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from your brethren. It is a thing evil in itself. It is a sore evil in its consequences. Oh have pity upon yourself! Have pity on your brethren! Have pity even upon the world of the ungodly! Do not lay more stumbling blocks in the way of these for whom Christ died.
20. But if you are afraid, and that not without reason, of schism, improperly so called; how much more afraid will you be, if your conscience is tender, of schism in the proper scriptural sense! Oh beware, I will not say of forming, but of countenancing, or abetting any parties in a Christian society! Never encourage, much less cause, either by word' or action, any division therein. In the nature of things, "there must be heresies [divisions] among you;" but keep thyself pure. Leave off contention before it be meddled with: shun the very beginning of strife. Meddle not with them that are given to dispute, with them that love contention. Inever knew that remark to fail; "He that loves to dispute, does not love God." Follow peace with all men, without which you cannot effectually follow holiness. Not only "seek peace," but " ensue it :" if it seem to flee from you, pursue it nevertheless. "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."
21. Happy is he that attains the character of a peace maker in the church of God. Why should not you labour after this? Be not content, not to stir up strife; but do all that in you lies, to prevent or quench the very first spark of it. Indeed it is far easier to prevent the flame from breaking out, than to quench it afterwards. However, be not afraid to attempt even this: the God of peace is on your side. He will give you acceptable words, and will send them to the heart of the hearers. Noli diffidere noli discedere, says a pious man, fac quod in te est; et Deus aderit bonæ tuæ voluntati: "do not distrust him that has all power; that has the hearts of all men in his hand. Do what in thee lies, and God will be present, and bring thy good desires to good effect." Never be weary of well doing: in due time thou shalt reap if thou faint not.
SERMON LXXXI.-On Perfection.
"Let us go on unto perfection," Heb. vi, 1.
THE whole sentence runs thus: "Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection: not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God;" which he had just before termed, "the first principles of the oracles of God," and "meat fit for babes;" for such as have just tasted that the Lord is gracious.
That the doing of this is a point of the utmost importance, the apostle intimates in the next words: "This will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, and have fallen away, to renew them again to repentance." As if he had said, If we do not "go on to perfection," we are in the utmost danger of "falling away." And if we do fall away, it is "impossible [that is exceeding hard] to renew us again to repentance."
In order to make this very important scripture as easy to be understood as possible, I shall endeavour,
I. To show what perfection is:
II. To answer some objections to it: and
1. And first, I do not conceive the perfection here spoken of, to be the perfection of angels. As those glorious beings never "left their first estate;" never declined from their original perfection; all their native faculties are unimpaired: their understanding, in particular, is still a lamp of light; their apprehension of all things clear and distinct; and their judgment always true. Hence, though their knowledge is limited; (for they are creatures;) though they are ignorant of innumerable things; yet they are not liable to mistake: their knowledge is perfect in its kind. And as their affections are all constantly guided by their unerring understanding, so that all their actions are suitable thereto; so they do, every moment, not their own will, but the good and acceptable will of God. Therefore it is not possible for man, whose understanding is darkened, to whom mistake is as natural as ignorance; who cannot think at all, but by the mediation of organs which are weakened and depraved, like the other parts of his corruptible body; it is not possible, I say, for man always to think right, to apprehend things distinctly, and to judge truly of them. In consequence hereof his affections, depending on his understanding, are variously disordered. And his words and actions are influenced, more or less, by the disorder both of his understanding and affections. It follows, that no man, while in the body, can possibly attain to angelic perfection.
2. Neither can any man, while he is in a corruptible body, attain to Adamic perfection. Adam, before his fall, was undoubtedly as pure, as free from sin, as even the holy angels. In like manner, his understanding was as clear as theirs, and his affections as regular. In virtue of this, as he always judged right, so he was able always to speak and act right. But since man rebelled against God, the case is widely different with him. He is no longer able to avoid falling into innumerable mistakes; consequently he cannot always avoid wrong affections; neither can he always think, speak, and act right. Therefore man, in his present state, can no more attain Adamic than angelic perfection.
3. The highest perfection which man can attain, while the soul dwells in the body, does not exclude ignorance, and error, and a thousand other infirmities. Now from wrong judgments, wrong words and actions will often necessarily flow: and, in some cases, wrong affections also may spring from the same source. I may judge wrong of you; I may think more or less highly of you than I ought to think; and this mistake in my judgment, may not only occasion something wrong in my behaviour, but it may have a still deeper effect; it may occasion something wrong in my affection. From a wrong apprehension, I may love and esteem you either more or less than I ought. Nor can I be freed from a liableness to such a mistake, while I remain in a corruptible body. A thousand infirmities, in consequence of this, will attend my spirit, till it returns to God who gave it. And, in numberless instances, it comes short of doing the will of God, as Adam did in paradise. Hence the best of men may say from the heart;
"Every moment, Lord, I need
This is now, with respect to us, "the perfect
for innumerable violations of the Adamic as well as the angelic law. It is well, therefore, for us, that we are not now under these, but under the law of love. "Love is [now] the fulfilling of the law," which is given to fallen man. law." But even against this, through the present weakness of our understanding, we are continually liable to transgress. Therefore every man living needs the blood of atonement, or he could not stand before God.
4. What is then the perfection of which man is capable, while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command; "My son, give me thy heart." It is the "loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind." This is the sum of Christian perfection: it is all comprised in that one word, love. The first branch of it is the love of God: and as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second; "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself:" Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets :" these contain the whole of Christian perfection.
5. Another view of this is given us, in those words of the great apos tle; "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." For although this immediately and directly refers to the humility of our Lord, yet it may be taken in a far more extensive sense, so as to include the whole disposition of his mind, all his affections, all his tempers, both towards God and man. Now it is certain that as there was no evil affection in him, so no good affection or temper was wanting. So that "whatsoever things are holy, whatsoever things are lovely," are all included in the mind that was in Christ Jesus."
