29 March 2015

John Owen on the Sense Which the Old Man is Dead

Indwelling sin is compared to a person, a living person, called "the old man," with his faculties, and properties, his wisdom, craft, subtlety, strength; this, says the apostle, must be killed, put to death, mortified,— that is, have its power, life, vigour, and strength, to produce its effects, taken away by the Spirit. It is, indeed, meritoriously, and by way of example, utterly mortified and slain by the cross of Christ; and the “old man” is thence said to be “crucified with Christ,” Rom. vi. 6,and ourselves to be “dead” with him, verse 8, and really initially in regeneration, Rom. vi.3–5, when a principle contrary to it, and destructive of it, Gal. v. 17, is planted in our hearts; but the whole work is by degrees to be carried on towards perfection all our days. -Mortification of Sin I.4.3, emphasis mine
He tells us whence it is that we have this baptism into the death of Christ, verse 6; and this is from the death of Christ itself: "Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed;" συνεσταυρώθη, "is crucified with him," not in respect of time, but causality. We are crucified with him meritoriously, in that he procured the Spirit for us to mortify sin; efficiently, in that from his death virtue comes forth for our crucifying; in the way of a representation and exemplar we shall assuredly be crucified unto sin, as he was for our sin. This is that the apostle intends: Christ by his death destroying the works of the devil, procuring the Spirit for us, hath so killed sin, as to its reign in believers, that it shall not obtain its end and dominion. - XIV, emphasis mine
Notwithstanding the meritorious mortification, if I may so speak, of all and every sin in the cross of Christ; notwithstanding the real foundation of universal mortification laid in our first conversion, by conviction of sin, humiliation for sin, and the implantation of a new principle opposite to it and destructive of it; — yet sin doth so remain, so act and work in the best of believers, whilst they live in this world, that the constant daily mortification of it is all their days incumbent on them. - II.6, emphasis mine
If you say that "the old has passed away" (2 Cor 5:17) 100% without qualification in some sense, then John Owen disagrees with you. He says that the "old man" is crucified with Christ--"utterly" dead and gone--in these qualified senses:

  • meritoriously
  • efficiently
  • in example

But as far as being "really" dead and gone, it is only true "initially." Regeneration is not a complete change but "the implantation of a new principle." It is not a new structure altogether but only a new "foundation."

This should be encouraging for the newer believer who sees the same old sins creeping back when he thought they were totally gone. Don't worry that maybe you aren't saved. This is normal.

23 March 2015

Notes on Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by puritan Walter Marshall was first published in 1692. A short biography of Marshall is here. There's also some good info here. The following are some of my notes and reflections on the book. A free pdf of the book which I'm reading from is here.

To give an idea of the theological persuasion he writes from, I would say we'd know him as Reformed. When he addresses baptism, he clearly isn't a (credo-) Baptist (13.2.4). When he addresses the Lord's Supper, he indicates it is more than a memorial and so wouldn't align with most evangelicals today, but he also disagrees with Roman Catholics and Lutherans (3.2). So by elimination this would make him Reformed. (Of course there's more to this than views on sacraments, but it's a pretty good initial indicator.)

The book is about sanctification. The end goal is "that we may acceptably perform the duties of holiness and righteousness required in the law," or "the immediate practice of the law," or "cheerful obedience to God":
It consists not only in external works of piety and charity, but in the holy thoughts, imaginations and affections of the soul, and chiefly in love, from whence all other good works must flow, or else they are not acceptable to God; not only in refraining the execution of sinful lusts, but in longing and delighting to do the will of God and in a cheerful obedience to God, without repining, fretting, grudging at any duty, as if it were a grievous yoke and burden to you. (1.1)
Before getting into details, in chapter 1 Marshall gives a sort of preface. He basically says a critical part of growing in sanctification is to understand it more. It isn't enough for a Christian to simply be told what to do and then be expected to do it. We need to have an understanding in our minds of how sanctification works. He didn't write the book as a mere theoretical exercise, but because he believed readers like me need an understanding of sanctification's process in order to grow in holiness. In the act of studying this topic, we are on a crucial step towards becoming holy. I think this says a lot about the importance of doctrinal teaching and theology in the life of a believer. However he does also say later that sanctification is a mystery that happens in us without fully understanding it.

By Faith

The essential point to learn from the book is: the maturing Christian life should be viewed as growing in faith. While there is much effort involved on our part, deepening and strengthening faith in Christ is to be the goal of that effort. Especially when he addresses means of grace, he is concerned to emphasize their value only insofar as they are done with faith.

Why is faith so essential? Obviously cheerful obedience to God is impossible for the unregenerate person. Faith is essential to becoming regenerate. This happens when a person hears the gospel and the Spirit graciously works faith into the heart. As a "new creation," having a new state of being, a person will then live in cheerful obedience to God. However, even as a new creation, the old nature is still present in that person, and thus obedience continues to be difficult as the old man and new man are in conflict. Faith is essential at this stage because, according to Marshall, it is only by faith that we are united to Christ and can walk according to the new nature, which is Christ himself living in us. The stronger one's faith in Christ, the more he will operate as the new man, and thus the greater his obedience to God. Section 11.4 is so good that I have to quote here large portions of it:
If the new nature be really in us by regeneration, it will have an appetite to its own continuance and increase until it come to perfection, as the new-born babe (1Peter 2:2). And we are not only to receive Christ and a new holy nature by faith, but also to live and walk by it, and to ‘resist the devil’, and to ‘quench all his fiery darts’ by it; and also to ‘ grow in grace’, and to ‘perfect holiness in the fear of God’; for we ‘are kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation’ (1Peter 1:5). As all our Christian warfare is the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12), all spiritual life and holiness continue, grow or decay in us, according as faith continues, grows or decays in us, but when this faith begins to sink by fears and doubtings, the man himself begins to sink together with it (Matt. 14: 29-31). Faith is like the hand of Moses; while it is held up, Israel prevails; when it is let down, Amalek prevails (Exod. 17:11). This continuance and growth in faith will require our labor and industry as well as the beginning, though we are to ascribe the glory of all to the grace of God in Christ, who is the finisher, as well as the author of it (Heb. 12:2)... You must therefore endeavor to continue and go on in the same right manner as I have taught you to begin this great work of believing in Christ, that your faith may be of the same nature from the beginning to the end, though it increase in degrees, for our faith is imperfect and joined with much unbelief in this world and we have need to pray still, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24), and therefore we have need to strive for more faith, that we may receive Christ in greater perfection... Beware also of trusting on faith itself, as a work of righteousness, instead of trusting on Christ by faith. If you do not find that your believing in such a right manner as I have described does produce such fruits of holiness as you desire, you ought not to diminish, but rather to increase your confidence in Christ, knowing that the weakness of your faith hinders its fruitfulness. And the greater your confidence is concerning the love of God to you in Christ, the greater will be your love to God and to His service... Strive to keep and to increase faith by faith, that is, by acting faith frequently, by trusting on God to keep and to increase it, ‘being confident, that He which has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6). (11.4)
A Mystery: Union With Christ

