And Their Employment Of Holy Scripture As To This Subject35
The main object of this tract is to establish the true meaning of certain texts, which, as experience proves, have been the occasion of much difficulty to sincere Christians. With this view the form of a dialogue has been adopted. In fact, certain conversations, of which this is a summary, gave occasion to the undertaking. That form seemed most favourable to the statement of objections, and of the texts brought forward. Whatever of importance has been advanced from the word is here answered; it is hoped that nothing of that kind has been passed over. It has struck us, that the best reply to the entire work, which contains many of the arguments it was judged necessary to meet, is to be found in the character and tone of that work itself.36 It appeared, therefore, essential to confine ourselves to warning simple-minded believers against the way in which God’s word is therein quoted. This, in fact, is all that we have done.
One important remark, omitted in what follows, may be here introduced. The source whence John Wesley derived this doctrine was by no means the Bible; he himself honestly confessed it. He believed the Bible confirmed his ideas, but he did not derive them thence. He learned them from Bishop Taylor, Law, and Thomas à-Kempis. It was not till four years after he had studied the first of these writers, and while he was still deeply imbued with his doctrines, that he took the Bible as the sole standard of truth.
Thomas à-Kempis is well known by his work on the imitation of Christ. He was a Catholic, who, as far as he had light, was pious; but in whose writings the cross of Christ scarcely once appears as an atonement and the way of salvation. He must be regarded as a man who endeavoured to love God, but who had the least possible knowledge of the love of God, and of the truth of the gospel.
Law and Taylor, though nominally Protestants, were much his inferiors; they were less humble, and, if possible, yet more ignorant of the gospel. Both of them were mystics: Taylor was likewise very superstitious; and neither the one nor the other had the slightest conception of grace. No one charges them with insincerity; but no instructed Christian who has read their works doubts their utter ignorance of the gospel. Such are the three sources whence John Wesley acknowledged he first derived the doctrine which he has introduced into the Church. Their influence is easily perceptible in his ideas of perfection. We shall see that in the exposition which he gives of his doctrine, there is not so much as an allusion to the love of God to us.
The zeal with which God inspired many Christians in Wesley’s time was tarnished by these opinions—opinions derived from very different sources from the word of God: but a great number of those who partook of the revival, and laboured with equal or even greater blessing, never received them.
* * * * *
A. Good morning, brother; I am very glad to meet you. I have been wishing to see you, for I am told you have adopted these new opinions; and I desire to learn from your own lips what you think of them. For my part, keeping to the word of God, I cannot receive them.
N. Why do you call them new opinions? They are God’s truth. Does not God command us to be holy as He is holy— perfect as our Father who is in heaven is perfect? Would you have us preach sin, and tell Christians that they must needs go on sinning to the end of their days, and thus make death their saviour? Thank God, I cannot admit such things; I ought to be free from sin; and if I am not so yet, as God has promised it to me, He will fulfil His promise. He has commanded it; and He commands nothing which cannot be realized. The word of God is full of exhortations to perfection. And behold the fruits of this doctrine: what holiness, what zeal, what love, and that in a body of one million, two hundred thousand Christians: admirable testimony to the grace of God!
A. Softly, my dear friend. You have brought forward so many things at once, that it will take a little time to answer you. As to the fruits you refer to, I must differ from you; I suspect such boasting. I readily admit that there are many dear Christians among the Wesleyans; and then, the Church of Christ in general is, at the present time, in such weakness: there is so little liberty and joy; there is, in my judgment, such glaring deficiency in the manner of presenting the gospel, that I am not surprised that many are led away by a doctrine which promises something better. By a freer testimony, for example, of the love of God for sinners; by presenting, more decidedly, Christ as the means of deliverance, it may in some degree supply the deficiencies in the present style of preaching.
N. But how can good be done by a doctrine which, taken as a whole, is false?
A. I will tell you. They say, “We ought not to seek sanctification by human effort; but that by receiving Christ as our sanctification the germ of sin is destroyed, and we are perfectly holy, and without sin or evil concupiscence.” It is true that we shall never, by any strength or effort of man, attain to sanctification; and that if we look to Christ, we shall find an abundant spring of life and holiness. I grant also that a soul which is under the law, and groaning beneath the burden of its wretchedness, will get no blessing by useless struggles for deliverance. But all this does not hinder the doctrine, as a whole, being false. For it is false to say, that by receiving Christ as our sanctification we can ever, on earth, attain to perfection, and extirpate entirely sin from our nature. It is an error which connects itself with a host of other errors, destructive of the most precious truths and consolations of the gospel; and which injures, in a high degree, our sanctification itself.
N. But how can it injure sanctification?
A. Before I answer, let me briefly state my judgment as to the history of Wesleyanism. The ruinous condition of the Church, a century ago, gave rise, through divine grace, to a remarkable movement. Some truly devoted men felt impelled to preach, and to call men to repentance. But instead of adhering to the word, certain of them framed for themselves a system of doctrines and discipline—doctrines which, while admitting salvation by Jesus, have put aside many of the most precious truths in connection with it—a discipline admirably suited, in a worldly point of view, like that of the Jesuits, for the aggrandisement of their society (for indeed it is a society, not a church), but in the highest degree injurious to the souls of men. I am perfectly convinced that Christians who are not members of their body, but who well know them, will not be found to confirm the testimony which the Wesleyans bear to themselves.
Let us now turn to the doctrine of God’s word. I observe, in the outset, that the reproach which you have learned to cast upon preachers of the gospel does not appear to me to be a fruit of the Spirit of God—when you say, for example, that such persons preach sin. Do you believe, then, that all who have not received the doctrines of Wesley love or preach sin?
N. Not exactly so: but you say a Christian will go on sinning to the end, and that it is death which delivers us from sin.
A. My dear friend, that is not what I say, but this: that the root of sin will remain in us until we are dislodged from the body, or until we are changed, because we expect the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23), which has not yet taken place. But I do not say that we ought to walk according to this evil principle: quite the contrary; we ought to walk “in the Spirit,” although “the flesh” still exists.
N. I do not understand what you mean by the flesh. It is said (1 Thess. 5:23), “May the God of peace sanctify you wholly, body, soul, and spirit. God is faithful, who also will do it.” Now what is there more in man than body, soul, and spirit? And if we ought always to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), then it follows that we are disputing about words.
A. By no means; for the moment you affirm that we can be perfect, and that there is no longer sin in you, a multitude of things, which the word of God calls sin, cease to be so in your estimation. The contrast between your condition and that of Jesus Christ becomes less sensible to your mind. You attenuate sin. Real sanctification suffers in proportion, and the distinction between sin and sins is entirely lost sight of. It is because your doctrine attenuates the idea of sin; because it does away with the rule, and lowers the standard, of sanctification, that I oppose it with all my might. This is no difference on a point of knowledge or speculation merely, but involves the question: What is sin?—a question that is evidently fundamental and of the highest importance in practice.
When you say, that body, soul, and spirit are the whole man, I reply, Alas! no. Before the fall, body, soul, and spirit were in Adam; and after the fall there was additionally in him a will in rebellion against God; there was in him sin, which the word of God calls “the flesh,” Matt. 26:41, etc. There was a something which “lusteth against the Spirit” (Gal. 5:17), and which “cannot be subject to the law of God,” Rom. 8:7. This is that truth, which those who preach perfection carefully conceal, a truth bound up with the whole doctrine of the “new man.” Now, to say, I do not know what “the flesh “is (an expression in the mouth of all those who have received this doctrine), is of itself a melancholy proof of the effect it produces. For it is certain that there are few words more frequently employed in the word of God than “the flesh,” or any subject more often and carefully treated; for it is that principle which lusts and struggles against the Spirit of Christ in the man in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells, and which cannot be subject to the law, if we are under the law.
N. True; as long as the flesh exists, it cannot be subject to the law of God. But we are under the law of love; and Christ and Belial cannot dwell in the same temple, that is to say, in our body.37
A. I do not like to hear the word of God inaccurately quoted, as you have just done, to give the apparent sanction of its authority to a thought which is not in it. It is clear that Christ and Belial do subsist together. They were together in the world, of which Belial himself was “the prince,” when Jesus was alive upon earth. But the word says (2 Cor. 6:15), “There is no concord between Christ and Belial,” which is a very different matter. Our body is not the temple of Belial; it is the temple of the Holy Ghost, although the root of sin still remains in us. And herein consists the essential difference between us and Jesus Christ, according to the flesh. He was born of the Holy Spirit, even as to His flesh; but we were conceived in sin; Psalm 51:5.
There is to me, I confess, something very grievous in your incorrect quotations, for by such means you throw dust into the eyes of those who are not well versed in the Scriptures. When you say, we are under the law of love, you say well. At any rate, the expression does not displease me; but as I know what it means in your doctrine, I confess it conveys an idea which pains me much. We have a much higher standard of sanctification by the rending of the veil (Heb. 6:19; ch. 10:20.) Made partakers of “the divine nature,” we judge to be sin everything which was not in Christ while on earth, and which Christ risen cannot sanction. At the same time I see the complete sanctification of our persons by the blood of the Lamb. Instead of this, your doctrine uses the gospel as the means of lessening our responsibility, teaching us to make light of things which would be condemned as sins under the law. The light of God’s holiness ought to make us judge everything which is not agreeable to that light; whereas, we are told that under this law of love these things are not imputed to us as sins—that they are not, correctly speaking, sins at all. The gospel becomes, by this means, not salvation by grace, but only a less rigorous law. Sin, as I said, is attenuated, and that to a degree almost inconceivable.
