Mar 10

Session 1 Recap: Zaspel, “B.B. Warfield on The Doctrine of Sanctification”

2012 | by Tom Brainerd | Category: Clarus 12

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Tom Brainerd, Senior Pastor at Trinity Reformed Church in Edgewood, NM. Tom is a member of the Albuquerque Chapter of The Gospel Coalition. This post is a summary of Fred G. Zaspel’s message from Friday night, March 9, “B.B. Warfield on The Doctrine of Sanctification.” Click here for an outline of Dr. Zaspel’s talk.


As I talked to my congregation about Clarus I had to tell them “I’ve never actually heard of Fred Zaspel.” Of course, in the rarified Reformed air, it is not unusual to only know of those of your own tradition. In this case, I am delighted to have become acquainted with this fine pastor and scholar and am honored to rehearse and reflect on this excellent talk. Zaspel exhibits understanding of Warfield (he wrote the book) and in less than an hour presented what took a seminary term.

To the towering intellect and heart for Christ of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (the “Lion of Princeton”), Christianity must be both propositional and experiential. To have either a well-informed mind or a warmed heart was a false dichotomy; true religion combined the two, each depending upon the Triune God. The Christian himself is supernatural, a walking miracle, redeemed through the power of Christ’s sacrifice, then transformed into the image of Christ, both supernaturally.

The transformation, the outworking of godliness in lives is the essence of salvation. Justification (that initial sanctification) and what we think of sanctification (conforming to Christ) are distinct but inseparable. The penalty of sin our sinfulness itself; our sanctification over time is a relief from that penalty.

Warfield sees the beginning, middle and end of the Christian life. It begins with justification, where sin’s grip on us is broken. It continues in “progressive” sanctification, the work of grace by which believers are freed from the effects of sin and built up in holiness. And glorification is that “final sanctification,” freedom from the presence of sin.

The breaking of the power of sin in justification is linked directly to Paul’s great question in Romans 6:1:

Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?

With Paul, Warfield sounds a hearty “may it never be!” United with Christ in death and resurrection the believer is freed, and sin no longer has dominion. Sanctification (initial, progressive, and final) is the breaking of the power of sin. We were sinners, and we lived like it. It is impossible to die with Christ, yet live in that way. We are now led by the Spirit on pathways of righteousness (Romans 8:14). Union with Christ changes everything. We are a people who have been freed from bondage to sin.

This is where Warfield falls out with the “higher life” movements of the 19th century. Their assertion of a “higher level of trust” conflicts with the promises of Romans 8:14. As opposed to believers “moving to the next level,” all are led by the Spirit. Freedom from sin that Christ purchased gives the lie to the higher life teaching of “two natures” within the believer. And the “quietism” of the higher life folks (“let go and let God”) does not agree with Philippians 2:12; “working out salvation” mandates cooperation with the Holy Spirit in His gracious work of “forming Christ.” God is at work and we are to work accordingly. Warfield emphasizes the New Testament stress on Christian striving toward holiness.

For that striving, Warfield holds out the Word of God as one of the primary means of grace. The Scriptures make us wise unto the whole of salvation, from beginning to end and everywhere in between…including the practical godliness that is inseparable from salvation. Ever-deepening understanding of the Scriptures brings ever-deepening worship and godliness. Christian obedience is rooted in understanding and appreciating the self-sacrificing love that Christ has for us…embedded in the Scriptures.

Of all things, Warfield is supremely confident of the end, assured that we will attain the goal. But attaining will not be of us. Instead, we have been shown the trophy. Our names are already engraved upon it. The Judge has held it out before us and said “You’re going to win this.” This is the kind of race Warfield holds out.

Dr. Zaspel’s new book, Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel is available from Crossway Books.