What is the "gospel mystery" of sanctification? It is the mystery of the believer's union with Christ. How exactly a person is united to Christ is a mystery that Marshall puts up there along with the Trinity and the incarnation. But this mystery of union with Christ relates to sanctification because the "new man" which is ready and able to obey is actually Christ himself living in us. This is, again, why it comes back to faith: a person is united to Christ by faith. This concept of union with Christ is important because it changes how we think about becoming holy. It is the difference between struggling to become holy and living in Christ's holiness as we receive it from him. As Marshall says, we are no more active in producing a new nature as we are in producing original sin:
One great mystery is that the holy frame and disposition, by which our souls are furnished and enabled for immediate practice of the law, must be obtained by receiving it out of Christ’s fullness, as a thing already prepared and brought to an existence for us in Christ and treasured up in Him; and that as we are justified by a righteousness wrought out in Christ and imputed to us, so we are sanctified by such a holy frame and qualifications as are first wrought out and completed in Christ for us, and then imparted to us... So that we are not at all to work together with Christ, in making or producing that holy frame in us, but only to take it to ourselves, and use it in our holy practice, as made ready to our hands... Therefore many that are seriously devout take a great deal of pains to mortify their corrupt nature and beget a holy frame of heart in themselves by striving earnestly to master their sinful lusts, and by pressing vehemently on their hearts many motives to godliness, laboring importunately to squeeze good qualifications out of them, as oil out of a flint. They account that, though they be justified by a righteousness wrought out by Christ, yet they must be sanctified by a holiness wrought out by themselves... If they knew that this way of entrance is not only harsh and unpleasant, but altogether impossible; and that the true way of mortifying sin and quickening themselves to holiness is by receiving a new nature, out of the fullness of Christ; and that we do no more to the production of a new nature than of original sin, though we do more to the reception of it - if they knew this, they might save themselves many a bitter agony, and a great deal of misspent burdensome labor, and employ their endeavors to enter in at the strait gate, in such a way as would be more pleasant and successful. (3.1) 
So, the short answer: How do we attain cheerful obedience to God? By believing in Christ and walking in Him by faith. Just as initial faith is created in a person by the Holy Spirit as the person hears the gospel, and the person is therein united to Christ, so faith grows throughout the believer's life by continuing to hear, understand, and believe the gospel more and more. What specifically should we believe? This is one aspect of the book that is really helpful and so I'll attempt to outline everything here. He says there are essentially two things to believe: "Saving faith...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," (11.2). These two principal parts he further breaks down as follows:
  • You must believe with a full persuasion that you are a child of wrath by nature, as well as others, fallen from God by the sin of the first Adam; dead in trespasses and sins, subject to the curse of the law of God, and to the power of Satan, and to insupportable misery to all eternity; and that you cannot possibly procure your reconciliation with God, or any spiritual life and strength to do any good work, by any endeavoring to get salvation according to the terms of the legal covenant... This is all necessary to work in us true humiliation, self-despair and self-loathing, that we may highly esteem, and earnestly seek the salvation of Christ as the one thing necessary. (
  • You are to believe assuredly that there is no way to be saved without receiving all the saving benefits of Christ: His Spirit as well as His merits, sanctification as well as remission of sins, by faith... It is also the ruin of souls to seek only remission of sins by faith in Christ, and holiness by our endeavours, according to the terms of the law; whereas we can never live to God in holiness, except we be dead to the law, and live only by Christ living in us by faith. (
  • You are to be fully persuaded of the all-sufficiency of Christ for the salvation of yourself, and of all that believe on Him; that His blood cleanses from all sin (
  • You are to be fully persuaded of the truth of the general free promise, in your own particular case, that if you believe on Christ sincerely, you shall have everlasting life, as well as any other in the world, without performing any condition of works to procure an interest in Christ, for the promise is universal: ‘Whoever believes on Him, shall not be ashamed’ (Rom. 9:33), without exception. (
  • You are to believe assuredly that it is the will of God you should believe in Christ, and have eternal life by Him, as well as any other; and that your believing is a duty very acceptable to God; and that He will help you, as well as any other, in this work, because He calls and commands you by the gospel to believe in Christ. (
  • Add to all these a full persuasion of the incomparable glorious excellency of Christ, and of the way of salvation by Him. You are to esteem the enjoyment of Christ as the only salvation and true happiness, and such happiness as has in it unsearchable riches of glory, and will make our cup to run over with exceeding abundance of peace, and joy, and glory, to all eternity. (
  • You are to believe in Christ as alone sufficient, and all sufficient for your happiness and salvation, despairing altogether of any attainment of happiness by our own wisdom, strength, works of righteousness, or any fleshly, worldly confidences whatever. (
  • You are also to receive Christ merely as a free gift, given to the chief of sinners, resolving that you will not perform any conditions to procure yourselves a right and title to Him, but that you will come to Him as a lost sinner, an ungodly creature, trusting on ‘Him that justifies the ungodly’, and that you will ‘buy Him without money,’ and ‘without any price’ whatever (Rom. 4:5; Isa. 55:2). Look not on your faith or love, or any good qualifications in yourselves, as the grounds of your trusting in Christ, but only to the free grace and loving-kindness of God in Christ. (
  • Another thing to be observed diligently is that you must come to Christ for a new holy heart and life and all things necessary for this, as well as for deliverance from the wrath of God and the torments of hell. You must also come to Him with an ardent love and affection to Him, and esteem Him better than a thousand worlds, and the only excellent portion, loathing and abhorring yourself as a vile, sinful and miserable creature, and accounting all things dung in comparison of His excellency; that you may be able to say from the bottom of your heart, ‘Whom have I in heaven but You? There is none on earth that I desire besides You’ (Ps. 73:25). (
  • Lastly, you must endeavor to draw near with ‘full assurance of faith’ (Heb. 10:22), trusting on Christ confidently for your own particular salvation, upon the account of that general promise ‘that whoever believes on Christ shall not be ashamed’ (Rom. 9:33). (
The Logical Progression

