Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heavenis perfect. Matthew 5:48.
In the 43rd verse, the Savior says, "Ye have heard thatit hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thineenemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them thatcurse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them whichdespitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the childrenof your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to riseon the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just andon the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what rewardhave ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye saluteyour brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even thepublicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father whichis in heaven is perfect."
In discoursing on the subject of Christian Perfection, it ismy design to pursue this order:
I. I shall show what is not to be understood by the requirement,"Be ye therefore perfect;" or, what Christian Perfectionis not. II. Show what is the perfection here required. III. Thatthis perfection is a duty. IV. That it is attainable; and, V.Answer some of the objections which are commonly argued againstthe doctrine of Christian Perfection.
I. I am to show you what Christian Perfection is not.
1. It is not required that we should have the same naturalperfections that God has.
God has two kinds of perfections, natural and moral his naturalperfections constitute his nature, essence, of constitution. Theyare his eternity, immutability, omnipotence, etc. These are callednatural perfections, because they have no moral character. Theyare not voluntary. God has not given them to himself, becausehe did not create himself but existed from eternity, with allthese natural attributes in full possession. All these God possessesin an infinite degree. These natural perfections are not the perfectionhere required. The attributes of our nature were created in us,and we are not required to produce any new natural attributes,nor would it be possible. We are not required to possess any ofthem in the degree that God possesses them.
2. The perfection required in the text is not perfection ofknowledge, even according to our limited faculties.
3. Christian Perfection, as here required, is not freedom fromtemptation, either from our constitution or from things that areabout us. The mind may be ever so sorely tried with the animalappetites, and yet not sin. The apostle James says, "Everyman is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed."The sin is not in the temptations, but in yielding to them. Aperson may be tempted by Satan, as well as by the appetites, orby the world, and yet not have sin. All sin consists in voluntaryconsenting to the desires.
4. Neither does Christian perfection imply a freedom from whatought to be understood by the Christian warfare.
5. The perfection required is not the infinite moral perfectionwhich God has; because man, being a finite creature, is not capableof infinite affections. God being infinite in himself for himto be perfect is to be infinitely perfect. But this is not requiredof us.
II. I am to show what Christian perfection is; or what is theduty actually required in the text.
It is perfect obedience to the law of God. The law of God requiresperfect, disinterested, impartial benevolence, love to God andlove to our neighbor. It requires that we should be actuated bythe same feeling, and to act on the same principles that God actsupon; to leave self out of the question as uniformly as he does,to be as much separated from selfishness as he is; in a word,to be in our measure as perfect as God is. Christianity requiresthat we should do neither more nor less than the law of God prescribes.Nothing short of this is Christian perfection. This is being,morally, just as perfect as God. Every thing is here included,to feel as he feels, to love what he loves and hate what he hates,and for the same reasons that he loves and hates.
God regards every being in the universe according to its realvalue. He regards his own interests according to their real valuein the scale of being, and no more. He exercises the same lovetowards himself that he requires of us, and for the same reason.He loves himself supremely, both with the love of benevolenceand the love of complacency, because he is supremely excellent.And he requires us to love him just so, to love him as perfectlyas he loves himself. He loves himself with the love of benevolence,or regards his own interest, and glory, and happiness, as thesupreme good, because it is the supreme good. And he requiresus to love him in the same way. He loves himself with infinitecomplacency, because he knows that he is infinitely worthy andexcellent, and he requires the same of us. He also loves his neighboras himself, not in the same degree that he loves himself, butin the same proportion according to their real value. From thehighest angel to the smallest worm, he regards their happinesswith perfect love, according to their worth. It is his duty toconform to these principles, as much as it is our duty. He canno more depart from this rule than we can, without committingsin; and for him to do it would be as much worse than for us todo it, as he is greater than we. God is infinitely obligated todo this. His very nature, not depending on his own volition, butuncreated, binds him to this. And he has created us moral beingsin his own image, capable of conforming to the same rule withhimself. This rule requires as to have the same character withhim, to love as impartially, with as perfect love to seek thegood of others with as single an eye as he does. This, and nothingless than this, is Christian Perfection.
III. I am to show that Christian Perfection is a duty.
1. This is evident from the fact that God requires it, bothunder the law and under the gospel.
The command in the text, "Be ye perfect, even as yourFather which is in heaven is perfect," is given under thegospel. Christ here commands the very same thing that the lawrequires. Some suppose that much less is required of us underthe gospel, than was required under the law. It is true that thegospel does not require perfection, as the condition of salvation.But no part of the obligation of the law is discharged. The gospelholds those who are under it to the same holiness as those underthe law.