And when you say, “As long as the flesh exists,” where do you find in the word that the flesh has ceased to exist? I read there (Gal. 5:17) that the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other. Again I read (2 Cor. 12:7) that Paul needed a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of the revelations. It appears, therefore, that a man’s being caught up to the third heaven by no means changed the nature or tendency of the flesh in its opposition and unthankfulness to God. Peter learned this by humbling experience (Gal. 2:11), for although he was filled with the Spirit, he ceased to eat with the Gentiles, and did not walk uprightly. Instead of treating these things as if they were not sins, Paul withstood Peter to the face and reproved him before them all; Gal. 2:14.
N. I admit that in some Christians there is a conflict with the flesh—that all they can do is to get the mastery over sin; but there are some who, having received Christ as their sanctification, are dead to sin and have no more conflict. They have crucified the old man with his affections and lusts. Several passages expressly declare this; and when you refer to the Galatians, you ought to remember that they had “fallen from grace”; and no one should speak as if authorized, from such a state, to prove what a Christian can be who has fully received Christ. In the same epistle (chap. 6:14) Paul, speaking of himself, says that he had crucified the old man; in chapter 2:20, that it was not he who lived, but Christ who lived in him; and he says, Reckon yourselves to be dead; and, as the apostle John affirms, such cannot sin, because they are born of God; 1 John 3:9.
A. You admit, then, in contradiction with what you lately said, that what you call Belial, and the Spirit of Christ, exist together in the same person. For if there are conflicts in Christians, and if the flesh can lust against the Spirit, it is evident your principle is altogether false. If you say, that the conflict is not against the Spirit, but is that of a man whose conscience is awakened, I reply from the word, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit” and not merely against the conscience. But taking this principle to be applied to the Galatians, it is added, in the broadest terms, that “these are contrary the one to the other “: and when the apostle adds, “so that ye cannot38 do the things that ye would,” it is only a consequence which he draws from it for the Galatians. And the apostle does not go on to say, But you have power to escape from this condition, but he introduces at this point an altogether new principle: “If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under law “(v. 18). It is so far from true, that the apostle who, doubtless, was eminently faithful, speaks of himself only, or of his state of sanctification, when he says, “I am crucified with Christ” (chap. 2:20), that he affirms that all Christians are crucified with Him. In this same epistle (chap. 5:24) he asserts, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Here, then, is no question of any degree of sanctification, or of the reception of Christ by certain souls for their sanctification; but the apostle is speaking of what is true of all Christians. This truth is clearly taught in Romans 6: i-ii, where Paul says, “So many of us”—mark the expression— “as were baptized into Jesus Christ… are buried with him [Christ] into death; … that our old man has been crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed… For he that is dead is freed from sin.” But the apostle derives hence this clear and simple conclusion—not, You have therefore no more evil concupiscence—not, You are entirely dead to all sinful inclination; but—” Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” A poor, miserable, and unintelligible conclusion to those who assert that sin no longer exists in a man who is crucified with Christ; a conclusion which we receive most heartily through grace, but one which is altogether different from that which you derive from this passage. It is indeed incompatible with your interpretation of it. If sin no longer exists in us, it is a weak conclusion to say, Let it not reign; and to say, Let it not reign, is incompatible with the thought that it no longer exists. The conclusion which the Holy Spirit draws, and which we have just pointed out, is constantly that of the word of God in similar passages. Paul says to the Colossians (chap. 3:3), “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” He then concludes thus in verse 5, “Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth.” And if you would know how the Christian is dead, you have only to read Colossians 2:11, 12, 20. To be dead, therefore, is really true of all Christians, according to the mind of God. There is very culpable negligence in quoting such passages in proof of a state of perfection in certain Christians. The same may be said of what you advance from 1 John 3:9. When I examine the passage, instead of rinding that the apostle is there speaking of Christians who have received Christ for their sanctification, after a particular manner, and one which makes such persons perfect, I find, as in the passages we have referred to, that he is speaking of all Christians. For, as a distinctive mark between them and the children of the devil, he brings forward the character of that nature which they have received from Christ, and consequently that of their life and conduct, etc. (v. 9). The quotation of such a passage shews, I repeat it, very great negligence, not to say more.
N. Do you think, then, that we must always go on sinning? Is it not said of many of the faithful, even before the coming of Jesus Christ, that they were perfect? So far is it from true that we are saved by death, that Enoch and Elijah were translated without passing through death. Job was perfect. Noah was perfect. Abraham and the Jews were commanded to be perfect. Paul says to the Philippians (chap. 3:15), “as many as be perfect.” There are more than a hundred passages which affirm the same truth. The Lord Himself has said, “that they may be made perfect in one “(John 17:23); and Paul says to the Ephesians (5:27) in speaking of the Church, “That he might present her to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” In truth there are so many passages which speak of perfection, that I do not understand how you can deny it or attribute to death what the word of God so clearly applies to our state, whilst we are in this present life; for that word to Abraham was, “Walk before me, and be thou perfect” Gen. 17:1. And it is manifest that the thorn in the flesh of Paul, of which you have spoken, was not a sin, for God could not try him in this way.
A. I hasten to reply that I am quite of your opinion respecting Paul’s thorn in the flesh. It assuredly was not a sin, but some chastening, something outwardly painful, which God sent to arrest the working of sin, and to prevent it from hindering the apostle’s labours. All that I infer from this passage of Paul is, that to be caught up to the third heaven does not change the flesh; that the flesh being ever the same may grow proud even of this higher knowledge of God; that the remedy does not consist in a change of the nature, but in some means of subjecting and taming that nature, which is still evil. The passage from Paul is a clear proof of this. When you ask, Are we to go on sinning? I answer, No—assuredly not! Your question evidently betrays that device of Satan which I wish to expose, and by which he beguiles the simplicity of men. The advocates of this doctrine confound, as far as they can, sin with sins; that is to say, they confound the actions we commit in following our evil nature with that nature itself, so as to deny the very existence of sin in the man who has put on Christ. I do not say that we ought to sin; for we ought to walk after the Spirit, and not after the flesh; Rom. 8. But I say, on the other hand, that sin is in our nature. The precept, not to walk after the flesh, shews that the flesh is a thing evil in itself. Still the flesh is neither temptation nor Satan, but something in the man, which is not at all sin actually committed—a something which, in our fallen and corrupt nature, cannot, as it is written, be subject to the law of God; Rom. 8:7. Now we ought never to live according to this principle; and God is faithful, who will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able to bear; 1 Cor. 10:13. And herein consists the difference between Christ and us as to His humanity. He was born of God, as to His flesh—we are not.
As to Enoch and Elijah, if they did not see death, it is because they were translated, which comes to the same thing; for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; 1 Cor. 15:50.
Our death does not save us;39 still it is equally true that we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit are not yet made partakers of the fulness of salvation; for we are “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body,” Rom. 8:23. We have not yet got possession of it. Meanwhile, there is an immense difference between my condition in this body and that in which I shall be stripped of it after this life, as there is likewise between the latter state and that in which the redemption of this body shall be completed in the resurrection. After death I am unclothed, but I am not yet clothed upon. Absent from the body, I am, already, present with the Lord; 2 Cor. 5:8. Although I am not, then, perfect in the glory, I am nevertheless delivered from this body, which as yet does not partake of that resurrection which I enjoy in my soul through the Holy Spirit. This body, which caused me to groan upon the earth (not, it is true, without consolation), and which made all groan who then had the firstfruits of the Spirit, has to all of them ceased to be a cause for groaning. That which held us bound (in fact and not in heart) to the creation which is still subject to the bondage of corruption, no longer binds us down— the link is broken. If the goal of our hope is not attained when we are unclothed, we at least, in dying, lay aside a burden, a spotted garment, that we may at once enjoy the presence of the Lord, without hindrance; and so that the pure air and genial warmth of His presence may penetrate our souls, now liberated from every obstruction. My death, therefore, is not my saviour. When death approaches, it finds me already saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am already risen with Him. It is a fact already accomplished in my soul, which, by the Holy Ghost, experiences the blessed effect of it, and triumphs already in a “hope which maketh not ashamed.”
The putting off of this body adds nothing to my title in the presence of God; for I am there, by faith, what Jesus is. I am merely stripped of a body, which had not partaken of redemption, to be introduced to the presence of Jesus before my heavenly Father, waiting for what remains, to wit, that I should be clothed with “a glorious body, fashioned like unto the glorious body of Jesus Christ.”
I have again to reproach you with negligence in your manner of citing Scripture. I take this opportunity to press it seriously upon you, that when quotations are turned aside from their drift and true meaning, we not only deceive ourselves, but it is certain we are not led by the Spirit of God. All confidence is shaken, and the practice to any extent, if it be habitually repeated, and for the support of that which is not the truth, forces on me the conviction that he who so does is really, although unconsciously, the instrument of the adversary. Alas! we are too apt to lose sight of the agency both of the Spirit of God and of the spirit of the enemy. I look not at the man; but I repeat that, when I see the word of God quoted in a way which is evidently false, and continually for the same purpose, I can see in it nothing less than the work of the tempter. Shall I remind you of the passages you quoted respecting the state of death as to sin, in which you say the perfect Christian is found? Well, the more I read them, the less do I think them applicable to your doctrine, and the more evident it is to me that all, without one single exception, are spoken of all Christians, to whom the Holy Spirit addresses analogous exhortations by way of practical conclusion. “Mortify you remembers which are on the earth.” “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies.” And the same remarks apply to Romans 8:10-12, which you have not quoted.