Let me now step back and walk through the logical progression. You can see this for yourself in the chapter summaries below but I find it helpful to put into my own words:
  1. How can I cheerfully obey God? By having a will that is inclined to obey. "An inclination and propensity of heart to the duties of the law is necessary to frame and enable us for the immediate practice of them," (2.1). He argues at length that a free will isn't enough to choose right. We need to actually be inclined towards choosing right.
  2. How can my will become inclined to obey? By being persuaded of three things. Since we are intelligent creatures, he says that attaining to such an inclination happens by reason. So the following speaks of being "persuaded" so as to make our will inclined towards good in a rational way:
    1. "We must be persuaded of our reconciliation with God," (2.2). He goes on here to make clear justification is by grace alone apart from works. "God has abundantly discovered to us in His Word that His method in bringing men from sin to holiness of life is first, to make them know that He loves them and that their sins are blotted out," (2.2.5).
    2. "We must be persuaded of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happiness," (2.3). Here he makes a case for the hope of heavenly reward as motivation in obedience. I understand him to speaking of heavenly happiness as something promised us in justification/adoption, not as a reward for works. "Persuasion of our firm reconciliation with God by our justification... includes a persuasion of this future happiness," (2.3.1). But he also affirms that the way to eternal happiness is holiness: "Perfect holiness is a necessary part of that happiness, and that though we have a title to that happiness by free justification and adoption, yet we must go to the possession of it in a way of holiness (1John  3:1-3)," (2.3.3). Because I want happiness for myself, my will is inclined to obey God when I realize my eternal happiness is found in holiness.
    3. "We must be persuaded of sufficient strength both to will and perform our duty acceptably, until we come to the enjoyment of the heavenly happiness," (2.4). I think he's saying we can and must believe God will provide us the power/strength/ability to obey.
  3. How can I attain a will persuaded of these things? By receiving a new nature "out of the fullness of Christ, by fellowship with Him." The old nature is incapable of willing good or of being persuaded.
  4. How do I receive a new nature? By being united to Christ.
  5. How can I be united to Christ? The Spirit unites me to Christ by faith through the gospel. By faith in Christ I receive Christ himself. His Spirit dwells in me. In receiving the Spirit of Christ I become persuaded of the items above. (See and in particular for connecting this point back to my point 2.)
  6. The old nature and new nature coexist in a regenerate person, so how can I operate more and more as the new man? By setting my mind on the principles which correspond to the new nature. The "elementary principles" as scripture speaks of are what correspond to the old nature, which is to take in a rule or law and work hard to perform it. The principle corresponding to the new nature is faith in Christ, relying upon him and in his power.
  7. What means or practices correspond to the principles of the new nature to grow in faith? The means he finds appointed in scripture are as follows.
Means of Grace: God's Word
We must endeavor diligently to know the Word of God contained in the Holy Scripture, and to improve it to this end that we may be made wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2Tim. 3:15) (13.2.1)
But here our great work must be to get such a knowledge of the Word as is necessary and sufficient to guide us in the receiving Christ, and walking in Him by faith.
He encourages a continual seeking of the law in its first use in order to flee more and more to Christ. He then cautions:
Yet let me caution you lest, instead of gaining Christ by your knowledge, you rather lose Him by putting your knowledge in the place of Christ, and trusting on it for your salvation. One cause of the Jews perishing was that they rested in a form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law (Rom. 2:20). And, doubtless, all that many Christians will gain by their knowledge in the end will only be to be beaten with more stripes, because they place their religion and salvation chiefly in the knowledge of their Lord’s will, and in their ability to talk and dispute it, without preparing themselves to do according thereunto (Luke 12:47). Much less are you to place your religion and hope of salvation in a daily task of reading chapters, or repeating sermons, without understanding more than the Papists do their lessons in the Latin mass and canonical hours; as sad experience shows that many seemingly devout and frequent hearers of the Word do notwithstanding remain in lamentable and wonderful ignorance of the saving truth.
Means of Grace: Self-Examination

The next means is self-examination. This is not at all about "sin-sniffing" but is actually more like "grace-sniffing," to see if there is any hint of holiness in our lives.
Another means to be used diligently for the promoting the life of faith is examination of our state and ways according to the Word, whether we be at present in a state of sin and wrath, or of grace and salvation; that, if we be in a state of sin, we may know our sickness and come to the great Physician while it is called today; and, if we be in a state of grace, we may know that we are of the truth, and assure our hearts before God with greater confidence, by the testimony of a good conscience (1John 3:19, 21); that so our hearts may be more strongly comforted by faith and established in every good work; and that, if our ways be evil, we may turn from them to the Lord our God through Christ; without whom none come to the Father (Lam. 3:40; John 14:6). But your great care in this work of self-examination must be to perform it in such a manner that it may not hinder and destroy the life of faith, as it does in many, instead of promoting it. Therefore, beware lest you trust upon your self-examination, rather than upon Christ, as some do, that think they have made their peace with God merely because they have examined themselves upon their sick bed, or before the receiving of the Lord’s Supper, though they have found themselves stark naught, and do not depend on Christ to make them better, but on their own deceitful purposes and resolutions. (13.2.2)
He offers a list of questions to ask ourselves (below) with this encouragement, "If you find in yourself a faith that has these properties, though as small as a grain of mustard seed, and opposed with much unbelief and manifold corruptions in your soul, you may conclude that you are in a state of salvation at present, and that your remaining work is to continue and grow in it more and more, and to walk worthy of it."
  1. Are we made thoroughly sensible of our sinfulness, and of the deadness and misery of our natural state, so as to despair absolutely of ever attaining to any righteousness, holiness or true happiness, while we continue in it?
  2. Are the eyes of our understanding enlightened to see the excellency of Christ, and the alone sufficiency and all sufficiency of His grace for our salvation?
  3. Do we prefer the enjoyment of Him above all things, and desire it with our whole heart, as our only happiness, whatsoever we may suffer for His sake?
  4. Do we desire with our whole heart to be delivered from the power and practice of sin, as well as from the wrath of God, and the pains of hell?
  5. Do our hearts come to Christ and lay hold on Him for salvation, by trusting Him only, and endeavoring to trust on Him confidently, notwithstanding all fears and doubts that assault us?
Means of Grace: Meditation on Scripture
Meditation on the Word of God is of very great use and advantage for the attainment and practice of holiness through faith in Christ. (13.2.3)
A habitual knowledge of the Word will not profit us, without an active minding of it by frequent meditation.
He indicates this is to be our mind's focus all the time, "yes, ‘day and night’ (Ps. 1:2), even in our ordinary employment at home and abroad." But again a caution:
But here our greatest skill and chiefest concernment lies in practicing this duty in such a manner as that it may be subservient, and not at all opposite to the life of faith. We must not rely upon the performance of a daily task of meditation as a work of righteousness for the procurement of the favor of God, instead of relying on the righteousness of Christ - as indeed we are prone to do, to catch at any straw, rather than to trust only on the free grace of God in Christ for our salvation. And the end of our meditation must not be mere speculation and knowledge of the truth, but rather the vigorous pressing it upon our consciences, and the stirring up our hearts and affections to the practice of it...But, that we may receive this life and strength, by which we are enabled for immediate performance, we must meditate believing on Christ’s saving benefits, as they are discovered in the gospel; which is the only doctrine which is the power of God to our salvation, and by which the quickening Spirit is ministered to us, and that is able to build us up, and give us an inheritance among all them that are sanctified (Rom. 1:16; 2Cor. 3:6; Acts 20:32). You must take special care to act faith in your meditation; mix the Word of God’s grace with it, or else it will not profit you (Heb. 4:2).
Means of Grace: Baptism