2. I argue that Christian Perfection is a duty, because Godhas no right to require anything less.
God cannot discharge us from the obligation to be perfect,as I have defined perfection. If he were to attempt it, he wouldjust so far give a license to sin. He has no right to give anysuch license. While we are moral beings, there is no power inthe universe that can discharge us from the obligation to be perfect.Can God discharge us from the obligation to love him with allour heart, and soul, and mind, and strength? That would be sayingthat God does not deserve such love. And if he cannot dischargeus from the whole law, he cannot discharge from any part of it,for the same reason.
3. Should any one contend that the gospel requires less holinessthan the law, I would ask him to say just how much less it requires.
If we are allowed to stop short of perfect obedience, whereshall we stop? How perfect are we required to be? Where will youfind a rule in the Bible, to determine how much less holy youare allowed to be under the gospel, than you would be under thelaw? Shall we say each one must judge for himself? Then I askif you think it is your duty to be any more perfect than you arenow? Probably all would say, Yes. Can you lay down any point atwhich, when you have arrived, you can say, "Now I am perfectenough; it is true, I have some sin left, but I have gone as faras it is my duty to go in this world?" Where do you get yourauthority for any such notion? No; the truth is, that all whoare truly pious, the more pious they are, the more strongly theyfeel the obligation to be perfect, as God is perfect.
IV. I will now show that Christian Perfection is attainable,or practicable, in this life.
1. It may be fairly inferred that Christian Perfection is attainable,from the fact that it is commanded.
Does God command us to be perfect as he is perfect, and stillshall we say it is an impossibility? Are we not always to infer,when God commands a thing, that there is a natural possibilityof doing that which he commands? I recollect hearing an individualsay, he would preach to sinners that they ought to repent, becauseGod commands it; but he would not preach that they could repent,because God has nowhere said that they can. What consummate trifling!Suppose a man were to say he would preach to citizens, that theyought to obey the laws of the country because the government hadenacted them, but he would not tell them that they could obey,because it is now where in the statute book enacted that theyhave the ability. It is always to be understood, when God requiresanything of men, that they possess the requisite faculties todo it. Otherwise God requires of us impossibilities, on pain ofdeath, and sends sinners to hell for not doing what they werein no sense able to do.
2. That there is natural ability to be perfect is a simplematter of fact.
There can be no question of this. What is perfection. It isto love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and mind,and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is,it requires us not to exert the powers of somebody else, but ourown powers. The law itself goes no farther than to require theright use of the powers you possess. So that it is a simple matterof fact that you possess natural ability, or power, to be justas perfect as God requires.
Objection. Here some may object, that if there is a naturalability to be perfect, there is a moral inability, which comesto the same thing, for inability is inability, call it what youwill, and if we have moral inability, who are as really unableas if our inability was natural.
Answer 1. There is no more moral inability to be perfectlyholy, than there is to be holy at all. So far as moral abilityis concerned, you can as well be perfectly holy as you can beholy at all. The true distinction between natural ability andmoral ability, is this: Natural ability relates to the powersand faculties of the mind; Moral ability only to the will. Moralinability is nothing else than unwillingness to do a thing.
So it is explained by President Edwards, in his treatise onthe Will, and by other writers on the subject. When you ask whetheryou have moral ability to be perfect, if you mean by it whetheryou are willing to be perfect, I answer, No. If you were willingto be perfect, you would be perfect; for the perfection requiredis only a perfect conformity of the will to God's law, or willingright. If you ask then, Are we able to will right? I answer, thequestion implies a contradiction, in supposing that there canbe such a thing as a moral agent unable to choose, or will. PresidentEdwards says expressly, in his chapter on Moral Inability, asyou may see, if you will read it, that strictly speaking, thereis no such thing as Moral Inability. When we speak of inabilityto do a, thing, if we mean to be understood of a real inability,it implies a willingness to do it, but a want of power. To saytherefore, we are unable to will, is absurd. It is saying we willand yet are unable to will, at the same time.
