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8. "But," say some, "this cannot be the meaning of the words; for the thing is impossible." It is impossible to men but the things impossible with men, are possible with God. "Nay, but this is impossible in its own nature: for it implies a contradiction, that a man should be saved from all sin, while he is in a sinful body.”
There is a great deal of force in this objection. And perhaps we allow most of what you contend for. We have already allowed, that while we are in the body, we cannot be wholly free from mistake. Notwithstanding all our care, we shall still be liable to judge wrong in many instances. And a mistake in judgment will very frequently occasion a mistake in practice. Nay, a wrong judgment may occasion something in the temper or passions, which is not strictly right. It may occasion needless fear, or ill-grounded hope; unreasonable love, or unreasonable aversion. But all this is no way inconsistent with the perfection above described.
9. You say, "Yes, it is inconsistent with the last article: it cannot consist with salvation from sin." I answer, it will perfectly well consist with salvation from sin, according to that definition of sin, (which I apprehend to be the scriptural definition of it,) a voluntary transgression of a known law. "Nay, but all transgressions of the law of God, whether voluntary or involuntary, are sin: for St. John says, All sin is a transgression of the law." True, but he does not say, All transgression of the law is sin. This I deny: let him prove it that can.
To say the truth, this is a mere strife of words. You say "None is saved from sin in your sense of the word;" but I do not admit of that sense, because the word is never so taken in Scripture. And you cannot destroy the possibility of being saved from sin, in my sense of the word. And this is the sense wherein the word sin is over and over taken in Scripture.
"But surely we cannot be saved from sin, while we dwell in a sinful body." A sinful body? I pray observe, how deeply ambiguous, how equivocal this expression is! But there is no authority for it in Scripture: the word, sinful body, is never found there. And as it is totally unscriptural, so it is palpably absurd. For no body, or matter of any kind, can be sinful: spirits alone are capable of sin. Pray in what part of the body should sin lodge? It cannot lodge in the skin, nor in the muscles, or nerves, or veins, or arteries; it cannot be in the bones, any more than in the hair or nails. Only the soul can be the seat of sin.
10. "But does not St. Paul himself say, 'They that are in the flesh cannot please God?'" I am afraid the sound of these words has deceived many unwary souls; who have been told those words, they that are in the flesh, mean the same as they that are in the body. No; nothing less. The flesh, in this text, no more means the body than it does the soul. Abel, Enoch, Abraham; yea, all that cloud of witnesses recited by St. Paul in the eleventh of the Hebrews; did actually please God, while they were in the body, as he himself testifies. The expression, therefore, here means neither more nor less, than they that are unbelievers; they that are in their natural state; they that are without God in the world.
11. But let us attend to the reason of the thing. Why cannot the Almighty sanctify the soul while it is in the body? Cannot he sanctify you while you are in this house, as well as in the open air? Can the
walls of brick or stone hinder him? No more can these walls of flesh and blood hinder him a moment from sanctifying you throughout. He can just as easily save you from all sin in the body as out of the body.
"But has he promised thus to save us from sin while we are in the body?" Undoubtedly he has: for a promise is implied in every commandment of God: consequently in that, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." For this and every other commandment is given, not to the dead, but to the living. It is expressed in the words above recited, That we should "walk in holiness before him all the days of our life."
I have dwelt the longer on this, because it is the grand argument of those that oppose salvation from sin; and also, because it has not been so frequently and so fully answered; whereas the arguments taken from Scripture have been answered a hundred times over.
12. But a still more plausible objection remains, taken from experience: which is, That "there are no living witnesses of this salvation from sin." In answer to this, I allow,
(1.) That there are not many. Even in this sense, there are not many fathers. Such is our hardness of heart; such our slowness to believe what both the prophets and apostles have spoke; that there are few, exceeding few true witnesses of the great salvation.
(2.) I allow, That there are false witnesses, who either deceive their own souls, and speak of the things they know not; or "speak lies in hypocrisy." And I have frequently wondered, that we have not more of both sorts. It is nothing strange, that men of warm imaginations should deceive themselves in this matter. Many do the same with regard to justification: they imagine they are justified, and are not. But though many imagine it falsely, yet there are some that are truly justified. And thus though many imagine they are sanctified, and are not, yet there are some that are really sanctified.