I have the same complaint to make as to two passages which you just now brought forward. You say, Christ “will present the Church to himself without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” But this presentation will take place in glory, when all the children of God are glorified. This passage, therefore, is opposed to your view and does not convey it; for it is above, through resurrection, they will be without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, and not here below. Just so, when you say, “That they may be perfect in one “(John 17:23), you pass over what goes before and determines the sense of the passage: “The glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be made perfect (or consummated) in one “(v. 22).
As to the examples you have pointed to in favour of your doctrine, I will use that of Job only, because we have his history in detail. The principle which you have advanced seems to me to have been there discussed pretty much at length. There was “none like Job in the earth.” If, therefore, we find, in the instance of such a man, that your idea that he was without sin is utterly false, all the examples which you have cited fall to the ground at once. The question opened in the book of Job is this: Can a man, full of grace, a perfect man, be said to be entirely exempt from sin, so that he may present himself before God as being without sin, and rest in his state as righteous before Him? Or is the contrary true—namely, that sin is still in him; and if, through grace, he has walked worthy of his vocation, ought he not still to consider and judge his state before God more and more? Instead of resting satisfied with the grace which has been given to him, ought he not to judge himself, forgetting the things which are behind (in other words, all his spiritual progress), in order to refer always to God alone in this respect, reaching forth, with a humility which, in the fulness of confidence in God, nevertheless judges itself continually? I do not say that he ought to watch only, but ever to judge himself; that is, he ought always to have before God a consciousness of the nature which is in him, although it may not act, which indeed is not necessary to our recognizing its existence. Now Job was a man full of grace. He recounts his experience. We at once perceive that his mind was taken up, not with the grace of God or with the grace which is in God, but with that which was wrought in himself. He looked upon the manna which had been placed in his hands—he kept of it until the morning, and it bred worms and stank. God had seen all this before Job was sensible of it, and He sent him successive trials, until they brought out the workings of sin, and from his heart—where it lay hid—brought and laid it on his conscience. Having turned back to his own heart, the flesh claimed to itself the effect of grace, and poor Job took pleasure in himself. His conscience and his heart became, in consequence, less impressed with the abounding goodness and perfect holiness of God. He was taken up with his own goodness, and that of God was necessarily lost sight of in proportion. He contemplated his own holiness, and that of God had, by so much, less hold on his conscience. But God, who loved him, sent him sufficient trials to shew him what was in his heart and to bring him back to the contemplation of the goodness and perfection of God only. We see in chapter 29 what was Job’s sentiment about his own holiness and the grace which dwelt in him. “When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness and it clothed me: my judgment was a robe and a diadem,” etc.
In fact, Job was a man full of grace; but, alas! he felt it; and his heart needed to be better taught to know what he was before God, Trials came: Job remained as exemplary in his adversity, as he had been in his prosperity. The root of sin was not yet reached. He then became more remarkable for his patience than even for his goodness, and the scripture bears this testimony to it, “Ye have heard of the patience of Job,” James 5:11. God at last permits his friends to come and offer him consolations. Ah! how many privations we can endure in solitude; but no sooner do our friends become witnesses of them than our pride is aroused. The compassion of man often excites our impatience; and Job, so distinguished for patience, at last curses the day of his birth! What, afterwards, was the final result of all these trials and of all the lessons which Job gathered from them? Instead of repeating that the eye which saw him gave witness to him, no sooner has he looked upon God than he exclaims, “Now mine eye seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” chap. 42:5. Such is the history of the perfect man according to the Bible. You will say, perhaps, that I take pleasure in iniquity, and that I am seeking to defame the most eminent saints. Not so: but with all these saints I rejoice in God rather than in man, having learned with them that “were I to say I am perfect, my mouth would condemn me.”
N. But I fully acknowledge that it is the grace of God which produces perfection in me.
A. That may be. But, in speaking of your perfection, you dwell on the effect produced in yourself, and not on its source, which is in God. You do not forget your progress, that is to say, “the things which are behind,” to press toward the prize of your high calling. You manifest, unconsciously, the spirit of the Pharisee. The Pharisee began by giving thanks. What distinguishes the pharisaical spirit, therefore, is not the omitting to give thanks to God for His blessings; but its essence is this: that instead of saying, I thank Thee for what Thou art, it says, I thank Thee for what I am. The Pharisee thinks of the grace which is given and he is exalted, instead of thinking of the grace which gives and forgives.
N. But how will you get rid of the passages which I have quoted, and which speak of perfection? You have not replied to them.
A. I have not forgotten them; they are the least tenable points of your doctrine; and prove that it is entirely contrary to the truth and the holiness of God; for you thereby attenuate holiness on the one hand, and sin on the other, by not properly taking God into the account. You say, “Be ye holy, as God who hath called you is holy,” 1 Pet. 1:15, 16. But the passage reads, “Be ye holy, for he is holy.” Now every Christian acknowledges the force of this exhortation. I repeat, therefore^ that to cite such passages in proof of a state of perfection in certain Christians, is to throw dust into the eyes of the simple: for you very well know that no one is holy as God is holy. In fact, when I examine what you mean by being “perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” and “holy as God is holy,” I find that in your opinion the most pious are guilty of errors, which are departures from the perfect law, and require the atoning efficacy of the blood of Christ, without which they would be exposed to eternal condemnation.40 But pray tell me, what you mean by being perfect as our Father who is in heaven is perfect, if the most pious do things which, but for the blood of Christ, would expose them to eternal condemnation. Could we have believed* if we had not had it before our eyes, that any one would be found to affirm, that a man who does things deserving eternal condemnation, is nevertheless sinless, and the germ of sin so entirely eradicated that he is perfect as his Father who is in heaven is perfect? And if it is said there is a divine perfection to which neither man nor angel can attain, why mock us by pretensions which are afterwards reduced to so low a standard? You say that a perfect man has all the sentiments of Jesus Christ, and that he always walks as Jesus walked,41 yet the most pious do things which deserve eternal condemnation. Truly, you would plunge us into unheard-of confusion.
N. It is not I, but Jesus, who says, “Be ye perfect as your Father who is in heaven is perfect,” Matt. 5:48. And “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked,” 1 John 2:6. And again, “As he is, so are we in this world,” 1 John 4:17.
A. I know very well that these words occur in the Scriptures; but the use you would make of them is to persuade us that there are Christians who are without sin, perfectly purified from all sin, and clear from the existence of sin in their nature. But the word of God does not make use of these expressions to this end. When it is said, “Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), Jesus Himself explains the passage by that which precedes it. This perfection consists in acting according to love, and not according to the law of retaliation, which says, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”; it is to act towards men, according to the principle of the divine conduct towards us, according to the grace of our heavenly Father. There is no allusion here to the root of sin in our nature.
The word perfection is employed with reference to the three great revelations of God. For He made Himself known to Abraham as “the Almighty,” to the Jews as “the Lord [Jehovah],” and to Christians as “the Father.” God said to Abraham, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen. 17:1); which means, that he was to walk before God, always confiding in His almighty power. Abraham did not so, he failed in this respect; for he told a lie (Gen. 20:2), precisely because he did not confide in God’s almighty power. Here, again, the passage has no reference to the sin which had descended to Abraham by nature; but it has to do with his acting in full confidence in the almighty power of God. In point of fact, Abraham still had sin, and therefore had a fall. It is said to the Israelites, “Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord [Jehovah] thy God,” Deut. 18:13. Now this referred to their not imitating the abominations of the Canaanites in their idolatries; and not at all to the state of purification from all sin of this or that Israelite. The contrary is so true, that in the same book (Deut. 29:4) Moses tells them, “Yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.” It referred, therefore, solely to their faithfulness towards God in rejecting every species of idolatry.
N. But the fulness of grace was not then existing, for it is said that the Holy Ghost was not yet given. But when the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, then it is we arrive at the state of perfection.
A. Why, then, did you cite these passages, as though they supported this doctrine of perfection? But I turn now to the third passage: “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” Matt. 5:48. Observe there is a difference in the expression. It is not said, Be ye perfect before me, or, with thy God, as it had been said to Abraham and to the Israelites; because the name of Father reveals to us the fulness of grace. According to that precious name we are already children, accepted in Christ as Christ is accepted by the Father; we are already made acceptable in the Beloved, righteous before God as Jesus Christ is righteous, loved as Jesus Christ is loved. Now it is not said, Present to God a character of perfection, so that by this means ye may be accepted and made well-pleasing to Him; but, Ye are the children of your heavenly Father: shew forth, therefore, His character in the world; “for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good; and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He acts according to grace, and not according to law; ye saved sinners, ye are the proof of it; be His witnesses. The publicans love those who love them, but your Father loves His enemies. Act by this rule; and “be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” It is not said, Be ye perfect with Him, or before Him (as though you were without sin), but as He, act in love towards your enemies. I therefore repeat, that the question here is, not whether or not sin is in the flesh, but what is that principle which ought to regulate the conduct of the children of God, in contrast with the principle of law or of natural justice. But if by being “perfect as my heavenly Father” is to be understood the absence of sin from my nature—if it really means that I am perfectly to resemble Him in this respect, then, as perfection in us, according to you, still leaves things which expose us to eternal condemnation, it would be the same with the perfection of God—an impiety and absurdity too gross to delay us for a moment!