Answer 2. But I admit and believe, that there is desperateunwillingness in the case. And if this is what you mean by MoralInability, it is true. There is a pertinacious unwillingness insinners to become Christians, and in Christians to become perfect,or to come up to the full perfection required both by the lawand gospel. Sinners may strongly wish to become Christians, andChristians may strongly wish or desire to be rid of all theirsins, and may pray for it, even with agony. They may think theyare willing to be perfect, but they deceive themselves. They mayfeel, in regard to their sins taken all together, or in the abstract,as if they are willing to renounce them all. But take them upin the detail, one by one, and there are many sins they are unwillingto give up. They wrestle against sin in general, but cling toit in the detail.
I have known cases of this kind where individuals will breakdown in such a manner that they think they never will sin again;and then perhaps in one hour, something will come up that theyare ready to fight for the indulgence, and need to be broken downagain and again. Christians actually need to be hunted from onesin after another, in this way, before they are willing to givethem up, and after all, are unwilling to give up all sins. Whenthey are truly willing to give up all sin, when they have no willof their own, but merge their own will entirely in the will ofGod, then their bonds are broken. When they will yield absolutelyto God's will, then they are filled with all the fullness of God.
After all, the true point of inquiry is this: Have I any rightto expect to be perfect in this world? Is there any reason forme to believe that I can be so completely subdued, that my soulshall burn with a steady flame, and I shall love God wholly, upto what the law requires? That it is a real duty, no one can deny.But the great query is, is it attainable?
I answer, Yes, I believe it is.
Here let me observe, that so much has been said within a fewyears about Christian Perfection, and individuals who have entertainedthe doctrine of Perfection have run into so many wild notions,that it seems as if the devil had anticipated the movements ofthe church, and created such a state of feeling, that the momentthe doctrine of the Bible respecting sanctification is crowdedon the church, one and another cries out, "Why, this is Perfectionism."But I will say, notwithstanding the errors into which some ofthose called Perfectionists have fallen, there is such a thingheld forth in the Bible as Christian Perfection, and that theBible doctrine on the subject is what nobody need to fear, butwhat every body needs to know. I disclaim, entirely, the chargeof maintaining the peculiarities, whatever they be, of modernPerfectionists. I have read their publications, and have had muchknowledge of them as individuals, and I cannot assent to manyof their views. But the doctrine that Christian Perfection isa duty, is one which I have always maintained, and I have beenmore convinced of it within a few months, that it is attainablein this life. Many doubt this, but I am persuaded it is true,on various grounds.
1. God wills it.
The first doubt which will arise in many minds, is this; "DoesGod really will my sanctification in this world?" I answer:He says he does. The law of God is itself as strong an expressionas he can give of his will on the subject, and it is backed upby an infinite sanction. The gospel is but a republication ofthe same will, in another form. How can God express his will morestrongly on this point than he has in the text? "Be ye thereforeperfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."In the 1 Thessalonians 4:3, we are told expressly, "For thisis the will of God, even your sanctification."
If you examine the Bible carefully, from one end to the other,you will find that it is every where just as plainly taught thatGod wills the sanctification of Christians in this world, as itis that he wills sinners should repent in this world. And if wego by the Bible, we might just as readily question whether hewills that men should repent, as whether he wills that Christiansshould be holy. Why should he not reasonably expect it? He requiresit. What does he require? When he requires men to repent, he requiresthat they should love God with all the heart, soul, mind, andstrength. What reasons have we to believe that he wills they shouldrepent at all, or love him at all, which is not a reason for believingthat he wills they should love him perfectly? Strange logic, indeed!to teach that he wills it in one case, because he requires it,and not admit the same inference in the other. No man can show,from the Bible, that God does not require perfect sanctificationin this world, nor that he does not will it, nor that it is notlust as attainable as any degree of sanctification.
I have turned over the Bible with special reference to thispoint, and thought I would note down on my card, where I havethe plan of my discourse, the passages that teach this doctrine.But I found they were too numerous altogether to admit of itsbeing done, and that if I collected them all, I should do nothingelse this evening but stand and read passages of scripture. Ifyou have never looked into the Bible with this view, you willbe astonished to see how many more passages there are that speakof deliverance from the commission of sin, than there are thatspeak of deliverance from the punishment of sin. The passagesthat speak only of deliverance from punishment, are as nothing,in comparison of the others.
2. All the promises and prophecies of God, that respect thesanctification of believers in this world, are to be understoodof course, of their perfect sanctification.