Next is reflecting on one's baptism.
Though baptism be administered to us but once in our lives, yet we ought frequently to reflect upon it, and upon all occasions to put the question to ourselves: ‘Unto what were we baptized?’ (Acts 19:3). What does this ordinance seal? What did it engage us to? And accordingly we must stir up and strengthen ourselves by our baptism to lay hold on the grace which it seals to us, and to fulfill its engagements. We should often remember that we are made Christ’s disciples by baptism, and engaged to hear Him, rather than Moses, and to believe on Him for our salvation; as John baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying to people that they should believe on Him that should come after him, that is on Christ Jesus. We should remember that our baptism sealed our putting on of Christ, and our being the children of God by faith in Christ, and our being no longer under the former schoolmaster, the law (Gal. 3:25-27); and that it sealed to us the putting off the body of sin, and our burial and resurrection with Christ by faith, and the forgiving of our trespasses (Col. 2:12, 13); our being made members of one body, Christ; and to drink into one Spirit (1Cor. 12:12, 13). We may find by such things as these, which are more fully discovered in the gospel, that it is the proper nature and tendency of baptism to guide us to faith in Christ alone for remission of sins, holiness and all salvation, by union and fellowship with Him; and that a diligent improvement of this ordinance must needs be of great advantage to the life of faith. (13.2.4)
And also warnings:
Beware also of making an idol of baptism, and putting it in the place of Christ, as the Papists do, who hold that it confers grace by the very work that is performed in the administration of it, and as many ignorant people do, that trust rather on their baptism than on Christ - like the Pharisees, who placed their confidence on circumcision and other external privileges (Phil. 3:4, 5).
Means of Grace: The Lord's Supper
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is as a spiritual feast to nourish our faith, and to strengthen us to walk in all holiness by Christ living and working in us, if it be used according to the pattern which Christ gave us in its first institution recorded by three evangelists (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19, 20), and was extraordinarily revealed from heaven by Christ Himself to the apostle Paul (1Cor. 11:23-25), that we might be the more obliged and stirred up to the exact observation of it. Its end is not only that we may remember Christ’s death in the history, but in the mystery of it: as that His body was broken for us, that His blood is the blood of the New Testament, or covenant, shed for us, and for many, for the remission of sins, that so we may receive and enjoy all the promises of the new covenant which are recorded (Heb. 8:10-12). Its end is to mind us that Christ’s body and blood are bread and drink, even all-sufficient food to nourish our souls to everlasting life; and that we ought to take, and eat, and drink Him by faith; and to assure us that, when we ‘truly believe on Him, He is as really and closely united to us by His Spirit, as the food which we eat and drink is united to our bodies’. Christ Himself (John 6) does more fully explain this mystery. Furthermore, this sacrament does not only put us in mind of the spiritual blessings wherewith we are blessed in Christ, and our enjoyment of them by faith, but also it is a means and instrument by which God does really exhibit and give forth Christ and His salvation to true believers, and by which He does stir up and strengthen believers to receive and feed upon Christ by present actings of faith, while they partake of the outward elements. (13.2.5)
And also warnings:
There are other abuses of this ordinance, like to those of baptism fore-mentioned, by which it is rendered opposite, rather than subservient to the life of faith. Some put it in the place of Christ, by trusting on it as a work of righteousness for the procuring of God’s favor, or an ordinance sufficient to confer grace to the soul by the very work wrought. Others make it so necessary that they account faith is not sufficient without it; and therefore they will partake of it, if they can possibly, though it be in a disorderly manner, upon their sick-beds, when they are in fear of death, as their viaticum [i.e. deathbed eucharist]. The Papists do horribly idolize it by their figment of transubstantiation, and the adoration of the bread as god, and their sacrifice of the mass for the sins of the quick and the dead. We ought warily to conceive that the true body and blood of Christ are given to us, with the bread and wine, in a spiritual mysterious manner, by the unsearchable operation of the Holy Spirit, uniting Christ and us together by faith, without any transubstantiation in the outward elements."
Means of Grace: Prayer

Marshall defines prayer as, "the making our requests with supplication and thanksgiving," (13.2.6). Of prayer he says:
Though [God's] will will not be changed by this means (prayer), yet it is accomplished ordinarily and His purpose is to accomplish it this way. And therefore, trusting assuredly should not make us neglect but rather perform this duty (2Sam. 7:27).
Prayer is so essential to the life of faith that he has strong words for those who don't pray: "Prayerless people are dead to God. If they are children of Zion, yet they are but stillborn, dead children, they cry not (Acts 9:11), not written among the living in Jerusalem; heathens in nature, though Christians in name (Jer. 10:25)."

When should we pray?
Hence the frequent use of this duty is commended to us (Eph. 6:18): praying always, on all seasons and opportunities and, by the example of the saints, in public with the congregation (Acts 2:42; 10:30, 31). Solemn acts of prayer should be continued daily (Matt. 6:11); yes, several times in a day, as morning and evening sacrifice (Dan. 6: 10; Ps. 92:2); or thrice (Ps. 55:17); besides special occasions (James 5:13, 14), and brief ejaculations that hinder not other business (Ps. 129:8; 2Sam. 15:31; Neh. 2:4). Prayers should be solemn, in our closets (Matt. 6:6), in families (Acts 10:30, 31). And as sacrifices were multiplied on the Sabbath days and days of atonement and at other appointed seasons (Num. 28), besides the continual burnt-offering, so ought prayer also.
How should we pray? First, he emphasizes prayer must be done with the heart and spirit along with understanding ( This is contrasted with thoughtlessly saying words, which prayers he says God does not hear. Second, we must pray in the name of Christ ( This is more than simply ending a prayer "in Jesus name, amen." I understand him saying we must pray with a sense of dependence on Christ's merits alone for anything we ask. "Praying in the Spirit is on gospel, not legal principles (Rom. 7:6; 2Cor. 3:3), with great humiliation and sense of unworthiness (Ps. 51), with a broken spirit, with despair of acceptance otherwise than upon Christ’s account (Dan. 9:18)." Third, we must pray "in faith of remission of sins and your acceptance with God," ( And so he says, "This faith you must endeavor to act, and therefore, if any sin lie on your conscience, you must strive first to get the pardon of it (Ps. 32:1, 5; 51:14, 15), and purification of it by faith, that you may lift up holy hands without wrath and doubting (1 Tim. 2:8)." He offers a few other points which I'll leave to you (section I'll only mention what he says about forms ( He commends the use of all Scripture as a prayer book. It is better to use forms than not pray at all. But we should go beyond these: "If you know the principles of prayer, and have a lively sense of your necessities, and hearty desires of God’s grace and mercies, you will be able to pray without forms, and your affections will bring forth words out of the fullness of your heart." Praying in only forms is to "quench the Spirit" and we must trust the Spirit to provide us with words.

How can prayer be made contrary to faith? By trusting in the act of prayer itself as a work of righteousness. Or by believing a certain form of prayer, like the Lord's prayer or other scripture, can be used like a spell, where God will more readily help us if we say just the right words. Or to think the physical place we are in can make a prayer more acceptable. (

So how does prayer strengthen faith? I'm still struggling to make sense of this. It's clear that prayer should be an expression of our faith. But how does prayer feed back into greater faith? It seems the answer is simple: God gives the grace of strengthened faith when we pray for it. "And as we act grace [in the work of prayer], so we obtain grace by it, and all holiness (Ps. 138:3; Luke 11:13; Heb. 4:16; Ps. 81:10). Our riches come in by it."

Means of Grace: Singing

"Another means appointed of God, is singing of psalms, that is, songs of any sacred subject composed to a tune, hymns or songs of praise and spiritual songs of any sublime spiritual manner, as Psalm 45 and the Song of Solomon," (13.2.7). He commends both the singing of scripture as well as writing our own songs. He says scripture teaches it is lawful for us to make songs provided "they be according to the Word (Isa. 38:9-14)."

The right use of singing is this: "You must use it for the same end as meditation and prayer, according to the nature of what is sung, that is, to quicken faith (2Chron. 20:21, 22; Acts 16:25, 26), and joy and delight in the Lord, glorying in Him (Ps. 104:33, 34; 105:3; 149:1, 2; 33: 1-3)... and also to get more knowledge and instruction in heavenly mysteries, and in your duty, teaching and admonishing (Col. 3:16). Many psalms are Maschils (as their title is), that is, psalms of instruction." The warning for the wrong use of singing is: "Trust not upon the melody of the voice, as if that pleased God, who delights only in the melody of the heart (Col. 3:16). Neither let the recreating your senses be your end, which is but a carnal work: Non musica chordula, sed cor; non clamans, sed amans, psallit in aure Dei: ‘Not a musical string, but the heart; nor crying, but loving sounds in the ear of the Lord.’ This spiritual music was typified by musical instruments of old."