I said that you attenuated the idea of sin and holiness to bring them on a level with the state of your own soul. You say that man is not now bound to fulfil the law given to Adam, or that of Moses, but only the law of love, which tolerates many errors and deviations from the perfect law. If you had said that you cannot be what Adam was (although some have gone so far as to maintain the contrary), and that we do not fulfil the law of Moses, because we are sinners; if you had added, we ought to be humbled on account of it, because sin is the cause of it, I should have nothing to object. But you assert that we are not bound to fulfil these two laws, and thus you reduce the standard of holiness; and instead of confessing such things, and humbling yourself on account of them, you say they are not sins at all. So true is the charge I bring against you, that you even tell me that deviations from the perfect law are not properly sins, although they expose us to eternal condemnation. According to you, nothing is properly a sin but a voluntary transgression of the law of God. It follows that the lusts by which Paul was convinced of sin were not really sinful, for his will was entirely opposed to them; and so with faults and sins of negligence. Except voluntary sins, for which we read in the epistle to the Hebrews there is “no more sacrifice,” all the rest are neither sin nor sins. So that when Paul exclaims (Rom. 7), “The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do,” he was quite wrong in considering such things as sins, and still more in being so distressed on account of them.
N. But Romans 7 does not describe the state of a regenerate man.
A. I am not of your opinion. I admit that Paul is there describing not a state of freedom, but the judging of the flesh in the presence of the law. This, however, is not the question which we are now considering. Whether it be or be not a regenerate man who is speaking, if nothing is sin but the voluntary transgression of the divine law, it is plain that sin in the flesh, of which the apostle is here writing, is a mere fancied thing: for what can be less voluntary than the doing that which we “would not”? If, therefore, he did the things which he would not, it was no more a voluntary transgression; and on your principle he was quite wrong to be so distressed about it.
N. But in chapter 8 he declares that he was “free” from it.
A. Doubtless he does. But that does not hinder that, according to your system, it was not sin at all; for in chapter 7 he declares that it was so little voluntary, that it was not he who did it, but sin that dwelt in him. My dear friend, all the experiences we find in the New Testament are quite against your doctrine; and your definition of sin, that it is nothing but the voluntary transgression of the divine law, absolutely denies the existence of sin in the flesh—the existence of that sin which dwells in us even when it is subdued by the Spirit. It is a definition which attenuates the idea of sin, to make us satisfied with ourselves, instead of adoring the grace and the goodness of our God. Assuredly lust is sin; my failures in the fulfilment of the duties of love proceed from the sin which is in me. These things were not in Christ, because He was “without sin.” He ever did the will of God perfectly. He never acted, as I at times do, with precipitation. This forwardness of the flesh, even when I am doing good with all my heart, will not be imputed to me, not because it is not sin, but by reason of Christ’s expiation of it. These things are, nevertheless, the consequences of a nature which is in me, and was not in Christ, who was perfect, not only as God, but also as man. There is a principle at work in me, to bring forth evil, which principle there was not in Him. I shall not be judged on this principle because Jesus has borne the guilt of it and put it away; but that is the very reason why I should judge it.
Finally, the passage which you have cited, “As he is, so are we in this world “(1 John 4:17), is something quite different from what you would make of it. In the first place, the reference is to Christ and not to God. It is said in chapter 3:3 of the same epistle, “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” And what is this hope? It is that, “we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is “(v. 2). Thus, “as He is,” is to be as Jesus is now in glory, and not as He was, which is never said in the word. Now it is certain that, in our present state, we are not as He is. If we examine the whole of this passage (1 John 4:17) attentively, we shall clearly see what the Holy Spirit designs to teach us. It is said (ver. 9), “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” And in verse 17, “Herein is love perfected with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” Now love perfected with us does not make us say, So that we may be such in ourselves; but, “that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” And what gives us this boldness? It is that God has manifested His love in sending His Son into the world; and He has finished or perfected this love by putting us into Christ Himself before His face, and that in the power of the life in which He lives, and by union with Him through the Holy Ghost who dwells in us. United to Him, even while here below, we (in this world) are not what He is personally in the glory, but perfectly as He is before God, and that by a real union, which communicates His life to us, and makes us to be accepted in the Beloved. We are loved as He is loved; righteous as He is righteous. In principle and in hope we are made partakers of His glory. And this life is imparted to us here below, so that we walk in it in the certainty of being accepted as Christ is accepted and loved as He is loved. Whoso touches us touches Him, and Himself can say, speaking of us, “Why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4). God, in Christ, manifests His love toward man; but man, in Christ, is presented to God in the perfectness of Christ’s acceptance, and he has the enjoyment of it in the nature which has been communicated to him, and by which he participates in it. The nature which we have received is the nature of Christ Himself. It manifests itself in our walking according to its own principles. Yes, we are partakers of the divine nature: we are one with the last Adam. But then this nature does not change the old man, but judges him in all his thoughts and in all his ways.
N. But I do not say that lust is not sin; it is desire which is not sin. And when you maintain that we cannot observe the law, you seem to forget that it is written, That the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; Rom. 8:4. In fact God never commands man to do what man cannot accomplish. And in this epistle of John, which you imperfectionists would get away from, it is declared, eight times over, that he who is born of God sinneth not.
A. You certainly did say that lust is not sin, and your definition expressly declares it; for the lust in my nature in not a voluntary transgression of the divine law, if I have a will, through grace, directly opposed to it.
N. If I said that lust is not sin, it is because James says, When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin (James 1:15), and you confound temptations with lusts.
A. Alas! into what uncertainty and contradictions does error plunge the mind of man! As to the argument you derive from James, that apostle himself affirms that “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed.”
N. No. The proper translation of that passage is not, of his lusts; but, of his desires.
A. Your distinctions are deplorably subtle and dangerous. Thus men play with poison. It is in vain that I look for this difference; for the word which you translate desire, is the same Greek word which Paul employs in Romans 7 to express the lust by which he had been convinced of sin. And pray observe, it is there said that sin produced lust (v. 8). It is true that when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin as an act; but it is just as true that sin, which is in our nature, produces all sorts of lusts. With your definition of sin, which it totally anti-scriptural, you may indeed reason on the subject; but you will find yourself constantly in opposition to the declarations of God’s word. Temptation may, doubtless, be distinguished from sin. When I abhor the evil, and the new man rejects with indignation that which Satan presents, or, it may be, flattery, it is a temptation and not a sin. But lust in me is always sin. I do not say it will be imputed to me; but that is solely and absolutely because of the blood of Christ. But the “new man” judges it as sin. Woe is me, if I do not judge it!
N. But Christ had desires.
A. Oh! see to what you are reduced, to bring Jesus Christ down to your level in order to exalt yourself! It is a fearful principle. No, no; you dare not say that Jesus Christ had desires like those which are found in our fallen nature. You will reply, that there are desires which are not sinful. I admit it. There are for example hunger, thirst, and such like. These desires are the result of wants which our heavenly Father knows to exist in us. But would you venture to compare those desires which are in the human heart, and which, you say, occasion in the most pious, errors which require the blood of Christ, with the desires which were in the heart of the adorable Saviour? Is it not true that all the thoughts of Christ proceeded from the Holy Spirit, while He still felt the wants and sufferings of a man? Did then those evil desires which are in us, which require to be kept under, and which, if not restrained, produce sin, exist in the heart of Jesus Christ? My dear friend! the more I look into your doctrine and its tendency to reduce to the same level God, Christ (who knew no sin), and us poor vile creatures fallen from our first estate, the more do I see that, instead of being a doctrine of sanctification, it is a doctrine which, while it pretends to exalt our condition, abases all that is worthy of being exalted, exalts all that should be abased, and destroys the distinction between good and evil. You tell me, moreover, that God commands nothing but what man can accomplish. Where do you get that in the Bible? The law, for example, was given to the Israelites, that is to say, to man in the flesh. Can man fulfil it?
N. No: but we can by the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus.
A. In one sense that is true; but that, by no means, establishes the principle upon which you lay so much stress, that God commands nothing but what may be accomplished. The law was given to man in the flesh, and the New Testament teaches me, very clearly, that God did not give the law in the thought that man could keep it. The carnal mind pretends to do so; but the word tells me that the law of God was given to convince man of sin, by the discovery that he did not keep it, so “that sin might become by the commandment exceeding sinful.” The law entered, says the apostle, that the offence might abound. Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin is dead; Rom 7:8. Remark here, in passing, that sin produces concupiscence or lust. When the law had said, Thou shalt not covet, then Paul knew sin. “The strength of sin is the law,” says the same apostle elsewhere; 1 Cor. 15:56. I gather, therefore, that in giving the law, God’s purpose was to convince man of the sin which is in him; and not, as you say, with the thought that man could and would keep it.
