21 September 2011

Owen: Sanctification

I recently stumbled onto a collection of papers from the 1981 Westminster Conference in London, over which Martyn Lloyd-Jones presided throughout the 1970s. One helpful essay is by Daniel Webber and is entitled 'Sanctifying the Inner Life.' Webber quotes this definition of sanctification given by John Owen. Can it be improved upon?
Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing of their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience unto God, according unto the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ.
--Daniel Webber, 'Sanctifying the Inner Life,' in Aspects of Sanctification (Westminster Conference, 1981), 45; quoting Owen, Works, 3:386

6 comments:

Drew said...

I think most Christians, even most Reformed Christians, would say that the process of sanctification is synergistic - meaning the Holy Spirit and the (regenerated) believer co-labor in the process. I may be misunderstanding this quotation, but it seems to be saying sanctification is entirely the work of God. Am I reading that right?

Laurie Collett said...

Without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Once we are saved, there is a constant battle between the indwelling Holy Spirit and our old, unregenerate sin nature, because in our flesh (that is, the saved believer apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit) there dwells no good thing (Romans 7:18). Once we are saved, we have positional justification as our sins are forgiven through Christ having redeemed us and having paid the price of our sin debt through His shed blood. The perfect purity and holiness of the Spirit within us is the basis for our progressive sanctification, which occurs throughout our Christian walk as we deny the flesh and yield more and more to the Spirit. So, Biblically speaking, I believe it is reasonable to conclude, as John Owen appears to state, that sanctification is the work of the Spirit alone, as the believer progressively yields to Him and denies self. Laurie Collett, Saved by Grace ( http://savedbygracebiblestudy.blogspot.com/ )

Dane Ortlund said...

Hi Drew. All depends what you mean by synergistic. Progr. sanct. is synergistic in one sense (we are not robots; our wills engage actively) but monergistic in another sense (all our good doing is due to divine grace: Phil 2:12-13; Col 1:29; 1 Cor 15:10 etc). See Kevin DeYoung's excellent post along these lines just today at The Gospel Coalition. Blessings brother.

Jared said...

Dane, thanks for these posts, sincerely. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the differences (and the application from the differences) between progressive sanctification (renewal) and definitive sanctification (through our union with Christ). I could be wrong, but I feel like that already/not yet distinction might at least clarify some of the confusion by people in the church between knowing I am declared sanctified and needing to progress in our sanctification in this life. I thought the Piper/DeYoung interview was helpful on this.

Alan Davey : said...

I think the clue to the synergy thing is in the words 'thereby enabling them' ('both to will and to work'...) Christian "synergy" should alway recognise that it is God who initiates and his work is decisive. That's why "synergy" is a bit uncomfortable as a term.

Dane Ortlund said...

That's a good comment Jared.