What is sanctification, but holiness? When a prophecy speaksof the sanctification of the church, are we to understand thatit is to be sanctified only partially? When God requires holiness,are we to understand that of partial holiness? Surely not. Bywhat principle, then, will you understand it of partial holinesswhen he promises holiness. We have been so long in the way ofunderstanding the scriptures with reference to the existing stateof things, that we lose sight of the real meaning. But if we lookonly at the language of the Bible, I defy any man to prove thatthe promises and prophecies of holiness mean any thing short ofperfect sanctification, unless the requirements of both the lawand gospel are to be understood of partial obedience which isabsurd.
3. Perfect sanctification is the great blessing promised, throughoutthe Bible.
The apostle says we have exceeding great and precious promises,and what are they, and what is their use? "Whereby are givenunto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these yemight be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruptionthat is in the world through lust." 2 Peter 1:4.
If that is not perfect sanctification, I beg to know what is.It is a plain declaration that these "exceeding great andprecious promises" are given for this object, that by believingand appropriating and using them, we might become partakers ofthe divine nature. And if we will use them for the purposes forwhich they were put in the Bible, we may become perfectly holy.
Let us look at some of these promises in particular. I willbegin with the promise of the Abrahamic covenant. The promiseis that his posterity should possess the land of Canaan, and thatthrough him by the Messiah, all nations should be blessed. Theseal of the covenant, circumcision, which every one knows is atype of holiness, shows us what was the principal blessing intended.It was holiness. So the apostle tells us, in another place, JesusChrist was given, that he might sanctify unto himself a peculiarpeople.
All the purifications and other ceremonies of the Moasic ritualsignified the same thing; as they are all pointed forward to aSavior to come. Those ordinances of purifying the body were setforth, every one of them, with reference to the purifying of themind, or holiness.
Under the gospel, the same thing is signified by baptism; thewashing of the body representing the sanctification of the mind.
In Ezekiel 36:25, this blessing is expressly promised, as thegreat blessing of the gospel: "Then will I sprinkle cleanwater upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness,and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart alsowill I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and Iwill take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will giveyou a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you: andcause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments,and do them."
So it is in Jeremiah 33:8: "And I will cleanse them fromall their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and Iwill pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, andwhereby they have transgressed against me." But it wouldtake up too much time to quote all the passages in the Old Testamentprophecies, that represent holiness to be the great blessing ofthe covenant. I desire you all to search the Bible for yourselves,and you will be astonished to find how uniformly the blessingof sanctification is held up as the principal blessing promisedto the world through the Messiah.
Why, who can doubt that the great object of the Messiah's comingwas to sanctify his people? Just after the fall it was predictedthat Satan would bruise his heel, but that he should bruise Satan'shead. And the apostle John tells us that "For this purposethe Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the worksof the devil." He has undertaken to put Satan under his feet.His object is to win us back to our allegiance to God, to sanctifyus, to purify our minds. As it is said in Zecheriah 13:1, "Inthat day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of Davidand to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness."
And Daniel says, "Seventy weeks are determined upon thypeople and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, andto make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity,and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up thevision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy." But itis in vain to name the multitude of these texts. The Old Testamentis full of it.
In the New Testament, the first account we have of the Savior,tells us, that he was called "Jesus, for he shall save hispeople from their sins." So it is said, "He was manifestedto take away our sins," and " to destroy the works ofthe devil." In Titus 2:13, the apostle Paul speaks of thegrace of God, or the gospel, as teaching us to deny ungodliness.
"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearingof the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himselffor us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purifyunto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Andin Ephesians 5:26, we learn that "Christ loved the church,and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse itwith the washing of water by the word, that he might present itto himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or anysuch thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."I only quote these few passages by way of illustration, to showthat the object for which Christ came is to sanctify the churchto such a degree that it should be absolutely "holy and withoutblemish." So in Romans 11:26, "And so all Israel shallbe saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer,and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is my covenantunto them, when I shall take away their sins." And in 1 John1:9, it is said, "If we confess our sins he is faithful andjust to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."What is it to "cleanse us from all unrighteousness,"if it is not perfect sanctification? I presume all of you whoare here tonight, if there is such a thing promised in the Bibleas perfect sanctification, wise to know it. Now what do you think?In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, the apostle Paul prays a very remarkableprayer: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; andI pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preservedblameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Whatis that? "Sanctify you wholly." Does that mean perfectsanctification? You may think it does not mean perfect sanctificationin this world. But the apostle says not only that your whole souland spirit, but that your "body be preserved blameless."Could an inspired apostle make such a prayer, if he did not believethe blessing prayed for to be possible? But he goes on to say,in the very next verse, "Faithful is he that calleth you,who also will do it." Is that true, or is it false?