He says psalms have two aspects that make them suited to teaching: the meter which makes them easily memorized, and the melody which creates delight in us "as a physical dose sugared."

He addresses singing Psalms that speak in the first person of things not true of ourselves. He says it isn't lying if we understand them to be for teaching: "David speaks of Christ as of Himself, as a pattern of affliction and virtue, to instruct others; and we sing such psalms, not as our words, but as words of our instruction... as in Psalms 6, 26, 46, 101 and 131."

Means of Grace: Fasting

"Fasting is also an ordinance of God to be used for the same purpose and end and is commended to us under the New Testament (Matt. 9:15; 17:21; 1Cor. 7:5). And we have examples of it (Acts 13:2,3; 14:23)," (13.2.8). It is to be used "as a help to extraordinary prayer and humiliation, that the mind may not be unsuited for it by eating, drinking or bodily pleasures (Joel 2:13; Isa. 22:12, 13; Zech. 12:10-14)."

If a fast doesn't actually help you focus on prayer, then you shouldn't go on with it. "Some have not enough of spiritual-mindedness to give up themselves to fasting and prayer without great distraction; and such had better eat than go beyond their strength in a thing not absolutely necessary, which produces only a slavish act, as in the case of virginity (1Cor. 7:7-9, 34-36). Christ would not have His weak disciples necessitated to the duty (Matt. 9:14, 15). In the meantime, such should strive to be sensible of the weakness and carnality that hinders their use of this excellent help."

The warning of wrong use: "Trust not in it as meriting or satisfying, as Papists and Pharisees do (Luke 18:12), putting it in the place of Christ; or as a means of itself conferring grace and mortifying lusts, as many do, who may sooner kill their bodies than their lusts; or as any purifying rite; yea, or in or for itself acceptable to God (1Tim. 4:8; Heb. 13:9; Col. 2:16, 17, 20, 23). Imagine not that prayer is not acceptable without it, for this is against faith. Fasts, as well as feasts, are no substantial parts of worship, because not spiritual, but bodily... The kingdom of God consists not in these things (Rom. 14:17). The soul is hardened by trusting in them (Isa. 58:3, 6; Zech. 7:5, 6, 10)."

Means of Grace: Not Vows

If anyone is expecting vows to be on this list, Marshall simply says they aren't useful:
You may expect here something to be spoken of vows. But I shall only say this of them. Think not to bring yourselves to good by vows and promises, as if the strength of your own law could do it when the strength of God’s law does it not. We bring children to make promises of amendment, but we know how well they keep them. The devil will urge you to vow, and then to break, that he may perplex your conscience the more. (13.2.9)
Means of Grace: Fellowship

The last identified means of grace is fellowship: "Another great mean is fellowship and communion with the saints (Acts 2:42)," (13.2.10). This is a larger section with lots of wisdom for church matters.

He doesn't really explain how fellowship strengthens faith. It's evident that some means mentioned above come to us in a church context, such as Word and sacrament. But having already addressed these he chooses to discuss "holy acts, by which we are rather doers than receivers, and which we perform towards others." I can see that such "one anothers" are good for mutual encouragement but he doesn't route this through faith so it seems to wander from his overall argument.

He argues that fellowship ought to be used for growth in holiness because:
  • "God communicates all salvation to a people ordinarily by, or in a church, either by taking them into fellowship, or holding forth the light of truth by His churches to the world." (
  • "Manifold helps to holiness" are received in fellowship, including (
    • The Word and sacraments (Acts 2:42; Isa. 2:3; Matt. 28:19, 20)
    • All the ministerial office and labor in watching our souls (Heb. 13:17; 1Thess. 5:12,13; Isa. 25:6)
    • Mutual admonition, instruction, consolation, to help each other when they are ready to fall, and to promote the good work in each other (1 Thess. 5:14).
    • External supports, which mitigate afflictions, and are to be communicated mutually (Eph. 4:28; 1Pet 4:9, 10).
    • Excommunication
    • The lively examples of saints are before our eyes in church fellowship, to teach and encourage (Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 2Tim. 3: 10, 11; 2Cor. 9:2).
  • By holy duties which we perform towards others:
    • Godly discourse, teaching, admonishing, comforting others in Christ
    • Doing good to other church members, which is to do good to Christ himself since it is his body. "We do good to Christ in His members in church fellowship; and we ourselves as members of Christ act as well from Christ as towards Christ; whereas, if we do good to others without [outside the church], we do good only for Christ’s sake, but not to Christ (Matt. 25:35-46; Ps. 16:2, 3)."
On excommunication, it is to be done "when offences are exceeding heinous or men obstinate in sin. This ordinance is appointed for the ‘destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved’ (1Cor. 5:5)." He says that such a person is still regarded as a church member, but "a pernicious rotten member at present, not fit for acts of communion. Besides, admonition is still to be afforded (2Thess. 3:15), and any means are to be used that may serve to cure and restore him."

The warnings for wrong use of church fellowship are:
  • "One rule is ‘Do not trust in church membership’, or on churches, as if this or that relation in fellowship commended you to God of itself, whereas, a church way is but a help to fellowship with Christ and walking in the duties of that fellowship."
  • We should not follow a church that doesn't follow Christ. "We are indeed to hear the church, but not every one that calls itself so, and none any farther than it speaks as a true church, according to the voice of the Shepherd (John 10:27). We must subject ourselves to ministers of Christ and stewards of His mysteries (1Cor. 4:1), but must give up ourselves first to Christ absolutely, and to the church according to the will of Christ (2Cor. 8:5)."
  • Don't refrain from joining a church because you are not mature enough. You become mature through joining the church.
  • Church fellowship must be done "in Christ’s pure ways only," which I understand as a call to reformation according to scripture. "Every Christian is bound to seek a better church fellowship by reformation; and those that do so are the best sons of Christ’s church, who inquire, ‘Is this the way to enjoy Christ?’ a church way being appointed to enjoy Christ therein." We should see our fellowship extending to other churches, so that if we are temporarily away from home we would join fellowship wherever we are. He adds that we are to join a church in proximity to our home, "that you may have the more frequent and constant communion."
  • Don't leave the church in the midst of persecution.
Two Natures At Once