(3.) I allow, That some who once enjoyed full salvation, have now totally lost it. They once walked in glorious liberty, giving God their whole heart," rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in every thing giving thanks." But it is past. They now are shorn of their strength, and become like other men. Yet, perhaps, they do not give up their confidence: they still have a sense of his pardoning love. But even this is frequently assaulted by doubts and fears, so that they hold it with a trembling hand.
13. "Nay, this," say some pious and sensible men," is the very thing which we contend for. We grant, it may please God, to make some of his children, for a time, unspeakably holy and happy. We will not deny, that they may enjoy all the holiness and happiness which you speak of. But it is only for a time: God never designed, that it should continue to their lives' end. Consequently, sin is only suspended: it is not destroyed."
This you affirm. But it is a thing of so deep importance, that it cannot be allowed without clear and cogent proof. And where is the proof? We know that, in general, "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." He does not repent of any gifts which he hath bestowed upon the children of men. And how does the contrary appear, with regard to this particular gift of God? Why should we imagine, that he will make an exception, with respect to the most pre
cious of all his gifts on this side heaven? Is he not as able to give it us always, as to give it once? As able to give it for fifty years, as for one day? And how can it be proved, that he is not willing to continue this his loving kindness? How is this supposition, that he is not willing, consistent with the positive assertion of the apostle? who, after exhorting the Christians at Thessalonica, and in them all Christians in all ages, to "rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks,"immediately adds, (as if on purpose to answer those, who denied, not the power, but the will of God to work in them,) " For this is the will of God concerning you in Christ Jesus." Nay, and it is remarkable, that after he had delivered that glorious promise, (such it properly is,) in the twenty-third verse, "The very God of peace shall sanctify you wholly and the whole of you," (so it is in the original,)" the spirit, the soul, and the body, shall be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ;" he adds again, "Faithful is he that hath called you, who also will do it." He will not only sanctify you wholly, but will preserve you in that state, until he comes to receive you unto himself. 14. Agreeably to this is the plain matter of fact. Several persons have enjoyed this blessing, without any interruption, for many years. Several enjoy it at this day. And not a few have enjoyed it unto their death, as they have declared with their latest breath; calmly witnessing that God had saved them from all sin, till their spirit returned to God.
15. As to the whole of the objections taken from experience, I desire it may be observed farther, either the persons objected to, have attained Christian perfection, or they have not. If they have not, whatever objections are brought against them, strike wide of the mark. For they are not the persons we are talking of: therefore, whatever they are or do, is beside the question. But if they have attained it, if they answer the description given, under the nine preceding articles, no reasonable objection can lie against them. They are superior to all censure. And " every tongue that riseth up against them will they utterly condemn."
16. "But I never saw one," (continues the objector,) "that answered my idea of perfection." It may be so. And it is probable (as I observed elsewhere) you never will. For your idea includes abundantly too much even freedom from those infirmities, which are not separable from a spirit that is connected with flesh and blood. But if you keep to the account that is given above, and allow for the weakness of human understanding, you may see, at this day, undeniable instances of genuine scriptural perfection.
III. 1. It only remains, in the third place, to expostulate a little with the opposers of this perfection.
Now permit me to ask, Why are you so angry with those who profess to have attained this? And so mad (I cannot give it any softer title) against Christian perfection?-Against the most glorious gift which God ever gave to the children of men upon earth? View it in every one of the preceding points of light, and see what it contains that is either odious or terrible: that is calculated to excite either hatred or fear in any reasonable creature.
What rational objection can you have, to the loving the Lord your God with all your heart? Why should you be afraid of it? Would it
do you any hurt? Would it lessen your happiness, either in this world, or the world to come? And why should you be unwilling that others should give him their whole heart? Or that they should love their neighbours as themselves?-Yea, "As Christ hath loved us?" Is this detestable? Is it the proper object of hatred? Or is it the most amiable thing under the sun? Is it proper to move terror? Is it not rather desirable in the highest degree?
2. Why are you so averse to having in you the whole "mind which was in Christ Jesus?" All the affections, all the tempers and dispositions, which were in him, while he dwelt among men? Why should you be afraid of this? Would it be any worse for you, were God to work in you this very hour, all the mind that was in him? If not, why should you hinder others from seeking this blessing? Or be displeased at those who think they have attained it? Is any thing more lovely? Any thing more to be desired by every child of man?