4. The perfect sanctification of believers is the very objectfor which the Holy Spirit is promised.
To quote the passages that show this, would take up too muchtime." The whole tenor of scripture respecting the Holy Spiritproves it. The whole array of gospel means through which the HolySpirit works, is aimed at this, and adapted to the end of sanctifyingthe church. All the commands to be holy, all the promises, allthe prophecies, all the ordinances, all the providences, the blessingsand the judgments, all the duties of religion, are the means whichthe Holy Ghost is to employ for sanctifying the church.
5. If it is not a practicable duty to be perfectly holy inthis world, then it will follow that the devil has so completelyaccomplished his design in corrupting mankind that Jesus Christis at fault, and his no way to sanctify his people but by takingthem out of the world.
Is it possible that Satan has so got the advantage of God,that God's kingdom cannot be reestablished in this world, andthat the Almighty has no way but to back out, and take his saintsto heaven, before he can make them holy? Is God's kingdom to beonly partially established, and is it to be always so, that thebest saints shall one-half of their time be serving the devil?Must the people of God always go drooping and drivelling alongin religion, and live in sin till they get to heaven? What isthat stone out of a mountain without hands, that is to fill theearth, if it does not show that there is yet to be a universaltriumph of the love of God in the world?
6. If perfect sanctification is not attainable in this world,it must be either from a want of motives in the gospel, or wantof sufficient power in the Spirit of God.
It is said that in another life we may be like God, for weshall see him as he is. But why not here, if we have that faithwhich is the "substance of things hoped for, and the evidenceof things not seen?" There is a promise to those who "hungerand thirst after righteousness" that "they shall befilled."
What is it to be "filled" with righteousness, butto be perfectly holy? And are we never to be filled with righteousnesstill we die? Are we to go through life hungry, and thirsty andunsatisfied? So the Bible has been understood, but it does notread so.
l. "The power of habit is so great. that we ought notto expect to be perfectly sanctified in this life."
Answer. If the power of habit can be so far encroached uponthat an impenitent sinner can be converted, why can it not beabsolutely broken, so that a converted person may be wholly sanctified?The greatest difficulty, surely, if when selfishness has the entirecontrol of the mind, and when the habits of sin are wholly unbroken.This obstacle is so great, in all cases, that no power but thatof the Holy Ghost can overcome it: and so great, in many instances,that God himself cannot, consistently with his wisdom, use themeans necessary to convert the soul. But is it possible to suppose,that after he has begun to overcome it, after he has broken thepower of selfishness and the obstinacy of habit, and actuallyconverted the individual, that after this God has not resourcessufficient to sanctify the soul altogether?
2. "Many physical difficulties have been created by alife of sin, that cannot be overcome or removed by moral means."
This is a common objection. Men feel that they have fastenedupon themselves appetites and physical influences, which theydo not believe it possible to overcome of moral means. The apostlePaul, in the 7th of Romans, describes a man in great conflictwith the body. But in the next chapter he speaks of one who hadgotten the victory over the flesh. "And if Christ be in you,the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life becauseof righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesusfrom the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from thedead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit thatdwelleth in you." This quickening of the body is not spokenof the resurrection of the body, but of the influence of the Spiritof God upon the body the sanctification of the body.
You will ask, "Does the Spirit of God produce a physicalchange in the body?" I will illustrate it by the case ofthe drunkard. The drunkard has brought upon himself a diseasedstate of the body, an unnatural thirst, which is unsuitable, andso strong that it seems impossible he should be reclaimed. Butvery likely you know cases in which they have been reclaimed,and have entirely overcome this physical appetite. I have heardof cases, where drunkards have been made to see the sin of drunkennessinsuch a strong light, that they abhorred strong drink, and foreverrenounced it, with such a loathing that they never had the leastdesire for strong drink again.
