Robert Traill on Justification and Sanctification

Below is the text of Robert Traill’s (1642-1716) sermon on 1 Peter 1:1-3 as quoted by J.C. Ryle in his book Holiness. Its precision and conciseness on the relationship between justification and sanctification is remarkable. His view on sanctification as “infused holiness” and as necessary for eternal life is, to my knowledge, the classic Reformed position on the matter. Yet it seems, for reasons I will reserve for later, Reformed Christians in our time have largely come to adopt a semi-antinomian, if not a radical antinomian (Tullian Tchividjian and Barbara Duguid for example), position. Recovering the classic Reformed position on sanctification and recognizing antinomianism as Reformed theology’s unwelcomed guest (as Mark Jones calls it) should be a priority for those committed to defending and preserving the Reformed faith.

The following is the text:

Concerning sanctification, there are three things that I would speak to.

I. What sanctification is.

II. Wherein it agrees with justification.

III. Wherein it differs from justification.

I. What is sanctification? It is a great deal better to feel it than to express it,

Sanctification is the same with regeneration; the same with the renovation of the whole man. Sanctification is the forming and the framing of the new creature; it is the implanting and engraving the image of Christ upon the poor soul. It is what the Apostle breathed after—‘That Christ might be formed in them’ (Gal. iv. 19); That they might ‘bear the image of the heavenly.” (1 Cor. xv. 49)

There are but two men only that all the world is like; and so will it fare with them, as they are like the one, or like the other: the first Adam, and the second Adam. Every man by nature is like the first Adam and like the devil: for the devil and the first fallen Adam were like one another. ‘Ye are of your father the devil.’ saith our Lord (John viii. 44), and he was ‘a murderer from the beginning.’ All the children of the first Adam are the devil’s children, there is no difference here. And all the children of the other sort are like to Jesus Christ, the second Adam; and when His image shall be perfected in them, then they shall be perfectly happy. ‘As we have also borne the image of the earthly, so shall we also bear the image of the heavenly.’ (1 Cor. xv. 49.) Pray observe; we bear the image of the earthly by being born in sin 327and misery; we bear the image of the earthly by living in sin and misery; and we bear the image of the earthly by dying in sin and misery; and we bear the image of the earthly in the rottenness of the grave; and we bear the image of the heavenly Adam when we are sanctified by His Spirit. This image increases in us according to our growth in sanctification: and we perfectly bear the image of the heavenly Adam when we are just like the Man Christ, both in soul and body, perfectly happy, and perfectly holy; when we have overcome death by His grace, as He overcame it by His own strength. It will never be known how like believers are to Jesus Christ, till they are risen again: when they shall arise from their graves, like so many little suns shining in glory and brightness. Oh, how like will they be to Jesus Christ! though His personal transcendent glory will be His property and prerogative to all eternity.

II. Wherein are justification and sanctification alike? I answer, in many things.

1st. They are like one another as they are the same in their author; it is God that justifieth, and it is God that sanctifies. ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? it is God that justifieth.’ (Rom. viii. 33.) I am the Lord that doth sanctify you, is a common word in the Old Testament. (Ex. xxxi. 13; Lev. xx. 8.)

2ndly. They are alike and the same in their rise, being both of free grace; justification is an act of free grace, and sanctification is the same. ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.’ (Tit. iii. 5.) They are both of grace.

3rdly. They are alike in that they are both towards the same persons. Never a man is justified but he is also sanctified; and never a man is sanctified but he is also justified; all the elect of God, all the redeemed, have both these blessings passing upon them.

4thly. They are alike as to the time, they are the same in time. It is a hard matter for us to talk or think of time when we are speaking of the works of God: these saving works of His are always done at the same time; a man is not justified before he is sanctified, though it may be conceived so in order of nature, yet at the same time the same grace works both. ‘Such were some of you,’ saith the Apostle, ‘but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.’ (1 Cor. vi. 11.)

5thly. They are the same as to the operation of them by the same means, that is, by the Word of God: we are justified by the Word, sentencing us to eternal life by the promise; and we are also sanctified by the power of the same Word. ‘Now ye are clean,’ saith our Lord, ‘through the Word that I have spoken unto you.’ (John xv. 3.) ‘That He might sanctify and cleanse His Church,’ saith the Apostle, ‘with the washing of water by the Word.’ (Eph. v. 26.)

6th and lastly. They are the same as to their equal necessity to eternal life. I do not say as to their equal order, but as to their equal necessity: that is, as it is determined that no man who is not justified shall be saved, so it is determined that no man who is not sanctified shall be saved: no unjustified man can be saved, and no unsanctified man can be saved. They are of equal necessity in order to the possessing of eternal life.

III. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? This is a matter of great concernment for people’s practice and daily exercise; wherein they differ. They agree in many things, as has just now been declared, but they likewise differ vastly.

