April 13, 2013
iii. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
The Confession has more to say about our struggle for sanctification, the war within our soul. By telling us that we were in for the fight of our lives, the previous section warned against triumphalism. We will never be perfectly holy in the present life; the Spirit will have to battle against sin for every square inch of our souls.
In this section we are warned against defeatism. We struggle so hard with particular sins that it is tempting to give up. When we will ever be holy?
With their typical pastoral wisdom, the Westminster Divines assure us that these feelings are normal. Sometimes we seem to be losing, not winning, the fight against sin. There are seasons when "the remaining corruption may much prevail." As a result, we may not feel as if we are making very much progress in sanctification.
But these setbacks are only temporary. Even if we lose some skirmishes, we are actually winning the war. Because of the Spirit's work within us, what the Confession calls "the regenerate part" of us eventually will overcome sin. The word "overcome" echoes the early chapters of Revelation, where we are called to victory in our lifelong struggle against the world's evil.
Ultimate victory is promised by God, and therefore guaranteed. This is not because of anything in us, of course, but only "through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ." Sanctification is a work of God's Spirit, who never fails to win the fight.
Dr. Philip Ryken is the president of Wheaton College.