« PreviousContinue »
I marvel that Mr. Mahan treats this common view of the subject as he does. See Disc. p. 47. He calls it absurd, and thinks he can dispose of it by a single stroke. To overthrow the doctrine that the work of sanctification is completed at death, he uses two arguments. “First, the grave, which sanctifies believers amid the gloom and wreck and distraction of dissolving nature, would, if applied, have sanctified him at an earlier period." Undoubtedly it would have done it, “ if applied.” But what if it was not applied? And how does Mr. Mahan know that it may not have seemed good in the sight of God to apply it at the time of dissolution, rather than before? May not this be one of the unsearchable things in the divine dispensation? And why did not Mr. Mahan see how easily he might disprove the Scripture doctrine which he believes that Christians are sanctified by means of the common afflictions of life? He might say: "" The same grace which sanctifies the believer amid the gloom” and distress of heavy affliction, “would, if applied, have sanctified him before.” And by this argument he might prove, in opposition to the sacred writers and to himself, that God does not sanctify believers by means of affliction ;-yes, he might verily prove, that God does not sanctify believers by means of chastisement, because the grace, which sanctifies them by such means, would, if applied, have sanctified them before. In the same way, he might prove that sinners are not, in any case, converted by means of preaching, because the grace which converts them by that means, would, if applied, have converted them at an earlier period! His second argument is this: “No other reason can be assigned for this grace (the grace which would wholly sanctify believers before death) being withheld, but the supposition that God can better glorify himself, and his kingdom be better advanced by saints partially, than wholly sanctified.” The argument, plainly stated and carried out, stands thus : There is no reason why God should not bestow the grace which would wholly sanctify believers during the present life, but the supposition, that he is better glorified by their partial, than by their entire sanctification. And as this supposition is inadmissible, therefore, God does not withhold, but actually bestows the grace which wholly sanctifies believers during the present life. Now try this argument, and see how it would work in other cases. Would not God be more glorified, if all Christians should be perfectly holy to-day, than if they should remain partially holy ? Must he not
then actually give them the grace, which will make them perfectly holy to-day? Again, would not God have been better glorified, if Mr. Mahan and other Christians had been converted at an earlier period of their life? If so, then there was no reason why he should withhold the grace which would have converted them earlier. And as he does nothing and omits nothing without reason, it must be that he actually bestowed the grace which converted them earlier; that is, bestowed the grace which converted them before they were converted. Once more. Mr. Mahan thinks that he was a wanderer from the right way, while he was a member of this Seminary; and in his charitable judgment, all his fellow-students were in so low and lamentable a state, that “not a single individual,” out of so large a number,“ enjoyed daily communion and peace with God.” Surely Mr. Mahan thinks God would, at that time, have been more glorified by his complete holiness and that of his brethren, than by their very partial holiness. Must it not then have been the fact, that God did actually give them the grace which made them completely holy? But as this grace was not given, and as he thinks there could have been no other reason for not giving it, than the one he mentions, must not his conclusion be, that it was withheld without any reason?
I have dwelt so long on this point, to show that this mode of reasoning involves the most glaring falsities, and leads to the most dangerous results. What shipwreck will any one make of the truth, who argues in this manner! It is going beyond our province, and attempting to intrude ourselves irreverently into those secret things which belong only to God. Why should we take upon us to determine, by our own fallible judgment, what the dispensations of God will be? We know what the Lord requires of us,—that we should glorify him by constant and entire obedience. But how he will see fit to glorify himself, in his sovereign Providence, is another question. And who is able to compare the different ways in which God may do this, and to determine, by his own reason, which God will prefer? Who is authorized to say, that God will not overrule
carried with them, to the very gate of heaven, so much that was offensive in his sight! What wonder, love and praise will fill their illuminated and purified souls, when they call to mind their own deficiencies, and the long continued perverseness of their hearts, and then think of that redeeming grace, the aboundings of which rose so far above the aboundings of sin!
Finally. I make my appeal to the consciousness of the most advanced Christians,-the Baxters, the Mathers, the Brainerds, the Edwardses, the Martyns and the Paysons-Christians who have probably risen as high in their spiritual attainments, as the most favored of those who maintain the doctrine of Perfection; and I could show, from their own repeated and humble confessions, that they all had a deep and growing sense of remaining depravity; that they always abhorred themselves on account of indwelling sin, and felt the need of pardoning and sanctifying grace, even to the end of life. And the sacred writers show, in the various ways above mentioned, and in other ways, that they had the same conviction as to their own state, and the state of all the saints on earth. I might refer to John, who asserts that it would be false for believers to say, they have no sin, and immediately speaks of their confessing their sins, and of the readiness of God to pardon and cleanse them ;-all showing that he meant to speak of what they were at the time he wrote. The writers of the New Testament manifestly had the same views with Solomon, who said, in the midst of a solemn, public prayer: “there is no man that sinneth not,” and who afterwards repeated the same sentiment: “there is not a just man on earth who doeth good and sinneth not.”