N. But it is said God has condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; Rom. 8:3, 4.
A. That is true; yet the iniquity of the flesh is there again pointed out, as being ever the same in its nature. But we have been made free from the law of sin and death, by the new life which we have in Jesus Christ, strengthened by the Spirit of God, which is here called the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus. We are able then, in walking according to this new life, to keep from failing in obedience to His commands, while we still judge and because we judge the flesh. But as soon as we think and act after the flesh, the law is no longer fulfilled. On the other hand, God, in giving us this life, in which we walk in love, has, at the same time, given us the knowledge of a state which convinces us that we are very far behind Jesus Christ (that is to say, from the perfection of the example set before us). I “know that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him [does not look merely at the law, but] purifieth himself, even as he is pure,” 1 John 3:2, 3. If then God gives us strength to walk in His ways, that strength is given to us through a knowledge, which, at the same time, makes us understand that we cannot, here below, attain even to that which we know. Thus, instead of an end which we can attain to embolden us, God sets before us that which hereafter will assuredly be accomplished in us, but which preserves us ever in humility, ever in the feeling that we are not all that we would be. But this very thing keeps us ever advancing towards our great end. Your principle, which has a semblance of requiring nothing but what is just and suitable, is, accordingly, entirely opposed to the mind of God; it is akin to self-righteousness, which, instead of being “strong in the grace” which God has given to us, prefers saying, I have attained to the end. God has given us a full pardon at the very outset of our career; and at its termination He has set before us a glory, the power of which is in us by the communication of the life of Christ: but the nature and the very excellence of this glory make it evident to us that it is not a thing to which we can ever attain while here below. We “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God,” Rom. 5:2. “We are saved by hope” (Rom. 8:24); and in the confidence of the certainty of God’s grace, we press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus.
N. But it is said that we are “made free “from sin itself, and not only from the law of sin.
A. If you had read the passage, you would have seen that the apostle, in saying “made free,” tells them that he speaks “after the manner of men,” because of the infirmity of their flesh. He says made free, as contrasted with slavery; and therefore he adds, by way of marking the contrast, that they had become servants to God; Rom. 6:22. It is a simple comparison between a slave and a freed man, introduced to make the matter better understood. And pray observe, that it is not the condition of a perfect Christian only, but of all Christians without exception; so that this passage is not at all applicable in support of your doctrine.
The same observation applies to the eight passages of John, whose epistle is loved by all who love God, notwithstanding the misplaced reproaches of those who so despise their brethren. Do your eight passages prove that certain Christians have attained to perfection, so that they no longer sin, while other Christians have not attained that end? By no means; they are spoken of those who are “born of God.” “He that committeth sin is of the devil; neither hath he known God” (1 John 3); so that, according to your quotation of the passages, every one who is not perfect is of the devil. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” This is true, therefore, of every Christian; and I cannot understand how anyone, ever so little conversant with this matter, can reconcile such quotations with a simple heart, except by singular prejudice of mind. You will reply, that many scholars in one and the same class may have made very different progress; but this is said of the entire class and does not apply to the greater or less progress of the scholars.
N. But is it not said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself?
A. I have already answered you in principle. God necessarily commands what ought to be, not what man can perform; for this commandment, which is the essence of the law, was given to man in the flesh, when he was “without strength.” And we have already seen that, although it is the eternal law of perfect beings, it becomes, when it is imposed upon those who are already under sin, a ministry of death and condemnation; 2 Cor. 3.
N. I admit it: but we who are under grace can accomplish it.
A. I have answered you, likewise, on this point. Under grace a new life has been given to us. It is the life of Christ in us, which sees and considers Jesus Christ glorified, and which knows that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Now this life judges all things in us according to the perfection of our hereafter state in the resurrection. It discerns that we have not yet obtained the redemption of our body. It judges the old man in us—his root, his trunk, and his branches. But all the while the Christian purifies himself as Christ Himself is pure. Observe, it is not only said that he aims at growth in Christ, but that he purifies himself as He is pure. He does not say that he is purified, but that he purifies himself after the resemblance of Christ glorified; and, knowing that the time is not yet come for the redemption of his body, he dreams not of perfection here below.
N. I think I understand you. The Christian has already in his soul “the power of the resurrection.” Nothing which is not after the power of the resurrection can satisfy him. He does not think that he has attained it, although he follows after such a purification of himself as he sees in Christ, whose life he possesses, and into whose image he is already changed from glory to glory; 2 Cor. 3:18. Yet it seems to me discouraging to say to a Christian, You never can attain the object you have in view.
A. But he is certain of obtaining his object! And it is evident that, instead of discouraging him, it is, in God’s mind, the very way to urge him onward; “for every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure,” 1 John 3:3. And Paul says, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; Phil. 3:13, 14. This view, according to your system—which lowers all the privileges of Christianity—this view, I say, according to your system, may discourage; but it is because your Christianity is, in a great degree, man’s Christianity and not God’s: a Christianity which works in order to obtain eternal life, and not because God has given it to us. What you really want is, not to be able to say, “I shall apprehend here below”; but it is to be able to say with the apostle, that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus; Phil. 3:12. What you really want is to believe that, through grace, we have in us the very fife of Jesus—eternal fife by our union with Him; that all things are ours; that we are joint-heirs with Christ; that we are assured of the love of God; that we are loved of Him as Jesus Christ is loved. Therefore with joy and gladness of heart we press onward, while on earth, toward the realization of this glory. By the power of the Holy Ghost we are transformed into the same image from glory to glory; by faith we are already made partakers of a perfection which will be given to us in its fulness, when Jesus Christ returns. “We have our citizenship in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself,” Phil. 3:20, 21.
No; we say not that we must stumble; for, theoretically, why cannot we walk every moment after the Spirit? But, practically and by experience, we know that in many things we do offend all; James 3:2. But, while confessing our fault, and that we are without excuse, we know that God is faithful, and that He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able. God, who loves us, and brings good out of evil, although He never justifies it—God, I say, humbles us either by His Spirit or by His chastenings, and gives us a deeper understanding of the boundless riches of His grace. And even I speak not now of outward falls; and I am very far from affirming that failures are necessary for our instruction; but in point of fact we do learn, in the tender and faithful care of our God, that His grace is sufficient for us, that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. But your doctrine fixes the heart upon low views, and in the belief that you have realised them, your Christianity becomes debased and proud. Your watchfulness is no fruit of confidence in God’s love, and joy in His holiness and in communion with Him, but of fear; for one of your perfect men may, at the end, find himself in hell! In fact, one of your most distinguished teachers, who assuredly was a child of God, was four times perfect. He fell away from this state, he tells us (and the reason assigned is curious enough), because, in the state of perfection, there was unfaithfulness in his conduct: he consequently lost what had been given to him; and you caution us against those who profess that once in grace we are always in grace and infallibly in glory. I admit that the presence of the Spirit gives a happy inconsistency to those who are in this system; and I bless the Lord for it. Air. Wesley, who thought at first that a perfect man could not fall from that state, afterwards affirmed that it was a great error to think so.
N. But we see some who are in this state of perfection and divine joy. They are made perfect in love: loving them is perfect. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and with all the fulness of God. Moreover, Jesus Christ, “in whom was no sin,” has left us an example that we should follow His steps.
I quite see that you have a principle which, in virtue of our union with Christ, places perfection higher and presents it to us such as we cannot realize upon earth. On your principle, although we heartily follow Jesus Christ, the old man remains unchanged by nature, even when it is so kept under that it cannot act. Notwithstanding, I cannot renounce my views of perfection here. It is a state so full of joy and so desirable! I have seen individuals so blessed and so sanctified!
A. It is the truth that sanctifies: and if your doctrine is not truth, notwithstanding all appearances—notwithstanding the reality of a portion of this blessedness—after all, it cannot be a sanctification according to God. In fact, instead of making me advance, that which you offer makes me retrograde. By what you call the law of love and the life of Christ, you send me back to the perfection of Adam, and even much lower; for you cannot deny the presence of evil, and that boasted perfection of yours you consider quite reconcilable with things which may expose us to eternal condemnation, and which require to be expiated by the blood of Christ.
You will say, perhaps, that there is a more exalted perfection and which is heavenly and divine. But why, then, do you understand of your notion of earthly perfection all the passages which speak of the former? I believe, on the contrary, that the entrance of sin has completely altered the nature of our relationship with God. I could never more return to the state of Adam before the fall. I now partake of “the divine nature “by promises infinitely superior to anything Adam enjoyed. I do not see that God has restored the first Adam, but He has united us to the last Adam. Our glory does not consist in our ignorance of evil, but in the enjoyment of the results of a complete victory over evil itself. Although the law, in its essence, is the rule of every pure being before God, it is, on that very account, no longer the character of our state before Him; for we are very far from being pure according to its requirement. And the thought of grace does not exhibit the creature in its perfection before God, but is the bringing in of the nature, goodness, and power of the Creator into the midst of evil, over which His perfections are victorious. Grace, therefore, recognizes the existence of the evil, over which it triumphs.
By our union with Christ the divine nature is communicated to us; but the final result (that is to say, perfection) will be found only in resurrection. Until then, or at least so long as we are in this body, we ought always to live according to the Spirit. But we ought not to deny the existence of evil; for to deny it is to change the very essence, riches, counsels, and all the fulness of grace. You would replace me before God in the condition of our creation and even much below it. I, on the contrary, see the introduction here below of the life and nature of the Creator into the midst of evil itself. But I see my perfection only in my being presented before God when, the last victory having been won, I shall be fashioned after the resemblance of the last Adam, who is the accepted and glorified Man according to the counsel of God the Father. In the meanwhile, all the riches of the “divine nature “are developed in my heart and understanding, in order that, when I shall be made perfect, I may find myself in the presence of God, whom I know, the friend of my weakness and the glory of my strength. It is to this end the Spirit has been given to me. He is the seal of my redemption in Jesus Christ. He is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession unto the praise of His glory; Eph. 1:14. He is not in me the seal of the fruits which He Himself produces; but He is the seal of the redemption which has been accomplished in Jesus Christ.
