Mining the Riches of Manton #4 – Sincerity: the Heart of Puritan Spirituality

December 3, 2009

One of the central emphases in Manton’s preaching is the doctrine of sincerity.  It is the way the Puritans deal with the requirement of obedience as a way to blessing, especially in the Old Testament.  The first verse of Psalm 119 raises this issue:  “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.”  M. brings out this concern by impersonating one of his hearers, “At first hearing of these words, a man might reply, ‘O, then none can be blessed if that is the qualification, for who can say, ‘My heart is clean?’ (Proverbs 20:9).” How do the Puritans deal with what we could call, ‘the legal tenor’ of the O.T.?

M. appeals to his understanding of covenant theology for an answer.  He acknowledges that if the requirement is taken ‘strictly’ there can be no blessedness for sinners:  “There is no escaping condemnation and the curse, if God should deal with us according to strict justice and require an absolute undefiledness.”  But Manton points out that Psalm 119:1 is not written as a restatement of the first covenant, that is, the Covenant of Works made with Adam.  Rather, verses like Psalm 119:1 must be understood according to the principles of the Covenant of Grace.  “This undefiledness is to be understood according to the tenor of the second covenant, which does not exclude the mercy of God and the justification of penitent sinners.”  He cites Psalm 130;3-4, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquity, who shall stand?  But there is mercy with thee.”  The Covenant of Grace, in both its O.T., as well as, N.T. administrations, enjoins obedience without forgetting mercy.  Therefore, God forgives the failings that mar our obedience.

What then does God require of Christians?  M. replies, “Well, then, this qualification must be understood, as I said, in the sense of the second covenant.  And what is that?  Sincerity of sanctification.  When a man carefully endeavors to keep his garments unspotted from the world, and to approve himself to God; when this is his constant exercise, ‘to avoid all offense both towards God and man, (Acts 24:16), and is cautious and watchful lest he should be defiled; when he is humbled more for his pollutions; when he is always purging his heart and endeavors, and that with success, to walk in the way of God, here is the undefiledness in a gospel sense.  Psalm 84:11 – ‘The Lord will be a sun and a shield…’ To whom?  ‘…to those that walk uprightly.’  This is possible enough; here is no ground of despair.  This is what will lead us to blessedness, when we are troubled for our failings, and there is a diligent exercise in the purification of our hearts.”

Here we have come to the heart of Puritan spirituality.  They saw the Scriptures teaching a doctrine of sincere obedience as the mark of a true Christian.  While we might easily agree that God requires of his children sincerity, not perfection, would we agree with M. in his definition of sincerity?  Would we agree with M’s confidence that this “is possible enough; here is no ground of despair?”  If so, are we committed to the diligence that is required to make such sincere obedience possible?  It is at this point that the Puritans have always been criticized both, in their own day and today.  They believed that, with proper instruction and application and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, God’s children would shine as lights in this world.  Should we accept anything less for ourselves or for our Savior?   Caveat lector!

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