The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
I COME NOW to consider the question directly, and wholly as a Bible question, whether entire sanctification is in such a sense attainable in this life, as to make its attainment an object of rational pursuit.
1. It is evident from the fact, expressly stated, that abundant means are provided for the accomplishment of this end. Eph_4:10-16. “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in love.” Upon this passage I remark:–
(1.) That what is here spoken of is plainly applicable only to this life. It is in this life that the apostles, evangelists, prophets, and teachers, exercise their ministry. These means therefore are applicable, and so far as we know, only applicable to this life.
(2.) The apostle here manifestly teaches, that these means are designed and adequate to perfecting the whole church as the body of Christ, “till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Now observe,–
(3.) These means are for the perfecting of the saints, till the whole church, as a perfect man, “has come to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” If this is not entire sanctification, what is? That this is to take place in this world is evident from what follows. For the apostle adds: “that we henceforth be no more tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”
(4.) It should be observed, that this is a very strong passage in support of the doctrine, inasmuch as it asserts that abundant means are provided for the sanctification of the church in this life. And as the whole includes all its parts, there must be sufficient provision for the sanctification of each individual.
(5.) If the work is ever to be effected, it is by these means. But these means are used only in this life. Entire sanctification then must take place in this life.
(6.) If this passage does not teach a state of entire sanctification, such a state is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. And if believers are not here said to be wholly sanctified by these means, and of course in this life, I know not that it is anywhere taught that they shall be sanctified at all.
(7.) But suppose this passage to be put into the language of a command, how should we understand it? Suppose the saints commanded to be perfect, and to “grow up to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” could anything less than entire sanctification be understood by such requisitions? Then by what rule of sober criticism, I would inquire, can this language, used in this connexion, mean anything less than I have supposed it to mean?
2. But let us look into some of the promises. It is not my design to examine a great number of scripture promises, but rather to show, that those which I do examine, fully sustain the positions I have taken. One is sufficient, if it be full and its application just, to settle this question for ever. I might occupy many pages in the examination of the promises, for they are exceedingly numerous, and full, and in point. But my design is at present to examine somewhat critically a few only out of the many. This will enable you to apply the same principles to the examination of the scripture promises generally.
(1.) I begin by referring you to the law of God, as given in Deu_10:12, “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?” Upon this passage I remark:–
(i.) It professedly sums up the whole duty of man to God–to fear and love him with all the heart and all the soul.
(ii.) Although this is said of Israel, yet it is equally true of all men. It is equally binding upon all, and is all that God requires of any man in regard to himself.
(iii.) Continued obedience to this requirement is entire sanctification, in the sense in which I use those terms.
See Deu_30:6. “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” Here we have a promise couched in the same language as the command just quoted. Upon this passage I remark–
(a.) It promises just what the law requires. It promises all that the first and great commandment anywhere demands.
(b.) Obedience to the first commandment always implies obedience to the second. It is plainly impossible that we should “love God, whom we have not seen,” and “not love our neighbour, whom we have seen.”
(c.) This promise, on its very face, appears to mean just what the law means–to promise just what the law requires.
(d.) If the law requires a state of entire sanctification, or if that which the law requires is a state of entire sanctification, then this is a promise of entire sanctification.
(e.) As the command is universally binding upon all and applicable to all, so this promise is universally applicable to all who will lay hold upon it.
(f.) Faith is an indispensable condition of the fulfilment of this promise. It is entirely impossible that we should love God with all the heart, without confidence in him. God begets love in man in no other way than by so revealing himself as to inspire confidence, that confidence which works by love. In Rules 10 and 11, for the interpretation of the promises, it is said, that “where a command and a promise are given in the same language, we are bound to interpret the language alike in both cases, unless there be some manifest reason for a different interpretation.” Now here there is no perceivable reason why we should not understand the language of the promise as meaning as much as the language of the command. This promise appears to have been designed to cover the whole ground of the requirement.
(g.) Suppose the language in this promise to be used in a command, or suppose that the form of this promise were changed into that of a command;–suppose God should say as he does elsewhere, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul: “who would doubt that God designed to require a state of entire sanctification or consecration to himself. How then are we to understand it when used in the form of a promise? See Rules 14 and 15: “If his bountifulness equal his justice, his promises of grace must be understood to mean as much as the requirements of his justice.” “If he delights in giving as much as in receiving, his promises must mean as much as the language of his requirements.”