6. St. Paul, when writing to the Galatians, places perfection in yet another view. It is the one undivided fruit of the Spirit, which he describes thus: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity," (so the word should be translated here,) "meekness, temperance. What a glorious constellation of graces is here! Now suppose all these things to be knit together in one, to be united together in the soul of a believer, this is Christian perfection.
7. Again: He writes to the Christians at Ephesus, of" putting on the new man, which is created after God in righteousness and true holiness:" And to the Colossians, of “the new man renewed after the image of him that created him :" plainly referring to the words in Genesis, chap. i, 27, " So God created man in his own image." Now the moral image of God consists (as the apostle observes)" in righteousness and true holiness." By sin this is totally destroyed. And we never can recover it, till we are "created anew in Christ Jesus." And this is perfection.
8. St. Peter expresses it in a still different manner, though to the same effect. "As he that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy, in all manner of conversation," 1 Peter i, 15. According to this apostle then, perfection is another name for universal holiness: inward and outward righteousness: holiness of life, arising from holiness of heart.
9. If any expressions can be stronger than these, they are those of St. Paul to the Thessalonians: 1 Epistle v, 23, "The God of peace
himself sanctify you wholly; and may the whole of you, the spirit, the soul, and the body, [this is the literal translation,] be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
10. We cannot show this sanctification in a more excellent way, than by complying with that exhortation of the apostle; "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies," [yourselves, your souls and bodies; a part put for the whole, by a common figure of speech,] a living sacrifice unto God;" to whom ye were consecrated many years ago in baptism. When what was then devoted, is actually presented to God, then is the man of God perfect.
11. To the same effect St. Peter says, 1 Epistle ii, 5, "Ye are a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ." But what sacrifices shall we offer now, seeing the Jewish dispensation is at an end? If you have truly presented yourselves to God, you offer up to him continually all your thoughts, and words, and actions, through the Son of his love, as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
12. Thus you experience, that he whose name is called JESUS, does not bear that name in vain: that he does, in fact, 66 save his people from their sins;" the root, as well as the branches. And this salvation from sin, from all sin, is another description of perfection, though indeed it expresses only the least, the lowest branch of it, only the negative part of the great salvation.
II. I proposed, in the second place, to answer some objections to his scriptural account of perfection.
1. One common objection to it is, that there is no promise of it in the word of God. If this were so, we must give it up; we should have no foundation to build upon: for the promises of God are the only sure. foundation of our hope. But surely there is a very clear and full promise, that we shall all love the Lord our God with all our hearts. So we read, Deut. xxx, 6, "Then will I circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul." Equally express is the word of our Lord, which is no less a promise, though in the form of a command: Matt. xxii, 37, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." No words can be more strong than these; no promise can be more express. In like manner, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," is as express a promise as a command.
2. And, indeed, that general and unlimited promise, which runs through the whole gospel dispensation; "I will put my laws in their minds, and write them in their hearts;" turns all the commands into promises; and consequently that among the rest: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." The command here is equivalent to a promise, and gives us full reason to expect, that he will work in us what he requires of us.
3. With regard to the fruit of the Spirit, the apostle in affirming, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, temperance," does, in effect, affirm, that the Holy Spirit actually works love, and these other tempers, in those that are led by him. So that here also, we have firm ground to tread upon this scripture likewise being equivalent to a promise, and
assuring us, that all these shall be wrought in us, provided we are led by the Spirit.
4. And when the apostle says to the Ephesians, chap. iv, 21-24, "Ye have been taught, as the truth is in Jesus," to be "renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man, which is created after God;" that is, after the image of God, "in righteousness and true holiness;" he leaves us no room to doubt, but God will thus renew us in the spirit of our mind" and "create us anew" in the image of God, wherein we were at first created: otherwise it could not be said, that this is "the truth as it is in Jesus."
5. The command of God given by St. Peter; "Be ye holy, as he that hath called you is holy, in all manner of conversation," implies a promise that we shall be thus holy, if we are not wanting to ourselves. Nothing can be wanting on God's part: as he has called us to holiness, he is undoubtedly willing, as well as able, to work this holiness in us. For he cannot mock his helpless creatures, calling us to receive what he never intends to give. That he does call us thereto is undeniable; therefore, he will give it, if we are not disobedient to the heavenly calling.
6. The prayer of St. Paul for the Thessalonians, that God would sanctify them throughout," and "that the whole of them, the spirit, the soul, and the body, might be preserved blameless," will undoubtedly be heard in behalf of all the children of God, as well as of those at Thessalonica. Hereby, therefore, all Christians are encouraged to expect the same blessing from " the God of peace," namely, that they also shall be "sanctified throughout, in spirit, soul, and body;" and that "the whole of them shall be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
7. But the great question is, whether there is any promise in Scripture, that we shall be saved from sin? Undoubtedly there is. Such is that promise, Psalm cxxx, 8, "He shall redeem Israel from all his sins;" exactly answerable to those words of the angel; "He shall save his people from their sins." And surely "he is able to save unto the uttermost, them that come unto God through him." Such is that glorious promise given through the prophet Ezekiel: chap. xxxvi, 25-27, Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." Such (to mention no more) is that pronounced by Zechariah, Luke i, 73-75, "The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, [and such doubtless, are all our sins,] to serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life." The last part of this promise is peculiarly worthy of our observation. Lest any should say, "True, we shall be saved from our sins when we die ;" that clause is remarkably added, as if on purpose to obviate this pretence, all the days of our life. With what modesty then can any one affirm, "that none shall enjoy this liberty till death?