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acquainted with his own heart, he had a deep sense of his great imperfection in holiness. He says, “ Not as though I had
, already attained, either were already perfect.” “I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?” Thus it appears from what God says of saints, and from what they say of themselves, that none have attained and none will attain, to perfect holiness in this life.
I proceed to show,
This is a point no less difficult, than important, to determine. There are, however, but three different suppositions to be made concerning the imperfection of saints. The first is, that all their moral exercises are perfectly holy, but too low and languid. The second is, that all their moral exercises are partly holy, and partly sinful. The third is, that some of their moral exercises are perfectly holy, and some are perfectly sinful. Let us examine each of these suppositions distinctly.
First. Let us inquire, whether the imperfection of saints can consist in the mere weakness of their holy exercises. Those who embrace this opinion, suppose that saints are always in the exercise of grace, and that all their gracious exercises are perfectly holy. But if this be true, it is extremely difficult to discover wherein they are morally or criminally imperfect. Supposing their affections are indeed low and languid, how does this appear to be a criminal defect or imperfection? There can be no criminality without some positively bad intention or design. But there is no positively bad design or intention in loving either God or man, in a low and languid manner. Though saints are conscious that their love to God and other holy exercises are not so lively and vigorous at one time as at another, yet they never feel to blame merely on account of the weakness or languor of their religious affections. It is impossible in the nature of things, that good men should always have the same high and ardent exercises of grace.
The strength, or weakness, of their holy affections, depends on a great variety of causes, which are entirely under the divine control. God often calls them to different duties, places them under
. different circumstances, and presents different objects to the view of their minds. All these things must have some effect upon their feelings, and serve to strengthen or weaken their exercises of grace. Though our Saviour was as free from moral imperfection at one time as at another, yet his holy and heavenly affections were not always equally strong and vigorous. Sometimes he was all calmness and serenity; but at other times he seems to be in raptures. At one time, he groaned in spirit; but at another, he rejoiced in spirit. At one time, he appeared to be in an ecstacy of joy; but at another, to be in an agony of sorrow. Hence it is evident that his holy affections were sometimes higher and sometimes lower, and yet always entirely free from the least moral defect or imperfection. This clearly proves that the imperfection of his followers cannot consist in the mere weakness of their gracious exercises.
Besides, saints are conscious of something more than mere languor or coldness in their religious affections. They find in their hearts feelings directly contrary to love, meekness, gentleness, patience, submission, and every other exercise of pure benevolence. Hence they know that their moral imperfection consists in something totally different from mere weakness of holy affections.
Add to this, the impossibility of their feeling a criminal weakness in their truly holy exercises. They cannot tell, nor can they be told, how high their religious affections must be, in order to be perfect. If perfection of holiness consisted in the height or strength of affection, we might expect to find some standard in scripture, by which to determine whether our holy exercises were perfect or not. But we find no certain degree of strength or ardor in holy affections, which the scripture represents as the only point of perfection. The sacred writers clearly distinguish between holy and unholy affections, but never intimate that one holy affection is more perfect than another. They represent all true love to God as supreme. Our Saviour says, no man can love him truly unless he love him supremely; that is, more than father or mother, brother or sister, wife or children, houses or lands. The truth is, whenever any person really loves God, he loves him for what he is in himself, and consequently he loves him supremely; which is loving him as much as it is possible to love him, with his present attention to, and knowledge of, the divine character. Whoever loves God, loves him with all his heart, and to the extent of his natural capacity. Hence every saint is conscious that he feels perfectly right, so long as he is conscious that he loves God for his real excellence. And he cannot tell, nor can he be told, wherein he is to blame for not feeling a higher or stronger affection towards God, than he actually feels. He knows, and others know, that if he had more knowledge of God, he would have more love to him. For every holy affection is measured by the object of the affection. One saint may love God more than another, because one saint may have more knowledge of God than another. And so the same saint may love God
more at one time than at another, because he has more knowl. edge of God at one time, than at another; or which is the same thing, he may attend to more of the divine perfections, and to more displays of those perfections, at one time than at another. This is the only difference between the love of saints and the love of angels in heaven. Their knowledge is the measure of their holiness, and not the height or ardor of their affections. For if the height or ardor of their affections was to determine their characters, who could say that any saint or angel was ever perfectly holy? There is no certain height or strength of affection pointed out in scripture, by which we can determine that any creature in the universe loves God enough. Hence it is very evident that the moral imperfection of saints in this life, cannot consist in the mere languor, coldness, or weakness of their gracious exercises.
