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Service of Morning Prayer
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Bart Morrison, August 14, 2022

Pursuing Holiness

Text: Hebrews 12:1–14

Let us pray: Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. In the matchless name of our Lord and Savior. Amen

There is much to unpack in our readings today, but I would like to focus our attention on Hebrews 12:14 and especially would like us to dwell on the importance of holiness. Let’s read Hebrews 12:14 again,

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

When I read this, my inner 4th grade Vacation Bible School self is shouting, “But wait, what about eternal security… Am I holy? Are you holy? If not, how do I get holy? Because, as we find, this is not an isolated command in scripture.

1 Peter 1:16: Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

Ephesians 1:4: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love

2 Corinthians 7: let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Clearly the preponderance of Biblical evidence is that God desires us to make progress in holy living in this life.

But how are we to know and have confidence in this vital aspect of our redemption? In our time today, I will rely on the thoughts of two leading lights from our cloud of witnesses in the Anglican tradition and one that we wish was Anglican but got away.

Many of you know our dear brother in Christ the Reverend Canon Tad de Bordenave. I was introduced to Tad as a student (a mature student to be sure) attending seminary at Reformed Theological Seminary. In a coffee hour some time later Tad introduced me to some members as someone studying the Puritan tradition.

Not knowing about the full richness of the Anglican tradition I initially took this as a kind of subtle put down. But when he and Connie were moving back to Richmond they left a large box of old theological books at our doorstep. As a lover of books this is like discovering buried treasure. One of the true jewels in this treasure hoard was a classic written by J.C. Ryle (1816–1900) titled Holiness. Ryle served as the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool for twenty years where he boldly represented the evangelical wing of the Anglican tradition. Although Bishop Ryle was nearly forgotten for several decades after going to be with the Lord, interest in his sermons and other writings have thankfully been revived and I would commend them to you.

Ryle’s definition of Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, as we find His mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word. The holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin and to keep every known commandment. He will have a decided bent of mind towards God, a hearty desire to do His will, a greater fear of displeasing Him than of displeasing the world, and a love to all His ways.

Bishop Ryle reminds us of the critical distinction between justification and sanctification well stated in our own 39 Articles, Articles 11 and 12 respectively.

Sadly, the words “justification” and “sanctification” have largely fallen out of use in Western culture. One reason that this decline is distressing is that the Bible uses the words justification and sanctification to express the saving work of Christ for us sinners. Both terms lie at the heart of the biblical gospel.

Bishop Ryle’s definition of justification is the reckoning and counting a man to be righteous for the sake of another—Jesus Christ the Lord.

Sanctification is the actual making a man inwardly righteous, though it may be in a very feeble degree.

Sanctification, says the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.35), is

the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

The concept is not of sin being totally eradicated (that is to claim too much) or merely counteracted (that is to say too little), but of a divinely wrought character change freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike affections, dispositions and virtues.

Bishop Ryle offers some practical guideposts or to use his language “marks” for believers in assessing our progress in sanctification or growth in grace:

1. The first mark is increased HUMILITY. The man whose soul is growing, feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year.

2. The next mark is increased FAITH and LOVE towards our Lord Jesus Christ. The man whose soul is growing, finds more in Christ to rest upon every year, and rejoices more that he has such a Savior. As he grows in grace, he sees a thousand things in Christ of which at first he never dreamed!

3. The third mark is increased HOLINESS of life and conduct. The man whose soul is growing, gets more dominion over sin, the world and the devil every year. He becomes more careful about his temper, his words and his actions. He is more watchful over his conduct in every relation of life. He strives more to be conformed to the image of Christ in all things, and to follow Him as his example—as well as to trust in Him as his Savior.

4. The fourth mark in growth of grace is increased SPIRITUALITY of taste and mind. The man whose soul is growing, takes more interest in spiritual things every year. He does not neglect his duty in the world. He discharges faithfully, diligently and conscientiously—every relation of life, whether at home or abroad. 