1st. Justification is an act of God about the state of a man’s person; but sanctification is the work of God about the nature of a man: and these two are very different, as I shall illustrate by a similitude. Justification is an act of God as a judge about a delinquent, absolving him from a sentence of death; but sanctification is an act of God about us, as a physician, in curing us of a mortal disease. There is a criminal that conies to the bar, and is arraigned for high treason; the same criminal has a mortal disease, that he may die of, though there was no judge on the bench to pass the sentence of death upon him for his crime. It is an act of grace which absolves the man from the sentence of the law, that he shall not suffer death for his treason—that saves the man’s life. But notwithstanding this, unless his disease be cured, he may die quickly after, for all the judge’s pardon. Therefore, I say, justification is an act of God as a gracious Judge, sanctification is a work of God as a merciful Physician; David joins them both together. (Ps. ciii. 3.) ‘Who forgiveth all thine inqiuities, who healeth all thy diseases.’ It is promised, That iniquity shall not be your ruin (Ezek. xviii. 30), in the guilt of it; that is justification: and it shall not be your ruin, in the power of it; there lies sanctification.

2ndly. Justification is an act of God’s grace upon the account of the righteousness of another, but sanctification is a work of God, infusing a righteousness into us. Now there is a great difference between these two: for the one is by imputation, the other by infusion.

In justification, the sentence of God proceeds this way: the righteousness that Christ wrought out by His life and death, and the obedience that He paid to the law of God, is reckoned to the guilty sinner for his absolution; so that when a sinner comes to stand at God’s bar, when the question is asked, Hath not this man broken the law of God? Yes, saith God; yes, saith the conscience of the poor sinner, I have broken it in innumerable ways. And doth not the law condemn thee to die for thy transgression? Yes, saith the man; yes, saith the law of God, the law knows nothing more but this; ‘the soul that sinneth must die.’ Well, then, but Is there no hope in this case? Yes, and Gospel grace reveals this hope. There is One that took sin on Him, and died for our sins, and His righteousness is reckoned for the poor sinner’s justification; and thus we are absolved. We are absolved in justification by God’s reckoning on our account, on our behalf, and for our advantage, what Christ hath done and suffered for us.

In sanctification the Spirit of God infuses a holiness into the soul. I do not say He infuses a righteousness; for I would fain have these words, righteousness and holiness, better distinguished than generally they are. Righteousness and holiness are, in this case, to be kept vastly asunder. Our righteousness is without us; our holiness is within us, it is our own; the Apostle plainly makes that distinction. ‘Not having mine own righteousness.’ (Phil. iii. 9.) It is our own, not originally, but our own inherently; not our own so us to be of our own working, but our own because it is indwelling in us. But our righteousness is neither our own originally nor inherently; it is neither wrought out by us, nor doth it dwell in us; but it is wrought out by Jesus Christ, and it eternally dwells in Him, and is only to be pleaded by faith, by a poor creature. But our holiness, though it be not our own originally, yet it is our own inherently, it dwells in us: this is the distinction that the Apostle makes. ‘That I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.’ (Phil. iii. 9.)

3rdly. Justification is perfect, but sanctification is imperfect; and here lies a great difference between them. Justification, I say, is perfect, and admits of no degrees; admits of no decays, admits of no intermission, nor of any interruption: but sanctification admits of all these. When I say justification is perfect, I mean, that every justified man is equally and perfectly justified. The poorest believer that is this day in the world, is justified as much as ever the Apostle Paul was; and every true believer is as much justified now as he will be a thousand years hence. Justification is perfect in all them that are partakers of it, and to all eternity; it admits of no degrees. And the plain reason of it is this—the ground of it is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the entitling us to it is by an act of God the gracious Judge, and that act stands for ever; and if God justifies, who is he that shall condemn? (Rom. viii. 33.) But sanctification is an imperfect, incomplete, changeable thing. One believer is more sanctified than another. I am apt to believe that the Apostle Paul was more sanctified the first hour of his conversion, than any man this day in the world.

Sanctification differs greatly as to the persons that are partakers of it; and it differs greatly too as to the same man; for a true believer, a truly sanctified man, may be more holy and sanctified at one time than at another. There is a work required of us—to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. vii. 1). But we are nowhere required to be perfecting righteousness in the sight of God; for God hath brought in a perfect righteousness, in which we stand; but we are to take care, and to give diligence to perfect holiness in the fear of God. A saint in glory is more sanctified than ever he was, for he is perfectly so; but he is not more justified than he was. Nay, a saint in heaven is not more justified than a believer on earth is: only they know it better, and the glory of that light in which they see it, discovers it more brightly and more clearly to them.


2 replies on “Robert Traill on Justification and Sanctification”

  1. For a good critique on Mark Jones’s theology from a Lutheran perspective, you can listen to this podcast by Jordan Cooper:

    Part II is here:

    (here Cooper also talks about the problems in conservative contemporary Lutheranism)

    This podcasts from Cooper on Steve Lawson and Paul Washer respectively may also be of some relevance and interest:



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