One of the most important truths set forth in the book is this: "the best in this world have in them flesh as well as spirit, and may act according to either state in some measure," (6.2.2). He speaks so highly of the new man, 100% holy, that it could be discouraging if we think of regeneration as becoming 100% the new man when we know we still sin. A misunderstanding of the "new creation" and "the old has passed away" (2 Cor 5:17) leads us to think we are not truly saved unless we are perfected in holiness and can cause us to fake how good we are before others. But Marshall clears this up by saying the regenerate person still carries the old man along. Every act has "some measure" of both the old man and new man in it. The new man is 100% holy, but we might at times only act as the new man in 20% capacity. This is entirely consistent with the exhortation to "put off the old man." If the old man is entirely gone, as the errant "new creation" perspective has, then why be told to put him off?
Now, seeing the degree and measure of our reception and enjoyment of Christ, with all the blessings of our new state in Him, in this life is imperfect, it follows clearly that our contrary natural state, with its properties, remains still in us in some degree and is not perfectly abolished; so that all believers in this world do in some degree partake of these two contrary states. Believers have, indeed, put off the old man, and put on the new, where Christ is all and in all (Col. 3:10, 11); yet they are to put the old man off and the new man on more and more, because the old man remains still in a measure. (12.2.1)
Perhaps the most surprising fall out of this is what he says regarding original sin and the punishment for sins we experience.
And what reason is there to question that the old state remains in believers in some degrees, seeing all sound Protestants acknowledge that the sinful depravation and pollution of our natures, commonly called ‘original sin’, which is one principal part of this old state, does remain in all as long as they live in the world?
He goes on to say that just as we remain subject to physical death on account of the curse, so "all the miseries of this life, and death itself, are inflicted upon believers at least in some respect as punishments of sin." Before I would have said that Christ bore our curse and so any miseries of life are strictly in the category of discipline. That's true in a sense, but I think it is more biblically accurate to see ourselves in this twofold state. So Marshall says that miseries inflicted on the old man are good for us since they serve to put him more and more to death:
...all the guilt, pollution and punishments of sin, and all evils whatever, which [believers] are subject to according to their natural state, do them no harm according to this new state but work for their good, and are no evils, but rather advantages to them, tending to the destruction only of the flesh, and to the perfection of the new man in Christ. (12.2.1)
Along with this twofold nature concept, Marshall goes on to condemn making of resolutions or commitments to holiness as a vain effort to make the old man better (12.2.2). Even if they are done with a trust in Christ to help us keep them, it is misguided.
[The natural man] is desperately wicked, past all cure. It will unavoidably lust against the Spirit of God, even in the best saints on earth (Gal. 5:17). Its mind is enmity to the law of God and neither is, nor can be subject to it (Rom. 8:7). They that would cure it and make it holy by their own resolutions and endeavors do act quite contrary to the design of Christ’s death, for He died, not that the flesh, or old natural man, might be made holy, but that it might be crucified, and destroyed out of us (Rom. 6:6), and that we might live to God, not to ourselves, or by any natural power of our own resolutions and endeavors, but by Christ living in us, and by His Spirit bringing forth the fruits of righteousness in us (Gal. 2:20; 5:24, 25). Therefore, we must be content to leave the natural man vile and wicked as we found it, until it be utterly abolished by death; though we must not allow its wickedness, but rather groan to be delivered from the body of this death, thanking God that there is a deliverance through Jesus Christ our Lord. Our way to mortify sinful affections and lusts must be, not by purging them out of the flesh, but by putting off the flesh itself and getting above into Christ by faith, and walking in that new nature that is by Him.
The biggest question this creates for me is in regard to children or Christians with addictive behavior. Is there not some value in first restraining their flesh before they destroy themselves? And then once some stability is in place, we can transition from law principles to gospel ones?

This twofold perspective also speaks to assurance and doubt. Just as the old and new man coexist, so doubt can exist in us along with true faith: "But is there not flesh, as well as spirit, in the best saints on earth? (Gal. 5:17) Is there not a law in their members warring against the law of their minds? (Rom. 7:23) May not one that truly believes say, ‘Lord, help my unbelief?’ (Mark 9:24) Can any on earth say they have received any grace in the highest degree, and that they are wholly free from the contrary corruption? Why then should we think that assurance cannot be true, except it is perfect and free the soul from all doubtings?" (10.1.3).

The Holy Spirit Prior to Christ's Incarnation

There are lots of opinions on the kind of activity the Holy Spirit performed in the Old Testament period. The New Testament seems to show the Holy Spirit coming on the scene in a whole new way. But if sanctification works a certain way now by the Holy Spirit's activity, then it had to have worked the same way before Christ. In Marshall argues that saints who lived before Christ's incarnation were united to Christ the same way we are today. Back in he affirms that union with Christ means the same thing as being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. So together that says OT saints were indwelt by the Holy Spirit no differently than NT saints.

It is in this context that Marshall gives an interesting perspective on Psalm 16:
Now, this Spirit was able and effectual to unite those saints to that flesh which Christ was to take to Himself in the fullness of time, because He was the same in both, and to give out to them that grace with which Christ would afterwards fill His flesh, for their salvation as well as ours. Therefore David accounts Christ’s flesh to be his, and spoke of Christ’s death and resurrection as his own, beforehand as well as any of us can do since their accomplishment: ‘My flesh also shall rest in hope; for You will not leave my soul in hell; neither will You allow Your holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life’ (Ps. 16:9-11). (
I'm still wrapping my mind around this but I'm pretty sure it's amazing. Marshall affirms with Peter (Acts 2) that this passage is about Christ, but he suggests that David took these words for himself because he knew himself to be united to Christ. That would also mean every believer can take the words of such psalms for themselves.

Law and Gospel

There's been a debate among Evangelical/Reformed people about "law and gospel" and whether that way of speaking is Antinomian or too Lutheran. So I found these passages interesting:
The difference between the law and gospel does not at all consist in this, that the one requires perfect doing; the other, only sincere doing; but in this, that the one requires doing; the other, not doing, but believing for life and salvation. Their terms are different, not only in degree, but in their whole nature. (6.1.2)
And what a lamentable disappointment is this to those that have attempted to alter the Protestant doctrine, and to pervert and confound law and gospel, and have bred much contention in the church, that they might secure the practice of sincere obedience against Antinomian errors, by making it the procuring condition of their salvation, when, after all this ado, the remedy is found to be as bad as the disease, equally unserviceable and destructive to that great end for which they designed it, and that it has an Antinomian effect and operation, contrary to the power of godliness! (6.2) 
You also should learn the true difference between the two covenants, the old and the new, or the law and the gospel: that the former shuts us up under the guilt and power of sin, and the wrath of God and His curse, by its rigorous terms: ‘Do all the commandments, and live; and, cursed are you if you do not do them, and fail in the least point’; the latter opens the gates of righteousness and life to all believers (i.e. the new covenant) by its gracious terms: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and live,’ that is, all your sins shall be forgiven, and holiness and glory shall be given to you freely by His merit and Spirit. (13.2.1)
He does however affirm, "We are to look upon holiness as a very necessary part of that salvation that is received by faith in Christ," and says we are obliged to obedience by more than just gratitude:
And others, when they are taught by the Scriptures, that we are saved by faith, through faith, without works, do begin to disregard all obedience to the law, as not at all necessary to salvation, and account themselves obliged to it only in point of gratitude; if it be wholly neglected, they do not doubt but free grace will save them harmless. (8.2) 
In the next quote Marshall argues for the abiding value of the ten commandments in the third use of the law, demonstrating his covenant theology:
But the Ten Commandments bind us still, as they were then given to a people that were at that time under the covenant of grace made with Abraham, to show them what duties are holy, just and good, well-pleasing to God, and to be a rule for their conversation. The result of all is that we must still practice moral duties as commanded by Moses, but we must not seek to be justified by our practice. If we use them as a rule of life, not as conditions of justification, they can be no ministration of death, or killing letter to us. Their perfection indeed makes them to be harder terms to procure life by, but a better rule to discover all imperfections, and to guide us to that perfection which we should aim at. (6.1.3)
It is odd to me in the Antinomianism debate that so few are up in arms over the widespread denial of the ten commandments, particularly Sabbath keeping, as in New Covenant Theology. As Marshall says below, all "sound protestants" should regard New Covenant Theology as Antinomian:
Sound Protestants have accounted the denial of the authority of the moral law of Moses to be an Antinomian error. And though our late prevaricators against Antinomianism do not maintain this error, yet they establish a worse error, justification by their sincere gospel works. I think the denomination of the Antinomians arose from this error. The law of Moses had its authority at first from Christ, for Christ was the Lord God of Israel, that ordained the law by angels on mount Sinai in the hand of Moses, a mediator for the Israelites, who were then His only church, and with whom we believing Gentiles are now joined, as fellow members of one and the same body (Eph. 3:6). (6.1.3)
The Chapter Summaries