I now return to some texts which you have cited. “Made perfect” say you, “in love.” If you do but read the passage, you will see that it has no reference whatever to the absence of sin in the flesh, but to that full confidence in the love of God which sets the heart at liberty in His presence, and gives us peace and joy in communion with Him. The whole passage reads thus: “Herein is love made perfect with us [see margin of our Bible], that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love,” 1 John 4:17, 18. You see at once that there is no question here touching the absence of sin from the flesh, but concerning an entire assurance in the love of God; for His love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us: not that we loved God, but that He loved us. There is, therefore, an essential difference between these passages and your doctrine.
This love of God is shed abroad in the heart: God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us. Made partakers of the divine nature, and filled with the Holy Ghost, we are hence filled with love, that is, with the consciousness of His love; and, consequently, we love in a divine manner. But it does not follow that the flesh is changed. The soul which is full of the Holy Ghost thinks of the love which is in God, and not of the love which we have for God—it, consequently, acts in love.
And this leads me to what you say about the condition of certain souls, when they are set at liberty, and have tasted of this love. The truth of their state, I doubt not, is this: they are filled, they are absorbed with it; hence, as the capacity of the heart is limited, they suppose that nothing else exists, or ought to exist, within them. But sin is still found in their nature. Nay more; it sometimes sends forth shoots, precisely because they stop and dwell on the effect of this love in themselves, instead of on the source whence it springs. For from the moment we look on ourselves, and on the effects which grace produces in us, communion with the source of grace is suspended. Owing to the deceitfulness of the heart, the very effects of grace become an occasion of sin and especially of falling into pride.
Vain is the effort to draw fresh strength from the effects of grace already received; for the conscience is never therein brought into exercise, not even in our most elevated spiritual life; whilst it is in continual exercise so long as we are thinking of God. And as the liveliness of conscience in the presence of God is ever the cause of our safety in practical walk, the moment I look back to myself to contemplate the grace which is in me, from that moment I am in a way to fall, and am very far departed from the source of my spiritual strength. Think of this: for, notwithstanding all you say, the heart is deceitful. I believe that the feeling of God’s love shed abroad in the heart is, by the persons you refer to, confounded with the absence of sin. But to be occupied with this feeling is, in reality, a way to fall into sin.
Mr. Wesley distinguishes this state from a state of perfection, which, in his opinion, shews itself in three ways, by the experience of the heart, first, in the absence of sin; second, in perfect love; and third, by the witness which the Holy Spirit bears to the perfect man, of His complete sanctification, as of his justification. But when I search the Scriptures for proofs of this witness borne by the Holy Spirit, I nowhere find them. If I consult Mr. Wesley, the only answer he can give me is, that if these things are affirmed to me by a true man, and no sufficient reasons exist for disbelieving the statement, I ought not to reject his testimony. “But not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth,” 2 Cor. 10:18. When I turn to Paul, I meet with very different language. Does Paul go back to rest upon his own feelings? His conscience bears him good witness. “I know nothing by myself,” says he, “yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord,” 1 Cor. 4:4. Again, I say, that it is in vain I search the whole Bible for this witness, given by the Holy Spirit to our souls, of our complete sanctification. I clearly see in the Scriptures that we are children, heirs of all things, objects of God’s perfect love—that in communion with Him we have the enjoyment of this love, that we may glory in Him; but as to our entire sanctification, I nowhere find it. It is a notion which can in no way be made to accord with the true perfection—that perfection which is ours, and already enjoyed by us in hope, but which will be completed only in the resurrection. For we “ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body,” Rom. 8:23. “For we know that the whole creation (of which our bodies are a part) groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now “(v. 22). Observe, these words do not occur in Romans 7 but in chapter 8, which speaks of the soul set at liberty—the soul that has received the witness of the Spirit, and is at liberty, because it has received this witness. As to the other passages which you have quoted, you join two together, which, however, are not connected in the word, that you may derive from them an inference which may have some appearance of truth. You tell me that He in whom was no sin (1 John 3:5) has left us an example that we should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:21). This is not in the New Testament. We read (1 Pet. 2:21, 22), that “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” Now, He is the example, not of what we are (which it would be folly to pretend), but of what our conduct ought to be. Elsewhere it is said, “He was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin,” 1 John 3:5. But in this latter passage nothing is said of Jesus Christ as our example.
John declares, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” 1 John 1:8. This text is, of itself, enough to destroy your whole system. In order to elude the force of this declaration, you comment upon it by making it the same as another passage, “If we say that we have not sinned,” etc. But this conveys quite a different idea, and exposes the fundamental error of your doctrine, which confounds sins committed with the sin which dwells in us, that you may entirely deny the latter.
There are two passages which I should wish you to compare with your lamentable definition of sin, which consists, say you, solely in the voluntary violation of the law of God. The first is, “Cleanse thou me from secret [faults],” Psa. 19:12. The second says, still more expressly, “And the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him. It is a trespass offering; he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord,” Lev. 5:18, 19.
N. But that was under the law.
A. True; but should your estimation of sin be less scrupulous, less exact, less holy, and less perfect, now that we have a larger and deeper knowledge of God? See in this the fault of your system, which lays down that lust is not sin; that errors which expose to eternal condemnation are not sin; and that nothing is sin but the voluntary violation of the law of God. On the contrary, I am persuaded that whatever in my heart separates me from communion with God, because it grieves the Holy Spirit, is sin; for, whatever it be, it proceeds from my corrupt nature, and I have no desire to lower the standard of sanctification in order to escape from this conviction. Moreover, my assurance flows from quite a different source from yours. It is founded on the certainty of the love of God for me a sinner; and this love was manifested toward me while I was in my sins. It is founded on the certainty of my resurrection with Jesus, through the faith of the operation of God who has raised Him from the dead, and by which I am seated, such as He is before God His Father.
I am aware that you but seldom read the Old Testament: but have you ever noticed that leaven was forbidden in the cake which represented Christ, and which was an offering to Jehovah of a sweet savour; while leaven was commanded in the cake on the day of Pentecost? Now the latter was the type of the gathered Church, and, because of the leaven, which represents sin, it could never be burnt as a sweet savour to Jehovah; Lev. 2 and 7:13.
Once more I say, then, my opposition to your system is grounded on your definition of sin and on your lowering the standard of our sanctification; for sanctification is and ought to be founded on our union with Jesus Christ risen and glorified, which teaches us to purify ourselves even as He is pure, and not to say, as you do, that we are without sin, and afterwards confess that we do things which expose us to eternal condemnation.
If you have comprehended what I said to you about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you will, without difficulty, understand what is contained in Philippians 3. This is, that the perfect Christian, instead of being perfect here below in this body, has apprehended the doctrine of the resurrection. He has been renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him. He does not persuade himself that he has attained the end, because he knows no end but the calling on high in Christ Jesus. And, instead of imagining that he is such as Jesus Christ, our well-beloved Saviour, was, when on earth, he says in this sense, Though I have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know I Him no more.
N. But you are opposing our views of perfection, because you require a more perfect sanctification—a higher perfection than we do.
A. Exactly so. But I oppose it likewise because you lower the notion of sin to place it on the level of your state of perfection. And why? In order that you may say you are perfect; and that from this perfection, thus lowered, you may finally conclude that you are without sin. You affirm that there is a second class of Christians who are righteous as God is righteous; who, in this world, are as God is. Then, by an inconsistency which, nevertheless, explains itself, you tell us these same perfect ones do things which, but for the expiation of Christ, would expose them to eternal condemnation. I add, likewise, on this subject, that you pervert texts by separating them from their context.
N. But I have some other texts to bring forward. In Ezekiel 36:25, 26, it is said, “From all your filthiness will I cleanse you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” And in 1 John 1:7, it is written, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.”
A. Dear brother! your first text is a promise which God makes to the Jews for the last days, as you may see in reading the chapter which contains it, and where it is accompanied by earthly blessings, particularly with the restoration of that nation to their land. It is a promise to take away their hardness of heart, and to give them a tender heart capable of receiving the instructions of the Lord; but it has nothing to do with the destruction of sin. Therefore this promise is also fulfilled in us as soon as we are “born of God “; for to me it is clear that our Lord in His conversation with Nicodemus particularly alluded to this; John 3. It is applicable, accordingly, to all those in whom, as you allow, sin is not destroyed; it speaks not of the radical destruction of the old man, but of the communication of the life of God. As to the cleansing from all sin by the blood of Jesus Christ, He has done that by His expiation; but the change of heart is constantly ascribed to the Holy Spirit, and to that water of which it is said, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet,” John 13:10. The priesthood of Christ is specially applied to this office; and the necessity for that priesthood is owing to the continuance of the existence of sin in us, and of its effects through our carelessness of walk.
N. But we find also in the Lord’s prayer, Let thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.
A. That petition is a prayer for the state of the earth, and not of my heart. Christ, who did the will of God every day, might address it to His heavenly Father. It is a desire which will be fulfilled when the kingdom of the Father shall come; a kingdom which is the object of the preceding petition, and which petition, in fact, introduces the one we are now considering. How many are the ardent desires of the heart that are expressed by sighs and cries to God, and will be accomplished only by an entire change of the circumstances in which we are placed, when the children of God shall be manifested!