Secondly. Let us inquire whether their imperfection can arise from their moral affections being partly holy and partly sinful. If their affections were of such a mixed nature, they certainly would be criminally imperfect. For, if each of their moral affections could be partly holy and partly sinful, then each would have something in it of moral perfection and of moral imperfection. But can we conceive of such a mixture of moral good and evil, in one and the same exercise of heart? Let us pursue the inquiry. Can the affection of love be partly love and partly hatred to God? Can the exercise of repentance be partly love and partly hatred to sin? Can the exercise of faith be partly love and partly hatred to Christ? Can the of submission be partly resignation and partly opposition to the will of God? This is no more conceivable, than that a volition to walk should be partly a desire to move, and partly a desire to stand still. It is absolutely absurd to suppose that any voluntary exercise should be partly holy and partly sinful. But let us consult scripture as well as reason upon this subject. Our Lord declares that “No man can serve God and mammon.” The apostle James asserts that “ The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” And the apostle John says, “ If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” These declarations suppose that saints cannot have affections partly holy and partly sinful. For if they could, they might love God and mammon at the same time. We read, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” This character must belong to the best saint in the world, if all his affections are partly holy and partly sinful. He must obey and disobey God in all his ways. . And, upon this supposition, how can any saint ever determine, whether he is more criminal at one time than another? or whether he ever loves God supremeVOL, y.
ly? If all his affections are partly holy and partly sinful, how can he determine, whether any one of his affections has more holiness than sin in it? Or how can he determine that he ever loves God more than he hates him ? He can find no rule in the Bible to judge by; and if he depends upon his feelings, these, by the supposition, are always partly sinful, and consequently partial. But do christians, in fact, find such a difficulty in determining whether they are more criminal at one time than at another? or whether they love God less at one time than another? We venture to say that they do not. They find a sensible difference in the nature of their affections, at different times; and this affords them their best evidence that they are real friends to God, and stand entitled to his favor. The notion, therefore, that the imperfection of saints arises from their moral affections being all partly holy and partly sinful, is contrary to reason, scripture, and their own experience. But,
Thirdly. If the moral imperfection of good men cannot arise from their affections being too low and languid, nor from their being partly holy and partly sinful, then it must follow that their imperfection arises from their having some sinful as well as some holy affections. If all their moral exercises were perfectly holy, they could not be justly considered as morally imperfect creatures in this life, any more than in the next. But if only a part of their moral exercises are perfectly holy, and the rest are perfectly sinful, then they are criminally imperfect. For all unholy affections in them are no less, if they are not more criminal, than they would be in other men. But to make it more fully appear that the imperfection of saints does consist in the inconstancy of their holy affections, or in their having some bad as well as some good affections, I would observe,
1. That saints do have some perfectly good affections. God, who knows their hearts, approves of some of their affections. He approved of Abel's faith. He approved of Abraham's self denial. He approved of David's good design of building the Temple. And we find many other instances of God's approving of the desires, affections and purposes of good men. But God is of purer eyes than to approve of any thing really sinful. There must be, therefore, some perfectly holy affections in the hearts of saints. And this they know to be true, by their own experience. They are conscious of loving God, and of desiring to promote his glory. Joshua was conscious of such exercises, when he said, “ As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Peter appears to have been conscious of sincere love to Christ, when he answered his trying question, with so much solemnity and confidence : “ Yea, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.” Paul also was conscious of having some right affection of heart, when he said in - the text, “ For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not.” Saints, then, with all their imperfections, have some perfectly right and holy exercises of heart, which meet the approbation of God and of their own consciences. But,
2. It is no less evident, that they have some affections which are altogether unholy and sinful. These they not only often feel, but often express. Moses was angry; for he spake unadvisedly with his lips. Hezekiah was proud; for his heart was lifted
and he boasted of his riches. And David acknowledges that he was envious at the prosperity of the wicked. All saints are conscious of having such affections as these, which are perfectly sinful. And all their moral imperfection consists in such positively evil exercises of heart. For,
3. There is nothing else, which prevents their being as perfectly holy and free from sin, as the saints and angels in heaven. This the apostle most clearly illustrates by his own feelings. He was capable of observing the inward motions and exercises of his mind, and of relating them clearly and intelligibly. Let us hear what he says in the text and context. “For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.” “I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me." "I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members.” Here the apostle tells us that he had good affections sometimes, and then he really desired and intended to do good; but yet he did not fulfil his resolutions. The reason was, that when the time came in which he intended to do certain good deeds, evil affections were present with him, and prevented him from doing the duties which he had previously resolved to do. His bad affections prevented his having good affections. For, if his good affections had continued, nothing could have prevented him from performing what he had intended to perform. According to his own account of the exercises of his heart, his good exercises excluded bad ones, and his bad affections excluded good ones. His holy affections were inconstant, being interrupted by the intervention of opposite views and feelings. He complains of nothing but bad exercises of heart, and seems to be confident, that, if these only could be removed, he should be perfectly holy and happy. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" It farther appears from what he says concerning his different affections, that his holy and sinful exercises were entirely distinct from each other. « If then I