Here are the chapter summaries:
1. That we may acceptably perform the duties of holiness and righteousness required in the law, our first work is to learn the powerful and effectual means by which we may attain to so great an end.
2. Several endowments and qualifications are necessary to enable us for the immediate practice of the law. Particularly we must have an inclination and propensity of our hearts thereunto; and therefore we must be well persuaded of our reconciliation with God, and of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happenings, and of sufficient strength both to will and perform all duties acceptably, until we come to the enjoyment of that happiness.
3. The way to get holy endowments and qualifications necessary to frame and enable us for the immediate practice of the law, is to receive them out of the fullness of Christ, by fellowship with Him; and that we may have this fellowship, we must be in Christ, and have Christ Himself in us, by a mystical union with Him.
4. The means or instruments by which the Spirit of God accomplishes our union with Christ, and our fellowship with Him in all holiness, are the gospel, by which Christ enters into our hearts to work faith in us, and faith, by which we actually receive Christ Himself, with all His fullness, into our hearts. And this faith is a grace of the Spirit, by which we heartily believe the gospel and also believe on Christ as He is revealed and freely promised to us in this, for all His salvation.
5. We cannot attain to the practice of true holiness by any of our endeavors while we continue in our natural state and are not partakers of a new state by union and fellowship with Christ through faith.
6. Those that endeavor to perform sincere obedience to all the commands of Christ, as the condition by which they are to procure for themselves a right and title to salvation, and a good ground to trust on Him for the same, do seek their salvation by the works of the law, and not by the faith of Christ, as He is revealed in the gospel and they shall never be able to perform sincere and true holy obedience by all such endeavors.
7. We are not to imagine that our hearts and lives must be changed from sin to holiness in any measure, before we may safely venture to trust on Christ for the sure enjoyment of Himself and His salvation.
8. Be sure to seek for holiness of heart and life only in its due order, where God has placed it, after union with Christ, justification and the gift of the Holy Ghost and, in that order, seek it earnestly by faith as a very necessary part of your salvation.
9. We must first receive the comforts of the gospel, that we may be able to sincerely perform the duties of the law.
10. That we may be prepared by the comforts of the gospel to perform sincerely the duties of the law, we must get some assurance of our salvation in that very faith by which Christ Himself is received into our hearts. Therefore, we must endeavor to believe on Christ confidently, persuading and assuring ourselves, in the act of believing, that God freely gives to us an interest in Christ and His salvation, according to His gracious promise.
11. Endeavor diligently to perform the great work of believing on Christ in a right manner, without any delay; and then also continue and increase in your most holy faith, that so your enjoyment of Christ, union and fellowship with Him, and all holiness by Him, may be begun, continued and increased in you.
12. Make diligent use of your most holy faith for the immediate performance of the duties of the law, by walking no longer according to your old natural state, or any principles or means of practice that belong unto it; but only according to that new state which you receive by faith, and the principles and means of practice that properly belong thereunto; and strive to continue and increase in such manner of practice. This is the only way to attain to an acceptable performance of those holy and righteous duties, as far as it is possible in this present life.
13. Endeavor diligently to make the right use of all means appointed in the Word of God for the obtaining and practicing holiness only in this way of believing in Christ and walking in Him, according to your new state by faith.
14. That you may seek holiness and righteousness only by believing in Christ and walking in Him by faith, according to the former directions, take encouragement from the great advantages of this way and the excellent properties of it.

15 June 2014

2 Cor 7:1 Is About Church Discipline

Missing the Point

2Co 7:1  Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

This verse is more about church discipline (or corporate holiness) than personal holiness.

I have for some time had this passage as a favorite, starting back at 6:16 where the “promises” of 7:1 are identified. I've taken it as a call to strive towards personal holiness. However, having just now read it with concern for the context, I think I've been missing the point.

If this is about personal holiness, what does it have to do with the context both before and after it? There seems to be a shift in topic from 6:13 to 6:14, and then again at 7:1 to 7:2:

2Co 6:13  In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. 2Co 6:14  Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

2Co 7:1  Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2Co 7:2  Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.

This apparent shift in topic should suggest to us that we might be misunderstanding the passage. If it can be understood without a shift in topic then that is probably the correct contextual understanding. Even more indicting is the fact that the topic in 6:13 (“widen your hearts also”) is the same topic at 7:2 (“Make room in your hearts for us”). I’m inclined to think our passage is not a tangential, parenthetical thought inserted randomly, but intentional teaching on the same topic.

The Context

So what is Paul’s topic at 6:13 and prior? His statement at 5:12 is helpful: “We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.” It is evident starting all the way back at chapter 2 that Paul is on the defensive against people who question him and the legitimacy of his ministry. Such people “boast about outward appearance.” These critics say of Paul, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account,” (10:10). These people prefer preachers that Paul labels “peddlers of God’s word,” whereas Paul and company are “men of sincerity...commissioned by God,” 2:17. The term “peddlers” suggests these are the type of preachers that capitalize on a church’s financial support. Paul, on the other hand, “preached God's gospel to you free of charge,” 11:7. While some Corinthians consider these preachers “super-apostles” (11:5), Paul calls them “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ,” 11:13.

Judging by outward appearance, Paul and his traveling company did not have God’s so-called blessing--they endured “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (6:5). If God approved of Paul and his ministry, the critics said, surely God wouldn’t put them through all this suffering. To the contrary, Paul argues, his suffering is evidence of his sacrificial love for the sake of others. He says that he and his company experience death (suffering) so that the Corinthians would have life (spiritually), 4:11-12. Not their lack of suffering but their endurance through suffering is an opportunity for God to display His power: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us,” (4:7). I could go on with such examples because it is all over chapters 3-7. To reiterate, the context (including chapter 6) is Paul’s defense of the legitimacy of his ministry.

This sort of contrast between a life of “blessing”--material and social ease--and a life of difficulty and sacrifice is best described as the “theology of glory” versus the “theology of the cross” (terms that I understand Luther originated). If the world rejected our Lord, Christians in this age should not expect any better treatment. (I hope to explore this more sometime through the perspective of union with Christ.)

The Passage in Light of the Context

Coming then to 6:11-13, just prior to the supposed change of topic, what is it about? It says:

2Co 6:11-13  We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.

Just after our passage of interest, it says something similar:

2Co 7:2  Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one.

Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians is that they would see how much he loves them so that they would love him in return. He’s kind of saying, “I’m sacrificing my life for you, and this is the treatment I get? That some of you doubt me?” It isn't that he really wants to be liked by them. The problem is that rejection or doubt of Paul translates into doubt of his message. Those who are doubting him and his message are being led astray from the truth of Christ into falsehood. He isn't concerned that they be faithful to him, but that they would be faithful to Christ:

2Co 11:3-4  But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

With this context in mind, we come to 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” If your first thought of this verse is that Christians shouldn’t date/marry non-Christians, then you’ve missed the context. Sure, that could be an extended application of this principle, but it isn’t why Paul says it. The ESV Study Bible (2 Cor notes by Scott J. Hafemann) says, “In context, it refers especially to those who are still rebelling against Paul within the church, whom Paul now shockingly labels unbelievers.” In saying this, Paul is calling for the Corinthian church to execute discipline against those causing this controversy. Until they repent, they are to be excommunicated and regarded as unbelievers. “Do not be unequally yoked” means a local church should refuse fellowship to members who are unrepentant.

