a man, in pursuing a course of conduct, may deviate from his own deliberate and conscientious persuasion of what is right, and be commendable for doing so; that is, may be more worthy of praise, as a moral being, for going counter to his sincere convictions, than if he had acted in conformity with them. This is impossible. Nay, it is the highest absurdity. If a man's principles be wrong; that is, if his habitual belief or convictions concerning truth and duty be erroneous; he must, of necessity, act erroneously. He cannot but