I once knew an individual who was a slave to the use of tobacco.At length he became convinced that it was a sin for him to useit, and the struggle against it finally drove him to God in suchan agony of prayer, that he got the victory at once over the appetite,and never had the least desire for it again. I am not now givingyou philosophy, but facts. I have heard of individuals over whoma life of sin had given to certain appetites a perfect mastery,but in time of revival they have been subdued into perfect quiescence,and these appetites have ever after been as dead as if they hadno body. I suppose the fact is, that the mind may be so occupiedand absorbed with greater things, as not to give a thought tothe things that would revive the vicious appetite. If a drunkardgoes by a grocery, or sees people drinking and allows his mindto run upon it, the appetite will be awakened.
The wise man, therefore, tells him to "Look not upon thewine when it is red." But there is no doubt that any appetiteof the body may be subdued, if a sufficient impression is madeupon the mind to break it up.
I believe every real Christian will be ready to admit thatthis is possible, from his own experience. Have you not, beloved,known times when one great absorbing topic has so filled yourmind and controlled your soul. that the appetites of the bodyremained, for the time, perfectly neutralized? Now, suppose thisstate of mind to continue to become constant, would not all thesephysical difficulties be overcome, which you speak of as standingin the way of perfect sanctification?
3. "The Bible is against this doctrine, where it says,there is not a just man on the earth that liveth, and sinnethnot."
Answer. Suppose the Bible does say that there is not one onearth, it does not say there cannot be one. Or, it may have beentrue at that time, or under that dispensation, that there wasnot one man in the world who was perfectly sanctified; and yetit may not follow that at this time, or under the gospel dispensation,there is no one who lives without sin. "For the law madenothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did."Hebrews 7:9. That is, the gospel did.
4. "The apostles admit that they were not perfect."
Answer. I know the apostle Paul says, in one place, "Notas though I had already attained, either were already perfect."But it is not said that he continued so till his death, or thathe never did attain to perfect sanctification, and the mannerin which he speaks in the remainder of the verse, looks as ifhe expected to become so: "But I follow after, if that Imay apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus."Nor does it appear to me to be true that in this passage referredto, he is speaking of perfect sanctification, but rather of perfectknowledge.
And the apostle John speaks of himself as if he loved God perfectly.But whatever may be the truth as to the actual character of theapostles it does not follow, because they were not perfect thatno others can be. They clearly declare it to be a duty, and thatthey were aiming at it, just as if they expected to attain itin this life. And they command us to do the same.
5. "But is it not presumption for us to think we can bebetter than the apostles and primitive Christians?"
Answer. What is the presumption in the case? Is it not a factthat we have far greater advantages for religious experience,than the primitive churches. The benefit of their experience,the complete scriptures, the state of the world, the near approachof the millennium, all give us the advantage over the primitivebelievers. Are we to suppose the church is always to stand inregard to religious experience, and never to go ahead in any thing?What scripture is there for this? Why should not the church bealways growing better? It seems to be the prevailing idea thatthe church is to be always looking back to the primitive saintsas the standard. I suppose the reverse of this is a duty, andthat we ought to be always aiming at a much higher standard thantheirs. I believe the church must go far ahead of the primitiveChristians before the millennium can come. I leave out of viewthe apostles, because it does not clearly appear but that theybecame fully sanctified.
6. "But so many profess to be perfect, who are not so,that I cannot believe in perfection in this life."
Answer. How many people profess to be rich, who are not;. Willyou therefore say, you cannot believe any body is rich? Fine logic!
7. "So many who profess perfection have run into errorand fanaticism, that I am afraid to think of it."
Answer. I find in history, that a sect of Perfectionists hasgrown out of every great and general revival that ever took place.And this is exactly one of the devil's masterpieces, to counteractthe effects of a revival. He knows that if the church were broughtto the proper standard of holiness, it would be a speedy deathblow to his power on earth, and he takes this course to defeatthe efforts of the church for elevating the standard of piety,by frightening Christians from marching right up to the point,and aiming at living perfectly conformed to the will of God. Andso successful has he been, that the moment you begin to crowdthe church up to be holy, and give up all their sins, somebodywill cry out, "Why, this leads to Perfectionism;" andthus give it a bad name and put it down.
8. "But do you really think any body ever has been perfectlyholy in this world?"
