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and forcible. Every believer, we know, is born of God. And the text asserts, that “whosoever is born of God, sinneth not, and cannot sin." True, if Mr. Mahan should introduce it, and argue from it as a proof text, it would give him trouble; because it would prove a great deal too much. It would go far beyond his scheme. Of course, if he should bring it forward, he would at once find himself in difficulty, and would be obliged to look out for some limitations of the sense. But any thing like this would hurt his argument. According to his way of interpreting other texts, this would certainly prove, that all Christians, from the time of their regeneration, are entirely without sin. But this is what he does not yet believe. He would, therefore, find it necessary to qualify the sense, and to say that it cannot be understood absolutely—that it can only mean, that those who are born of God do not sin habitually, or impenitently, as others door, that they cannot sin with their whole heart,—or, that they cease from sin as far as they are sanctified by the Spirit, and will, in the end, cease entirely. In one way or another, he would be obliged to limit the sense, so as to make it applicable to all Christians. But if he should do this, he would be constantly expecting to hear the question: Why not give the same limitation to other texts, which use language far less emphatical, and which will much more easily admit of limi. tations ? So that, after all, he may have done wisely in slipping by the text.
The query has sometimes arisen in my mind, how Mr. Mahan would meet a man, who should maintain, on the ground of this text and some others, that all believers on earth are absolutely free from sin, and do at once arrive at perfection. Such a man might frame his argument thus: “ The apostle Paul says of himself and of Christians generally, our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. And he says of those who are thus crucified, that they are freed from sin, and are complete in Christ. And the apostle John says, that the blood of Christ cleanseth believers from all sin, and that they purify themselves even as Christ is pure. He speaks of this as a general fact; and he says, still more plainly and forcibly, that whosoever is born of God, as every Christian is, doth not commit sin, and cannot sin. Now why should Mr. Mahan take upon him to contradict the apostles, and to hold that any man is a true believer, who falls short of complete sanctification? Why confine
the present attainment of sinless perfection to a few extraordinary saints, when the infallible Word of God attributes it to all believers ?” It would be gratifying to know what reply Mr. Mahan would make.
We will now proceed with our examination, making it our object to determine the true meaning of the texts which seem most favorable to the doctrine of “ Perfection.” And here, I think, we must be satisfied, that in some of the texts, the language used is intended to set forth the sincerity or uprightness of believers, in distinction from hypocrites, and also their freedom from any such offences, as would expose their public character to discredit, or their piety to suspicion. Job was perfect and upright. The two words are doubtless of the same general import, denoting real integrity or goodness. In several instances, the Psalmist uses the strong language of self-justification, and seems at first view to say, he is not chargeable with any sin, when his meaning evidently is, that he is innocent of the crimes which his enemies laid to his charge. Even if, at any time, he was not conscious of any particular sins; he was aware that he was liable to mistake, and apprehended that there might still be some concealed evil in his heart; and with a view to this, he prayed God to search him, and see if there was any wicked way in him. In some cases, pious men under the former dispensation are said to have followed the Lord wholly, when the obvious meaning is, that they kept themselves from idolatry, and adhered uniformnly to the worship of the true God. When the New Testament writers speak of perfection, they often refer to a state of maturity or manhood in knowledge or in holiness, in distinction from a state of childhood,—a state of advancement in piety, in distinction from the common state of new converts ; and sometimes they refer to the purity and blessedness of heaven, which is the high object to which all Christians aspire. But in no case do the circumstances require that the language employed should be understood to denote complete sanctification as actually attained in the present life. Now such being the fact, Mr. Mahan surely has reason to hesitate, and to go into a thorough examination of the subject, before he relies upon any of the texts which he cites, as proofs of his doctrine.
But it is so indescribably important to obtain a right understanding of the Scriptures, that we cannot pursue our inquiries with too much diligence and care. Let us then go forward with our examination, and see whether the sacred writers will
not, in other ways, not yet mentioned, help us to determine in what light they looked upon Christians in the present life, and how their language in the texts referred to is to be understood.