Realities of Old Testament Shadows

In further support of this interpretation of this passage is the striking connection Paul makes between the local church in Corinth and the Old Testament community and temple:

2Co 6:16-18  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."

In the administration of the old covenant, God gave all kinds of cleanliness laws. Here Paul quotes a number of Old Testament passages, including “touch no unclean thing” from Isa 52:11. In OT Israel, what were the consequences for someone who touched an unclean thing? You would not be allowed to join the assembly for worship (or else be struck dead by God). You would be regarded as unclean for a duration of time and be more or less shunned by the community, lest you make others unclean as well. Once the period of uncleanness is done, and/or you make the specified restitution, all goes back to normal. (See a sampling of passages at the end.)

One of the most significant things to realize here is that God himself was in the midst of the Israelites. When they were nomads living in tents, God had a tent too (the tabernacle). Once they settled into houses, God got a house too (the temple). To approach God’s dwelling place while unclean would be to treat Him like any other person, but God is not to be taken lightly or treated as ordinary. To do so is often termed “defiling” the temple. Many of the things that God said made one unclean were completely arbitrary, without any moral value in themselves (like touching a dead lizard); God’s purpose was simply to make it clear that approaching Him is different than anything else. “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean,” Lev 10:10.

Paul references this very concept of God’s presence by saying “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them.” Even though the temple still stood in Jerusalem when Paul wrote, he claims that “we are the temple of the living God.” So just as the OT people gathered to God’s dwelling for worship and family-like fellowship with Him and each other, so the NT church regularly gathers for the same purpose. The difference is that God’s dwelling is no longer one particular piece of real estate. A church may gather anywhere and God’s presence will be there.

While this truth has a lot of implications, for Paul the purpose in this discussion is to carry in to the NT church the concept of OT cleanliness. If God’s presence is in the midst of a gathered people, then those people must take this assembly seriously. It is to be treated differently than other aspects of life. Just as OT Israel, we are to “distinguish between the holy and the common.” The difference between then and now is that the shadows of arbitrary cleanliness laws are removed, so that now cleanliness means the same as moral purity. Therefore, a person who is morally unrepentant is not to be welcomed into the church gathering.

To summarize this OT stuff, the NT church is to operate in essentially the same way as OT Israel, but with these key differences: (1) the location of God meeting with his people is not at the temple but anywhere they find to gather, and (2) cleanliness is equated to moral repentance since arbitrary cleanliness laws are removed.

Reading again 2 Cor 7:1 with this perspective, we can see its meaning much more clearly. “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” “These promises” is not per se the future hope of family-like fellowship with God in heaven, but the present reality of God’s presence with the gathered church. If that much is true, then the gathered church must be maintained as clean; “let us cleanse ourselves” does not mean to try really hard to stop sinning, but to bar any person from the church gathering that is known to be in sin and doesn't care to stop. The word “defilement” should also ring bells, since it is the way of speaking of an unclean person approaching God’s dwelling. “The fear of God” is understood much more when we have this appreciation for the way OT Israel had the fear of literally being struck dead if they came to worship while unclean. This passage is so drenched with Old Testament motifs that we really miss the point without this background. At least I have.


Having emphasized the gathered church, I should also mention how this applies beyond Sunday morning gatherings. Just as one in OT Israel would be unclean by eating with a Gentile, so in the NT church community we are not to even eat with an unrepentant person (1 Cor 5:11). But when we start talking this way, it needs to be clarified that we are still talking about people who claim to be Christians. The world is full of unrepentant people that we are allowed to share life with (it would be impossible not to), but for those who are “brothers” and yet don’t care about a particular sin we are to shun them in a manner similar to OT Israel, whether at church or at home. (I am merely paraphrasing 1 Cor 5.)

A push-back to what I’m saying against the individualistic take on this passage is this: Doesn't this passage still commend us to strive for personal holiness? Of course it does. But I think we shortcut around some rich details when we go straight to that conclusion. A very real part of the motivation to repent of sin given in this passage is “the fear of God,” i.e. the fear of His fatherly discipline, even being literally struck dead (1 Cor 11:30-32). Included as well is motivation by the fear of feeling shamed by the church community. I've heard multiple times people express a disdain for judgmentalism in churches (over homosexuality, for example). While many churches today probably do err on the wrong side by teaching moralism instead of gospel grace, I'm saying that this sort of shameful feeling is more appropriate than we might think.

But my biggest concern with taking this verse only in an individualistic way is the phrase “let us cleanse ourselves.” If this means personal obedience and fighting sin, there is a real problem with thinking that I am able to cleanse myself. I am not to cleanse myself from sin but to rest on Christ to cleanse me. When I sin I am to feel remorse for forgetting the precious blood of Christ by which he bought me, and in that sort of repentance and faith I am being continually cleansed by him. I do not cleanse myself. I don’t have the ability to. I ought to strive after holiness in prayerful dependence on his grace to empower me for the task. I don’t bring my own holiness to completion; God, not me, completes the work that He started. That’s the problem with missing the point of this verse.

But when we take this verse corporately, we don’t get stuck in all this clarification. A church community really does have the ability to “cleanse ourselves” when this means refusing fellowship to a particular person. While this still requires the grace of God to give us such discernment and bravery to take such painful actions against someone, it is doable. Church discipline is messy but this verse must be seen as a command to do it.

More Questions Than Answers

This study opens up questions on a lot of other issues. Maybe I'll explore them more someday. Things like:
  • Christ’s real presence not only in gathered church, but particularly when we gather for the Lord's Supper. And what exactly does his "presence" mean? Is it a feeling?
  • How church discipline takes shape in the Lord's Supper, and what that means for "open communion."
  • The importance and responsibilities of church membership, and how discipline takes shape when people today could just leave one church community and join another when discipline comes up. That leads to questions on how to interact with Christians who aren't members of my own local church, or even Christians part of my local church but not official members.
  • The responsibilities of a pastor that are distinct from the rest of the church. Does the pastor represent God's presence in any way? Or are we all ministers?
  • What sort of gathering exactly constitutes a church? Is God present in a Mormon gathering? Is God present when "two or three" have a Bible study? What defines a "church"?
  • How we ought to think of corporate worship and the question of "the regulative principle." How we apply this idea of distinguishing the holy versus common. Is all of life worship, or is gathered worship different in any way than the rest of life? This connects to how to understand our individual selves, not just the gathered people, as God's temple. Exactly which things change between OT and NT life and worship?
  • What exactly constitutes repentance? At what point in our struggle with sin is it deemed unrepentance? Where does discipline officially start? Is there a particular class of sins more directly subject to discipline?
  • Questions/concerns/objections that you probably have and I'm not thinking of.

Some Verses on Cleanliness

With emphasis mine...

Lev 15:31  "Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst."

Num 5:2-3  "Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell."

Num 19:20  "If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean.

Lev 7:21  And if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether human uncleanness or an unclean beast or any unclean detestable creature, and then eats some flesh from the sacrifice of the LORD's peace offerings, that person shall be cut off from his people."

Lev 5:2,5-6  or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean wild animal or a carcass of unclean livestock or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him and he has become unclean, and he realizes his guilt;...when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.

Joh 18:28  Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.