5. The fifth mark of grace is an increase in LOVE to others. The man whose soul is growing, is more full of love every year—of love to all men—but especially of love towards the brethren.

6. The sixth mark of growth in grace is increased ZEAL and diligence in trying to do good to souls. The believer who is really growing, will take greater interest in the salvation of sinners every year. Missions at home and abroad, efforts of every kind to spread the gospel, attempts of any sort to increase gospel light and diminish gospel darkness—all these things will every year have a greater place in his attention.

The next bright light in our cloud of witnesses is Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892). Spurgeon is a full generation younger than Bishop Ryle but they were contemporaries and each had great mutual respect for the other. Although Spurgeon was a Baptist, I am including him in our Anglican cloud of witnesses as I was first introduced to him through our great friend Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba. Abp. Kaziimba uses Spurgeon’s timeless devotional, Morning and Evening, as a daily devotional in his home.

Spurgeon’s practical exhortation for progress in holy living is grounded in action real “be doers of the Word”

You will not gain holiness by standing still. Nobody ever grew holy without consenting, desiring, and agonizing to be holy. Sin will grow without sowing, but holiness needs cultivation. Follow it; it will not run after you. You must pursue it with determination, with eagerness, with perseverance, as a hunter pursues his prey.

Our most recent luminary in our Anglican cloud of witnesses is of more recent vintage—Reverend Doctor J. I. Packer. Packer went to be with the Lord on July 17, 2020. He was 93 years old. Packer was a lifelong Anglican presbyter and theologian who spent the first half of his life in England and the second half in Canada, but who was perhaps most popular in the United States. Throughout his nearly 70 years of writing and ministry he called for the church to take holiness and repentance seriously by walking in the Spirit and fighting against indwelling sin. He reintroduced multiple generations to his beloved Puritan forebears, whom he regarded as the “Redwoods” of the Christian faith.

In reacting to the popular saying “Let go and let God” Packer writes:

Souls that cultivate passivity do not thrive, but waste away.  The Christian’s motto should not be “Let go and let God” but rather “Trust God and get going!” So if, for instance, you are fighting a bad habit, work out before God a strategy for ensuring that you will not fall victim to it again, ask him to bless your plan, and go out in his strength, ready to say no next time the temptation comes. Or if you are seeking for form a good habit, work out a strategy in the same way, ask God’s help, and then try your hardest.

Trust God and get going. This is the phrase we should start encouraging one another with.

Regardless of where you look in the Bible, you will always see faithful men and women of God striving in active obedience as a result of the grace that has transformed them. Active, not passive. Moses had to go to Egypt and confront Pharoah, David had to gather his stones and step in to face Goliath, and Paul consistently speaks about how he strives towards Christ, laboring hard and straining toward the goal that is ahead.  

We don’t put down our arms and do nothing in life once we are saved, we daily put on the armor of God and fight against the enemy (Ephesians 6) in pursuit of active obedience.

At the end of the day, although we cherish and justifiably take comfort in the Kingdom work of our great cloud of witnesses, any slender reed of holiness that we attain is ultimately founded on the perfect obedience and finished work of Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. We must rededicate ourselves and teach our children to dedicate their lives to Christ in true thankfulness, surrendering their lives to Him and walking in obedience to Him. This is the scriptural definition of a holy life. Sanctification is the process of becoming ever more set apart from sin and devoted to the service of Christ. We will never be completely holy this side of heaven, but we must strive for this goal and progress toward it.

We can have assurance of our salvation brothers and sisters. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4–5,11,

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us[a] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will

Scripture tells us to make our calling and election sure.

The late R.C. Sproul taught from scripture:

If we have even a thin reed of love for the Lord Jesus we can have assurance of salvation. Because unless we are born again of water and spirit we are still dead in our sins and the love of the father is not in us.

Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  Our Lord longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

As we teach these things, we should pray what the apostle Paul prayed for the Colossians:

For this cause we . . . do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God"(Colossians 1:9–10).

©2022 The Rev. Bart Morrison

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