Interest in the Comfortable Promises
Having shown his readers the great value of Christ’s freedom through the application of the “law of the Spirit of life,” Manton turns towards uses. For Puritan preachers, "uses" were the application of the text to the hearts, minds, and wills of the hearers. These uses were intended to change the thinking, affections, or actions of those under the ministry of the Word. Although Puritan preaching contained applications throughout the sermon, dedicated “uses” followed the doctrinal propositions of the text. Uses were generally numbered in Puritan preaching, although one numbered use could contain several applications.
Manton appropriates four uses from the first half of Romans 8:2: the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free.
The first use of the text, according to Manton, is “to convince the rabble of carnal Christians how little they have gained by that Christianity they have (Works of Manton, 11.411).” There are many that profess the Lord Jesus and yet do not know him, and do not have the Spirit of God indwelling them. Romans 8:9, which Manton will deal with later in this series, says, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
The Spirit ought to convict those who are Christians in name only, and use that fact to draw them through seeing the genuine power of the Christian life. Manton would urge them by saying,
“There are Christians in name, and Christians in power; in profession, and deed and in truth; Christians in the lettering, Christians in spirit: these are such as are sanctified by the spirit unto obedience; and none but such have interest in the comfortable promises of mercy in the new covenant (Ibid).”
Secondly, Manton sees this text applied to weak Christians, which he describes as “imperfect” and “clouded with…infirmities (Ibid).” The Spirit of the life of Christ and its law ought to “free” the weak believer to both humility as well as circumspection in this life. Manton said that it was, “to humble the better sort of Christians that they have gotten so little of the Spirit, that the effects of it in their souls are so imperfect, clouded with a mixture of remaining infirmities (Ibid).”
Christians have differing amounts of the fulness of Christ. Sanctification is a work of God that has different “measures” in the spiritual application of Manton. He explained,
“All that are godly have this spirit, are guided by it, walk after it; but all have it not in like measure. Some are weak; it doth not subdue their lusts and fears, nor breed such mortification and courage as should be found in the disciples of Christ…(Ibid).”
The law of the Spirit of Christ ought to lead to both the killing of sin as well as the “courage” needed to live the Christian life. The weak Christian ought to be strengthened and all Christians should seek greater measures of the Christian life.
The way in which the Christian lives life in the Spirit is important to Manton as well. This is connected to his third application. Our duties ought to be done with the help of the Spirit, with sobriety as becoming of those who are in Christ. He said, “Do all your duties as those that are under the law of the spirit of life. Not in the oldness of the letter, but the newness of the spirit, not customarily, formally, but seriously with a life and a power (Ibid).”
Of course, there are Christians that want to walk in a more sober manner and want to please the Lord with the way that the Christian life is lived out. How would Manton encourage those struggling to live the Christian life? He said, “Beg your redeemer to pour out a fuller measure of his Spirit in your souls; he hath promised it (Ibid).” This begging will result in the Lord answering the believer who seeks to live unto his glory.
But what if one begs, yet the Lord never answers? Manton would have this professing Christian examine whether he or she was in the faith. This is the fourth use: that each Christian would examine his or her relationship with the Spirit. Manton said, “Let us examine often and see if we are partakers of his spirit. Two evidences there be of it, and they are both in the text, life and liberty (Ibid, 11.412).” The Christian will know that she has an interest in the "comfortable promises" when she sees her own life in light of the freedom purchased by Christ. The Christian ought to find comfort in applying the freedom of the Spirit of Christ to her life—and it ought to rule her life.
Manton ends his uses with this charge by way of a question that we should all take to heart: “Doth it rule the main course of your lives? Denying the pleasure and profits and honors of the world, we must live in Christ and to Christ (Ibid).”
Nathan Eshelman is the pastor of the Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA). He studied for ministry at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Nathan co-hosts “The Jerusalem Chamber” podcast, a paragraph by paragraph exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith; writes for Gentle Reformation; and has a forthcoming book on the Westminster Confession of Faith through Crown and Covenant Publications. Nathan is married to Lydia and has five children and is an avid book collector and antique aficionado.
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