3. Why are you averse to having the whole "fruit of the Spirit?" "love, joy, peace, long suffering, meekness, gentleness, fidelity, goodness, temperance?" Why should you be afraid of having all these planted in your inmost soul? As "against these there is no law," so there cannot be any reasonable objection. Surely nothing is more desirable, than that all these tempers should take deep root in your heart: nay, in the hearts of all that name the name of Christ: yea, of all the inhabitants of the earth.
4. What reason have you to be afraid of, or to entertain any aversion to, the being " renewed in the [whole] image of him that created you?" Is not this more desirable than any thing under heaven? Is it not consummately amiable? What can you wish for in comparison of this, either for your own soul, or for those for whom you entertain the strongest and tenderest affection? And when you enjoy this, what remains but to be "changed from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord ?"
5. Why should you be averse to universal holiness? The same thing under another name. Why should you entertain any prejudice against this, or look upon it with apprehension? Whether you understand by that term, the being inwardly conformed to the whole image and will of God; or an outward behaviour, in every point suitable to that conformity. Can you conceive any thing more amiable than this? Any thing more desirable? Set prejudice aside, and surely you will desire to see it diffused over all the earth.
6. Is perfection, (to vary the expression,) the being "sanctified throughout, in spirit, soul, and body?" What lover of God and man can be averse to this, or entertain frightful apprehensions of it? Is it not, in your best moments, your desire to be all of a piece?—AN consistent with yourself?-All faith, all meekness, all love ?—And suppose you were once possessed of this glorious liberty, would not you wish to continue therein? To be preserved "blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ?”
7. For what cause should you that are children of God, be averse to, or afraid of, presenting yourselves, your souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God?-to God your Creator, your Redeemer, your Sanctifier? Can any thing be more desirable than this entire self dedication to him? And is it not your wish that all mankind
should unite in this "reasonable service?" Surely no one can be averse to this, without being an enemy to all mankind.
8. And why should you be afraid of, or averse to, what is naturally implied in this? namely, the offering up all our thoughts, and words, and actions, as a spiritual sacrifice to God, acceptable to him through the blood and intercession of his well beloved Son? Surely you cannot deny that this is good and profitable to men, as well as pleasing to God. Should you not then devoutly pray, that both you and all mankind may thus worship him in spirit and in truth?
9. Suffer me to ask one question more. Why should any man of reason and religion be either afraid of, or averse to, salvation from all sin? Is not sin the greatest evil on this side hell? And if so, does it not naturally follow, that an entire deliverance from it is one of the greatest blessings on this side heaven? How earnestly then should it be prayed for by all the children of God! By sin I mean, a voluntary transgression of a known law. Are you averse to being delivered from this? Are you afraid of such a deliverance? Do you then love sin, that you are so unwilling to part with it? Surely no. You do not love either the devil or his works. You rather wish to be totally delivered from them: to have sin rooted out both of your life and your heart.
10. I have frequently observed, and not without surprise, that the opposers of perfection are more vehement against it when it is placed in this view, than in any other whatsoever: they will allow all you say of the love of God and man; of the mind which was in Christ; of the fruit of the Spirit; of the image of God; of universal holiness; of entire self dedication; of sanctification in spirit, soul, and body; yea, and of the offering up of all our thoughts, words, and actions, as a sacrifice to God;-all this they will allow, so we will allow sin, a little sin, to remain in us till death.
11. Pray compare this with that remarkable passage in John Bunyan's Holy War. "When Immanuel," says he, "had driven Diabolus and all his forces out of the city of Man-soul, Diabolus preferred a petition to Immanuel, that he might have only a small part of the city. When this was rejected, he begged to have only a little room within the walls." But Immanuel answered, "He should have no place in it at all, no, not to rest the sole of his foot."
Had not the good old man forgot himself? Did not the force of truth so prevail over him here, as utterly to overturn his own system ?-To assert perfection in the clearest manner? For if this is not salvation from sin, I cannot tell what is.
12. "No," says a great man, "this is the error of errors: I hate it from my heart. I pursue it through all the world with fire and sword." Nay, why so vehement? Do you seriously think there is no error under heaven equal to this? Here is something which I cannot understand. Why are those that oppose salvation from sin, (few excepted,) so eager? I had almost said, furious? Are you fighting pro aris et focis! For God and your country? For all you have in the world? For all that is near and dear unto you? For your liberty? Your life? In God's name, why are you so fond of sin? What good has it ever done you? What good is it ever likely to do you, either in this world, or in the world to come? And why are you so violent against those that hope for a deli