Are we not then plainly taught, by the current representations of the inspired writers, that the religion of God's people, throughout the present life, is progressive, beginning at their conversion, and advancing from one degree of holiness to another, till they arrive at a state of perfect purity and blessedness in heaven? Is not the description, which the apostle gives (1 Cor. 13) of the progress of believers from partial to perfect knowledge, equally applicable to their progress in piety? This is plainly indicated by the fact that the same apostle expressly requires believers to grow in grace, as well as in knowledge. Can it be supposed that there were any Christians in the apostle's day, who had no need to grow in grace, and to whom that precept did not belong ? How plainly does the apostle show, that he regarded religion as progressive, by what he says to Christians at Philippi :-"Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it, ” -will be performing it, or bringing it to a completion, “ until the day of Christ.” The work of sanctification was begun, and was to be in a course of accomplishment-was to be finishing, until the day of Christ ; when it would be perfected. So the Psalmist viewed it: “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” Had the apostle considered the good work as fully accomplished already, he would naturally have said :Being confident of this, that He who has begun and completed a good work in you, will keep you in that state of complete holiness until the day of Christ. But instead of this, he represents the finishing of the good work as what God was still to do. In accordance with all this, he shortly after prays that their love may abound yet more and more.” In another place he speaks of all believers as changed into the image of Christ from glory to glory. So it is set forth in the Old Testament: “The path of the just is as the shining light, shining more and more to the perfect
rected, by the same word, to follow after holiness-clearly implying that it is not yet fully attained, but is still to be an object of pursuit. It will be noted, that the writer calls those to whom he wrote, “ holy.” They were so, as all believers are, in a measure. For them to follow after holiness was to aim at higher measures of it,—to aspire to that perfection of holiness, which they had not attained. This was enjoined upon all Christians; showing clearly what was in the mind of the inspired writer as to their real condition. If there had been any who were already perfect in holiness, how could they have been directed to follow after it, as an object to be obtained by future exertions? The same word is used by Paul to Timothy: "Follow after righteousness, goodness, faith, love, patience, meek
Timothy had all these virtues in a degree; but he was to follow after them with a view to higher attainments.
The progressive nature of holiness in Christians is implied in all the texts which speak of their spiritual warfare. In this warfare, they are unceasingly to oppose every kind of evil, especially the evil in their own hearts. “Their warfare is within.”
În this warfare all Christians are engaged. The most advanced are not exempt. The apostle does indeed say, that Christians are already crucified and dead to sin. But keep in mind that he says this of all Christians. Keep in mind too, that he exhorts the same Christians to put off the old man, which is corrupt, and to put on the new man; to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, and to put on Christ;—urging all this as a duty still to be done.
In like manner,
represents all Christians as renewed ; and yet exhorts them to be renewed. It all shows, that the work of dying to sin is begun, and is to be constantly advanced ; that at their conversion they are renewed, and that, so long as they live, they are to be renewed more and more. If the texts which represent Christians as renewed, dead to sin, &c., are understood to imply that the work of renovation is completed, what can be the meaning of the other texts, which enjoin the same thing upon all Christians, as a duty still to be done? And I must again request Mr. Mahan and others, from whom I ain constrained to differ, to consider well, and not to forget that the most important texts which seem to favor their doctrine, relate, not to a few Christians of extraordinary attainments, but to all Christians. And if they imply that sanctification is at present complete, they imply that it is so with the whole body of believers. My brethren then will be under the
necessity of adopting the qualified sense which I have given of the texts, or of going a step farther, and maintaining, that all real Christians are now perfectly holy. If they allow themselves in serious unfettered thought, they cannot long retain their present position.
But I must refer to another class of texts, which will afford us additional aid in determining how we are to regard the present condition of good men,—those which represent their desires after holiness. It is the very nature of desire, to aspire after a future good,-a good not yet obtained. According to the Scriptures, it is characteristic of all the followers of Christ, that they hunger and thirst after righteousness ; that is, they have a strong desire for complete holiness ; which implies that they have not yet obtained it. If, in any part of their life, they were already "filled,” why should they hunger and thirst?” 'When David said: “My soul thirsteth and panteth for God,” did not his desires fix upon a good, which he did not then enjoy ?
Consider also the prayers which believers offer up for themselves. No part of the Bible exhibits a more striking view of the devout exercises of the believer's heart, than Psalm cxix. In various ways, it expresses the sincerest reverence and love for the divine law, and the most determined obedience; and, at the same time, a reaching after what had not yet been obtained. “O that
my feet were directed to keep thy statutes !—Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy commandments.—My soul cleaveth to the dust; quicken thou me according to thy word.—Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness.—Turn
eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in thy way.--I have seen an end of all perfection ; but thy commandment is exceeding broad.—I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.” Language like this undoubtedly expresses the moral state and exercises of all true believers on earth. It is the language of those who, with warm desire and strong purpose of heart, are following after complete sanctification. As to the true meaning and intent of the language, let the wisest and best men who use it be the judges. It is easy to invent novel and eccentric interpretations of the Bible. But novelties and eccentricities will wax old and vanish away; while common sense and Christian experience, and the teaching of the Holy Spirit will guide into all the truth. Consider too the prayers which Christ and the apostles offer