Such is the examination which we have pursued in order to ascertain the true meaning of the texts which seem, at first view, to favor the doctrine of “Perfection.” I have not presumed to determine this in a moment; but have felt it to be necessary, in so important a matter, to search the Scriptures, and to compare one part with another, so that, if possible, I might be able to determine exactly what is the mind of the inspired writers, and what is the doctrine they mean to teach respecting the subject under consideration. In this
examination we have found, 1. That the Scriptures, in other cases, frequently employ terms similar to those used in these texts, in a restricted sense. We conclude, therefore, that they may proceed on the same principle here. The most literal, absolute sense may not be the sense intended. 2. As to some
of the texts referred to, we have found that the circumstances of the case clearly forbid us to understand them in the literal and absolute sense. And our conclusion is, that the same may be true in respect to the other texts, though for reasons less obvious. 3. We have found, that the terms used in some of the texts are evidently designed to express the integrity of true believers, in distinction from hypocrites, or their freedom from particular sins which were charged upon them by others, or to which they were exposed; or the maturity of their religious character, compared with its commencement ; or perhaps the fact, that they had all the essential parts of the new man, though in an imperfect state. In no case is the highest sense of the words absolutely required. 4. The current language of the sacred writers, in a variety of respects, implies that the piety of believers during the present life is progressive. 5. Complete holiness is represented as an object of desire to believers, desire, from its very nature, fixing upon a future good—a good not yet possessed. 6. Complete holiness is an object of the prayers, which the saints offered up for themselves and for one another; implying that it was regarded as a good, not yet obtained. 7. Affliction, or chastisement, which is intended as a means of sanctification, is continued to believers up to the very close of life ; implying that, so long as life Jasts, they have remaining sinfulness which calls for it. 8. The most advanced saints have always been conscious of the imperfection of their holiness.
Now do not all these plain instructions and representations, both separately and unitedly, make known the real spiritual state of the people of God during the present life? Do they not show very satisfactorily, that it was not the design of the sacred writers to teach the doctrine, that the saints as a body, or any part of them, actually attain to sinless perfection here? And must we not, therefore, understand all the texts which, at first view, seem to favor the doctrine of “ Perfection,” in a qualified or comparative sense, a sense corresponding with the general teachings of the Bible, as to the actual state of believers in the present world?
common doctrine. I cannot now enter into the controversy respecting this passage. Highly respectable writers are found on both sides. "I can only say, that I agree with those who consider the Apostle as setting forth his own state, and the state of others, as true believers. The reasons which satisfy me, are briefly given by the two most recent expositors in our own country, Hodge and Barnes. The considerations which are of most weight are these. 1. This is the sense which appears
the most obvious and natural to common readers. 2. The language of the Apostle is well suited to express the exercises of the best men with whom I have ever been acquainted. And, so far as I know, those who have made the highest attainments in piety, have spoken of themselves most freely in the very language of the Apostle. 3. Some of the expressions cannot, without difficulty, be made to apply to the unrenewed. 4. The same conflict, which is here described, is set forth very plainly, and in similar language, in Gal. 5: 17, a passage which, by common consent, is applied to Christians.
Now if the other evidence in support of the common doctrine were in any way deficient, the passage from Rom. 7, would, in my view, supply the deficiency, and would at once make known the real doctrine of the Scriptures. According to this passage, the state of Christians in this life is one of constant conflict between sin and holiness, the old and the new man; a state of high aims and endeavors, but of comparatively low attainments; and while, in view of the power and grace of Christ, they rejoice, and give thanks, and are confident of a final and speedy victory; they have reason also, when they look at the remains of sin in their own hearts, to abhor themselves and repent in dust and ashes.
Consider how different the result of this examination would be, if we had found all the evidence which exists in support of the common doctrine, to be on the other side, going directly to confirm the doctrine of “ Perfection.” The question is: How are we to understand those texts which seem at first view to assert the present perfection of believers ? Suppose we had found nothing, either in the texts themselves, or in any other part of the Bible, to show that the terms employed are ever to be taken in any other than the most absolute sense : suppose