N. But if I am not entitled to say that I am perfect, I ought, at least, to aim at becoming so, for it is written, “Let us go on unto perfection,” Heb. 6:1.
A. Have you examined the passage you have just quoted?
N. No, not particularly; but the expression seems to me very simple.
A. I have already begged of you always to read the context before you receive a passage as having such a sense or such a bearing; and in order that you may ascertain the meaning of the Holy Spirit. For example, there is no reference in this passage to the state of sanctification, but to the advancing in knowledge. Paul, therein, draws a contrast between the principles of the doctrine of Christ (such as a believing Jew might have understood them before the day of Pentecost), and that knowledge which the Holy Ghost gives of the fulness of the glory of the Son of man exalted above all.
I add one remark in connection with this passage. You will find at the end of the preceding chapter (v. 13, 14) that milk is suited to babes, but strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age. This character of men of full age is expressed in the original by the word which is generally rendered perfect. For, in Greek, the word perfect signifies also one of full age. To quote all the passages where the word “perfect” occurs is really a mere waste of words. The expression is most frequently applied to the state of a man who has fully apprehended the whole extent of the truth which is in Christ, both as regards the privileges and the conduct of Christians, which full apprehension leads us to the conviction of our state of imperfection. Therefore, when Paul says, “As many of us as be perfect,” he adds in the same passage, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” Jesus Christ had apprehended him for the resurrection of the dead. Having learned the purpose of Jesus, Paul pressed towards the mark, and, by so doing, acknowledged the imperfection of his actual condition. I might lay down that the ordinary sense of the word ‘perfect’ in the Greek, is to have reached our full stature in Christ, without any reference to the presence or the absence of sin.
N. But this sense does not rest solely on the word ‘perfect.’ For example, it is said, Every one that is perfect shall be as his master; Luke 6:40.
A. Well, this passage has nothing to do with the existence or absence of sin, but refers to the principles of the believer’s conduct (that is to say, to the complete reception of the principles of his Master, as a rule of conduct). Here, again, the Christian ought not to act on the law of retaliation, nor on the principles of the Jews, but on those of Jesus Christ Himself. The whole of the Lord’s exhortation is as follows: “Give to every man that asketh of thee,” etc. (Luke 6:30). “Love ye your enemies,” etc. (v. 35). “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful,” etc. (v. 36). “And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? “(v. 39). “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master “(v. 40). You see therefore, that there is no allusion here to the nature of the disciple, but to the light and principles which ought to guide him.
For my part, I admit no example but the perfect walk of Jesus Christ Himself. But Christ, in His nature, was without sin, and I was shapen in iniquity: and although I put off the old man and put on the new, the work of God does not consist in restoring the first Adam here below, but in communicating to me the life of the last, to which I shall be made conformable when I see Him as He is, and never till then. It is a fact that many passages are brought forward, as though they were applicable to us on earth, which in the word are applied to the glorified state; such as Romans 8:23; Ephesians 5:25-27; John 17:22, 23.
What we have just said of that text (“Every one that is perfect shall be as his master “), equally applies to the following expressions: “for the perfecting of the saints” (Eph. 4:12); “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works,” 2 Tim. 3:17. The words here translated ‘perfecting’ and ‘throughly’ are different Greek words from that which is employed in Philippians 3:15, and in other places. They have no reference to indwelling sin, or to that which exists in our nature, but to the teaching of Christ, and to the reception of all the principles of His doctrine, in order to the full edification of all believers.
N. Have you read the pamphlet which has been published lately?42
A. I have examined what appeared to me the most important part of it, namely, all the passages of the word of God which are therein quoted. We have already spoken of the principal ones. The greater part have not even so much as the appearance of relation to the subject. For example, in order to shew that we may attain to perfection on earth, this passage is cited: “Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith, To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” Heb. 3:7. There is not, in the whole chapter whence I take these words, a passage that has more reference to the subject than that. Again, in that work, these expressions are brought forward—” to be full of the Spirit,” “to be filled with the Spirit,” to prove that we ought to be without sin. It cannot be necessary, I should think, to refute such reasoning. There are many passages referring to the work of Christ for us, which are applied to the work of Christ in us; as, for example, “By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” Heb. 10:14. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” which “cleanseth us from all sin,” Rev. 7:14; 1 John 1:7. “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” Heb. 9:26, etc., etc.
As you have yourself referred to this pamphlet, I have some further remarks to make upon it. You may observe, in the first place, the way in which the question is stated: it is not at all the love of God for us. The perfecting of love and the accomplishment of love are nowhere in it presented as the love of God for us; but as a love which is required from us and which is exacted in the very language of the law. This is the leading idea. Christian perfection is represented as consisting in the accomplishment, on our part, of the highest requirement of the law; and it is added as a second principle, that God commands it and declares it indispensable. I fully admit that the knowledge of the perfect love of God (1 John 4:10) necessarily produces in us a reciprocity of love. It is feeble, doubtless, but it is real, and it is pure; for we know the love of God, by being made “partakers of the divine nature,” and by this love being shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us. Then God dwelleth in us and we in Him. The love with which He loves us is, therefore, shed abroad in our hearts; and the consciousness which we have of this shews itself in our love for Him. The brightness of His countenance shines on ours, and ours reflects its mild and powerful rays. This reflected shining is well pleasing to Him, because He knows the source whence it proceeds. And as it is by the gift of the Holy Ghost that we have known the love of God, it is by that same Spirit that the love of our hearts returns, without effort, towards the love which we have known in Him.
But when you tell me that God commands this love, and requires it as indispensable, you place me under law, and do away with the very principle of justification by confounding it with sanctification; you put aside grace, the grand principle of the gospel, God justifying the ungodly. By thus confounding this love where it exists, with perfect holiness and with the absence of sin, you assuredly give proof of a deep ignorance of your own heart—an ignorance which must go on increasing, and which is found in all whom I have met with entertaining this thought. It is possible that some who are sincerely seeking communion with God may escape this delusion, by those happy inconsequences which result from the working of the Holy Spirit within us; but these errors and this darkness are the natural consequences of the principle itself, and are seen in the great majority of those who have embraced this doctrine.
Let us never confound a conduct void of offence with absence of all sin (that is, with the extirpation of the germ of sin from our nature). The Christian ought, certainly, to maintain a conduct void of offence; he ought ever to walk in the Spirit; he can never justify himself for having walked one moment in the flesh; all his faculties should be used, not by the flesh, but by the new man, that he may never stumble. He can never excuse himself by saying, “Alas! it is the flesh which is still in me, which occasioned my fall”; for that flesh ought to have been mortified, while the Spirit ought to regulate all our thoughts. He ought to have exclaimed, “Alas! I have failed in watchfulness, in prayer, in the use of the means of grace.” Perhaps he has not sufficiently examined the state of his own heart; and his distress, as in the case of Job, has been permitted for his instruction. Still he is without excuse. The blood of Jesus Christ, doubtless, expiates the sin; but as for himself, he has failed; for God is faithful, who would not have suffered him to be tempted above what he was able to bear. And if he should go on to plead, “I am but a child; I am still so weak in faith”; I reply, It makes no difference; for if the fear and distrust of self, which properly befit weakness, had been found in his heart, he would never have failed in this way: if he has fallen, it is because sin (that is, the principle of selfwill) was active within him.
Allow me to direct your attention to another defect in the reasoning of those who propound this doctrine. You bring forward the cases of several believers of the Old Testament, who were called perfect. I prove to you that they have sinned: on this you reply, “That proves nothing against those who are under the more excellent grace of the new dispensation.” But why, if so, did you cite them?
It is remarkable, that after the day of Pentecost, not even a single instance can be mentioned of a man’s being called perfect. There is an important reason for this. The gift of the Holy Spirit has made us capable of detecting and judging the “old man,” of condemning sin in the flesh, and judging nature; because we have the full knowledge of the relationship between our new man and Jesus Christ. Under the former dispensation, a man, who kept the commandments and ordinances of the law blamelessly, might be called “perfect,” because it had not taught them to discern between the old and the new man, as we can do in the full light which the new dispensation has brought us. A man who walked well was perfect. But the manifestation of the new man, Christ risen, has caused us to know and discern, as a perfectly distinct thing, the old man Adam and his condemnation. With Paul we now can say by the Spirit, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20); and in another place, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me,” Rom. 7:20. The being “made free,” spoken of in Romans 8, has rendered us capable of judging the old man, as a nature condemned by God, because we assuredly know that we have another nature, in which we live, and by which we can thus judge it. Your doctrine of perfection, on the contrary, carries us back to the law, and takes away the full light of Christ, in order to make us satisfied with ourselves.
But, observe, the principle which I have advanced supposes that we walk “in the Spirit” by a much higher rule, which admits of no pattern of conduct save the life of Christ on earth; and no standard of perfection but the glory of Christ above in heaven. What we do is not what we are. Since the fall, and since our regeneration, these two things must be distinguished. Jesus Christ is the example of what we ought to do, but He cannot be the example of what we are; for we are, actually, born in sin, and He was not.