Answer. I have reason to believe there have been many. It ishighly probable that Enoch and Elijah were free from sin, beforethey were taken out of the world. And in different ages of thechurch there have been numbers of Christians who were intelligentand upright, and had nothing that could be said against them,who have testified that they themselves lived free from sin. Iknow it is said, in reply, that they must have been proud, andthat no man would say he was free from sin for any other motivebut pride. But I ask, why may not a man say he is free from sin,if it is so, without being proud, as well as he can say he isconverted without being proud? Will not the saints say it in heaven,to the praise of the grace of God, which has thus crowned hisglorious work? And why may they not say it now, from the samemotive? I do not myself profess now to have attained perfect sanctification,but if I had attained it, if I felt that God had really givenme the victory over the world, the flesh and the devil, and mademe free from sin, would I keep it a secret, locked up in my ownbreast, and let my brethren stumble on in ignorance of what thegrace of God can do? Never. I would tell them, that they mightexpect complete deliverance, if they would only lay hold on thearm of help which Christ reaches forth, to save his people fromtheir sins.
I have heard people talk like this, that if a Christian reallywas perfect, he would be the last person that would tell of it.But would you say of a person who professed conversion, "Ifhe was really converted, he would be the last person to tell ofit?" On the contrary, is it not the first impulse of a convertedheart to say, "come and hear, all ye that fear God, and Iwill declare what he hath done for my soul!" Why then shouldnot the same desire exist in one who feels that he has obtainedsanctification? Why all these suspicions, and refusing to creditevidence? If anyone gives evidence of great piety, if his lifeis irreproachable, and his spirit not to be complained of, ifhe shows the very spirit of the Son of God, and if such a persontestifies that after great struggles and agonizing prayer Godhas given him the victory, and his soul is set at liberty by thepower of divine grace; why are we not bound to receive his testimony,just as much, as when he says he is converted. We always takesuch testimony, so far. And now, when he says he has gone farther,and got the victory over all sin, and that Christ has actuallyfulfilled his promise in this respect, why should we not creditthis also?
I have recently read Mr. Wesley's "Plain Account of ChristianPerfection," a book I never saw until lately. I find someexpressions in it to which I should object, but I believe it israther the expression than the sentiments. And I think, with thisabatement, it is an admirable book, and I wish every member ofthis church to read it. An edition is in the press, in this city.I would also recommend the memoir of James Brainerd Taylor, andI wish every Christian would get it, and study it. I have readthe most of it three times within a few months.
From many things in that book, it is plain that he believedin the doctrine that Christian perfection is a duty, and thatit is attainable by believers in this life. There is nothing publishedwhich shows that he professed to have attained it, but it is manifestthat he believed it to be attainable. But I have been told thatmuch which is found in his diary on this subject, as well as somethings in his letters, were suppressed by his biographers, asnot fitted for the eye of the church in her present state. I believeif the whole could come to light, that it would be seen that hewas a firm believer in this doctrine. These books should be readand pondered by the church.
I have now in my mind an individual, who was a member of thechurch, but very worldly, and when a revival came he opposed it,at first; but afterwards he was awakened, and after an awful conflict,he broke down, and has ever since lived a life of the most devotedpiety, laboring and praying incessantly, like his blessed Master,to promote the kingdom of God. I have never heard this man sayhe thought he was perfect, but I have often heard him speak ofthe duty and practicability of being perfectly sanctified. Andif there is a man in the world who is so, I believe he is one.
People have the strangest notions on this subject. Sometimesyou will hear them argue against Christian Perfection on thisground, that a man who was perfectly holy could not live, couldnot exist in this world. I believe I have talked just so myself,in time past. I know I have talked like a fool on the subject.Why, a saint who was perfect would be more alive than ever, tothe good of his fellow men. Could not Jesus Christ live on earth?He was perfectly holy. It is thought that if a person was perfectlysanctified, and loved God perfectly, he would be in such a stateof excitement, that he could not remain in the body, could neithereat nor sleep, nor attend to the ordinary duties of life. Butthere is no evidence of this. The Lord Jesus Christ was a man,subject to all the temptations of other men, He also loved theLord his God with all his heart and soul and strength. And yetit does not appear that he was in such a state of excitement thathe could not both eat and sleep, and work at his trade as a carpenter,and maintain perfect health of body and perfect composure of mind.And why needs a saint that is perfectly sanctified, to be carriedaway with uncontrollable excitement, or killed with intense emotion,any more than Jesus Christ? There is no need of it, and ChristianPerfection implies no such thing.
We can see now the reasons why there is no more perfectionin the world.
1. Christians do not believe that it is the will of God, orthat God is willing they should be perfectly sanctified in thisworld.