I will add another remark, connected with what I have just said. One would never have believed that anyone could have maintained that a state of perfection here on earth was the chief end of the birth, life, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, of the Christian revelation, of the preaching of the gospel, and of the scripture truth of election. And who indeed could have imagined that heaven, that our being made like unto Jesus in glory, our being with Him, the joy of His presence, that the exemption from all evil, from sorrow and from tears, that the possession of the glory of God, and life with Jesus Christ in His presence—in a word, that the union of Christ with the Church in glory should form no part in the great end of all that God has done in Christ, and that all these things (and even many of the texts which speak of them) should be taken as referring only to what we are on earth?
Raise, as high as you will, the standard of holiness which we can attain on this earth, I hope to agree with you. But, as I have already told you, your standard is too low for me; for, according to you, a man does not commit sin although he does things which expose him to eternal damnation. And again, you say, the very highest point we are to aspire to is to be made like the first Adam, not like the last Adam. But at least do not refuse me, as the chief end of the work of Christ, the presence, glory, and heavenly rest of God. Say not, as you do say, that that which I can realize on earth is “the rest which remaineth for the people of God.” Alas! if it is thus with you, your religion, my dear friend, is of an earthly character. Instead of opening heaven before us, instead of encouraging us by such a motive to advance indefinitely in the career of holiness and piety, instead of making us feel, by that which imparts to us this new strength, that we are still far from the end to which, through grace, we shall surely attain, all your efforts are directed to the making the whole revelation of the grace of Christ serve to set up again a sort of Judaism. Paul, who perhaps attained the highest rank among the soldiers of the faith, has said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” 1 Cor. 15:19. It was because he had received the first-fruits of the Spirit that he groaned within himself (Rom. 8:23), that he fought, not as one that beats the air, but kept under his body and brought it into subjection; 1 Cor. 9:26, 27. Is this, then, the rest which remaineth for the people of God? Alas, what delusion! What, then? are there no internal combats? I will admit, if you please, that we may go on until we no longer have to struggle in conflict with our enemy, who harasses us with all his might. But what?—shall we not want continual watchfulness to hold in an enemy who is our prisoner, but whose enmity and malice are unchanged, and who at any moment may break out and do us hurt?
I have but one more remark to make on the manner of quoting scripture that occurs in the pamphlet of which you spoke. I desire to call your attention to the criminal practice of joining the middle of one passage to a part of another, just as if the Holy Spirit employed the latter on the same occasion as the former, when it is not so. Take the following instances. I am struck by this even in its title-page. I read there, “Be ye perfect,” which is part of a sentence taken from Matthew 5:48. “Every one that is perfect shall be as his master,” another portion from Luke 6:40: and to these is joined, in a manner still more surprising, this fragment from Paul, “Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded “(Phil. 3:15), the whole concluding with the verses, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing,” etc. (1 Tim. 6:3, 4).
A simple mind would naturally conclude that “teaching otherwise “was a reference to the thought continued in the preceding verse. But no; the beginning of the third quotation is in Philippians 3:15; and the last passage, “If any man teach otherwise,” etc., is taken from 1 Timothy 6:3, 4, in which the Holy Spirit applies the words to the duty of servants to their masters, and the honour which servants owe to the latter, if they are children of God. What can be said of such quotations?
Sometimes two passages are mingled in one quotation, and the reader is left to unravel its parts. It is said, for example, “He that shall endure unto the end, in the faith which worketh by love, that man shall be saved.” There is no such passage in God’s word. The author has inserted a portion of Galatians 5:6, into the middle of a passage taken from Matthew 24:13, and has connected it by the words in the and that man, which are not found in either verse. Now the verse in Galatians has no reference to the “enduring to the end” mentioned in Matthew; and this last passage speaks of the afflictions of the disciples in the distress of Jerusalem.
“By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified … if they do but hold fast the beginning of their confidence.” It is true the places are given whence the texts are taken; but the condition, appearing in the latter words, is not at all connected in God’s word with the truth laid down in the former.
Let these examples be a warning to you to be on your guard. And beware of receiving as a genuine quotation—either as to its terms, or as expressing the meaning of the Holy Spirit— any passage, the sense of which you have not verified in the context.
I have now two general observations to make on the two principal parts of this pamphlet. To prove the point that the state of soul depicted in Romans 7 is no other than that of an unregenerate man, the writer proceeds to bring forward, on behalf of every regenerate man, all the texts which had been brought forward as characterizing the state of a perfect man, in contradistinction with a Christian who still knows internal conflicts. Then, when the writer is trying to prove that such or such a passage does not apply to a regenerate man, in order to bring out the contrast, he quotes the very same passages (chap. 8), as if they were only to be understood of the regenerate generally. One example will explain what I mean: (p. 101)— the regenerate man: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” etc. Now we have before seen, that this text has been already quoted to shew that the state of a perfect man is altogether distinct from that of a regenerate man. It is now applied to the latter, in order to make it appear that Romans 7 does not at all describe the state of regeneration. Such inconsistency cannot be of the teaching of the Holy Spirit. What purpose can it serve to plunge us into principles which contradict each other? Such confusion ever marks false doctrine.
The assertions which we find at the beginning of the article, entitled “Evidences of the New Birth,” etc., p. 170, appear to me entirely at variance with that instantaneous change, greater than justification itself, of which Mr. Wesley speaks. Here it is a question of degree, “in some degree,” as it is said, in the condition of all. But, tell me, what mean the words, “at the commencement of our justification? “Is justification a work which is effected in us progressively? Here, again, all the characteristics of perfection are given as evidences of the new birth.
I now come to my second remark. In the whole of Mr. Wesley’s work on Christian Perfection, the love of God towards us is never once mentioned, either as the subject of our gratitude, or as a motive to obedience. We are not told that the thought of this love holds any place in the heart of the perfect man. This is an extraordinary fact. I read in 1 John 4, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us”—a doctrine very remarkable in this epistle, which treats of that “perfect love which casteth out fear.” It finds place there, precisely that we might be kept from the error into which Mr. Wesley—too confident in himself—has fallen, in company with all mystics: an error natural to the heart of man, who, when through grace, he loves God, turns back upon himself, reflecting upon what he is towards God, and forgetting what God is towards him.
Two great truths are constantly to be kept in view. First, To love God, because He ought to be loved, and so to reflect His image in purity. This is what the law requires, but man has failed in this. Secondly, Grace presents to us the love of God towards us, when we were unworthy of it. It places us in Christ, on a new and immutable foundation of eternal joy; it presents to us God Himself under an aspect unknown to Adam, and which was impossible under the law (for the law necessarily requires perfect love in us; it cannot, it ought not to spare any sinner). But, by the regenerating power of the life of Christ, we are renewed in the image of God; but we are renewed entirely on the principle of an eternal gratitude, which alone puts God in His right place with regard to the creature; and which puts the creature, dead and made alive again, in its place in relation to God. The Wesleyan system deliberately replaces the creature under the requirement of the law, and thus overturns the entire gospel.
N. But there can be no doubt that Mr. Wesley preached the love of God to sinners.
A. I do not deny it, though it was in a vague manner. He preached it even more than some others who proclaimed the necessity of regeneration rather than made proclamation of the love of God. Nevertheless, he replaces the regenerate man under law. In other respects there is a great deal of confusion in his doctrine; for in the midst of the highest requirement of law, he allows of things which require the expiation of the blood of Christ. However, he clearly proves what I say, by the very fact that, in the character of a perfect Christian, he makes no mention of the love of God towards us. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” The same remark may be made on the note, entitled “Evidences of the New Birth,” in which, as in his exposition of Romans 7, the author again completely confounds the regenerate with the perfect man. Confusion and error always go hand in hand.
Allow me, on this subject, to quote a text which has struck me forcibly. Ignorance and error are spoken of among you as distinct from sin. But I read in Matthew 6:23, “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” If, therefore, I am in error, in darkness as to certain things, my eye also has been in some degree not single. Nothing remains then but the alternative—thine eye is evil. Darkness has ensued. A false judgment ever proceeds from wandering affections.
To conclude, I think that Satan has been jealous of the work of the Holy Spirit, which was awakening a desire of some better way. To destroy the effect of this desire, in whole or in part, he has mixed up his work with those right desires which were stirred in the hearts of many Christians. Alas! that is what he often does. Let us ask of God to guide us into all truth, and, in His mercy and the multitude of His loving-kindness, to bring good out of evil itself. May He give us to try all things by the fight of His word, and with the power of His Holy Spirit. Amen.43
35 Lausanne, 1840. (Translated from the French.)
36 The reader will be reminded, by occasional references to the tract here alluded to, and also by the concluding remark, that the original of this dialogue was published in a foreign country under peculiar circumstances.
37 See Wesley, p. 17.
38 I quote from the authorised version, but, excellent as it is, in this verse it contains an error. It states an impossibility of walking according to holy desires; the original does not. It says, not “so that ye cannot,” but “in order that ye should not.” It does not affect the question here.
39 Yet if taken in its full sense, it is nothing less than death that does save us. “He that is dead is freed from sin.” In this true scriptural sense it is death, and nothing else, as regards the first Adam state, which saves us. Christ saved us by dying for sin; and we are dead to sin, and have to reckon ourselves dead by faith.
40 See Wesley, p. 40.
41 Ibid., p. 17.
42 Exposition de la Perfection Chretienne par Jean Wesley, et suivie de notes par Anthelme Boucher. Lausanne, 1840.
43 The references to Wesley are to the “Plain Account of Christian Perfection,” by the Rev. John Wesley, 16th edition, Mason, 1835.