They know he commands them to be perfect, as he is perfect,but they think that he is secretly unwilling, and does not reallywish them to be so; "Otherwise," say they, "whydoes he not do more for us, to make us perfect?" No doubt,God prefers their remaining as they are, to using any other meansor system of influences to make them otherwise; because he seesthat it would be a greater evil to introduce a new system of meansthan to let them remain as they are. Where one of the evils isunavoidable, he chooses the least of the two evils, and whom doubtthat he prefers their being perfect in the circumstances in whichthey are, to their sinning in these circumstances. Sinners reasonjust as these professors reason. They say, "I don't believehe wills my repentance; if he did, he would make me repent."Sinner, God may prefer your continued impenitence, and your damnation,to using any other influences than he does use to make you repent.
But for you to infer from this, that he does not wish you toyield to the influences he does use, is strange logic! Supposeyour servant should reason so, and say, "I don't believemy master means I should obey him, because he don't stand by meall day, to keep me at work." Is that a just conclusion?Very likely, the master's time is so valuable, that it would bea greater evil to his business, than for that servant to standstill all day.
So it is in the government of God. If God were to bring allthe power of his government to bear on one individual, he mightsave that individual, while at the same time, it would so materiallyderange his government, that it would be a vastly greater evilthan for that individual to go to hell. In the same way, in thecase of a Christian, God has furnished him with all the meansof sanctification, and required him to be perfect, and now heturns round and says, "God does not really prefer my beingperfect; if he did, he would make me so." This is just theargument of the impenitent sinner, and no better in one case thanthe other. The plain truth is, God does desire, of both, thatin the circumstances in which they are placed, they should dojust what he commands them to do.
2. They do not expect it themselves.
The great part of the church do not really expect to be anymore pious than they are.
3. Much of the time, they do not even desire perfect sanctification.
4. They are satisfied with their hunger and thirst after righteousness,and do not expect to be filled.
Here let me say, that hunger and thirst after holiness is notholiness. The desire of a thing is not the thing desired. If theyhunger and thirst after holiness, they ought to give God no rest,till he comes up to his promise, that they shall be filled withholiness, or made perfectly holy.
5. They overlook the great design of the gospel.
Too long has the church been in the habit of thinking thatthe great design of the gospel is, to save men from the punishmentof sin, whereas its real design and object is to deliver men fromsin. But Christians have taken the other ground, and think ofnothing but that they are to go on in sin, and all they hope foris to be forgiven, and when they die made holy in heaven. Oh,if they only realized that the whole framework of the gospel isdesigned to break the power of sin, and fill men on earth withall the fullness of God, how soon there would be one steady blazeof love in the hearts of God's people all over the world!
6. The promises are not understood, and not appropriated byfaith.
If the church would read the Bible, and lay hold of every promisethere, they would find them exceeding great and precious. Butnow the church loses its inheritance, and remains ignorant ofthe extent of the blessings she may receive. Had I time tonightI could lead you to some promises which, if you would only gethold of and appropriate, you would know what I mean.
7. They seek it by the law, and not by faith.
How many are seeking sanctification by their own resolutionsand works, their fastings and prayers, their endeavors and activity,instead of taking right hold of Christ, by faith, for sanctification,as they do for justification. It is all work, work, work, whenit should be by faith in "Christ Jesus, who of God is madeunto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."When they go and take right hold of the strength of God, theywill be sanctified.
Faith will bring Christ right into the soul, and fill it withthe same spirit that breathes through himself. These dead worksare nothing. It is faith that must sanctify, it is faith thatpurifies the heart; that faith which is the substance of thingshoped for, takes hold of Christ and brings him into the soul,to dwell there the hope of glory; that the life which we livehere should be by the faith of the Son of God. It is from notknowing, or not regarding this, that there is so little holinessin the church.
8. From the want of the right kind of dependence.
Instead of taking scriptural views of their dependencies andseeing where their strength is, and realizing how willing Godis to give his Holy Spirit to them that ask, now and continually,and thus taking hold, and holding on, by the arm of God, theysit down, in unbelief and sin, to wait God's time, and call thisdepending on God. Alas how little is felt, after all this talkabout dependence on the Holy Spirit; how little is really feltof it; and how little is there of the giving up of the whole soulto his control and guidance, with faith in his power to enlighten,to lead, to sanctify, to kindle the affections, and fill the soulcontinually with all the fullness of God!
Back to Index of Lectures to ProfessingChristians