(h.) This promise is designed to be fulfilled in this life. The language and connexion imply this: “I will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.” This in some sense takes place in regeneration, but more than simple regeneration seems here to be promised. It is plain, I think, that this promise relates to a state of mind, and not merely to an exercise.
(i.) This promise as it respects the church, at some day, must be absolute and certain. So that God will undoubtedly, at some period, beget this state of mind in the church. But to what particular individuals and generation this promise will be fulfilled, must depend upon their faith in the promise.
(j.) Since the promise is as full as the command, and since the law requires perpetual obedience, we are to understand the promise as pledging a state of permanent obedience. This also is implied in the language of the promise. To circumcise the heart, implies establishing the soul in love.
(2.) See Jer_31:31-34 : “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt, (which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord;) but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Upon this passage, I remark:–
(i.) It was to become due, or the time when its fulfilment might be claimed and expected, was at the advent of Christ. This is unequivocally settled in Heb_8:8-12, where this passage is quoted at length, as being applicable to the gospel day.
(ii.) This is undeniably a promise of entire sanctification. It is a promise that the “law shall be written in the heart.” It means that the very temper and spirit required by the law shall be begotten in the soul. Now, if the law requires entire sanctification or perfect holiness, this is certainly a promise of it; for it is a promise of all that the law requires. To say that this is not a promise of entire sanctification, is the same absurdity as to say, that perfect obedience to the law is not entire sanctification; and this last is the same absurdity as to say, that something more is our duty than what the law requires; and this again is to say, that the law is imperfect and unjust.
(iii.) A permanent state or entire sanctification is plainly implied in this promise.
(a.) The reason for setting aside the first covenant was, that it was broken: “Which my covenant they brake.” One grand design of the new covenant is, that it shall not be broken, for then it would be no better than the first.
(b.) Permanency is implied in the fact, that it is to be engraven in the heart.
(c.) Permanency is plainly implied in the assertion, that God will remember their sin no more. In Jer_32:39-40, where the same promise is in substance repeated, you will find it expressly stated, that the covenant is to be “everlasting,” and that he will so “put his fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from him.” Here permanency is as expressly promised as it can be.
(d.) Suppose the language of this promise to be thrown into the form of a command. Suppose God to say, “Let my law be within your hearts, and let it be in your inward parts, and let my fear be so within your hearts, that you shall not depart from me. Let your covenant with me be everlasting.” If this language were found in a command, would any man in his senses doubt that it meant to require perfect and permanent sanctification? If not, by what rule of sober interpretation does he make it mean anything else, when found in a promise? It appears to be profane trifling, when such language is found in a promise, to make it mean less than it does when found in a command. See Rule 17.
(e.) This promise as it respects the church, at some period of its history, is unconditional, and its fulfilment certain. But in respect to any particular individuals or generation of the church, its fulfilment is necessarily conditioned upon their faith.
(f.) The church, as a body, have certainly never received this new covenant. Yet, doubtless, multitudes in every age of the Christian dispensation have received it. And God will hasten the time when it shall be so fully accomplished, that there shall be no need for one man to say to his brother, “Know the Lord,” for all shall know him from the least to the greatest.
(g.) It should be understood, that this promise was made to the Christian church, and not at all to the Jewish church. The saints under the old dispensation had no reason to expect the fulfilment of this and kindred promises to themselves because their fulfilment was expressly deferred until the commencement of the Christian dispensation.
(h.) It has been said, that nothing more is here promised than regeneration. But were not the Old Testament saints regenerated? Yet it is expressly said, that they received not the promises. Heb_11:13, Heb_11:39-40 : “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Here we see that these promises were not received by the Old Testament saints. Yet they were regenerated.
(i.) It has also been said, that the promise implies no more than the final perseverance of the saints. But I would inquire, did not the Old Testament saints persevere? And yet we have just seen, that the Old Testament saints did not receive these promises in their fulfilment.
(3.) I will next examine the promise in Eze_36:25-27 : “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 an 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. Upon this I remark:–
(i.) It was written within nineteen years after that which we have just examined in Jeremiah. It plainly refers to the same time, and is a promise of the same blessing.
(ii.) It seems to be admitted, nor can it be denied, that this is a promise of entire sanctification. The language is very definite and full. “Then,” referring to some future time, when it should become due, “will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean.” Mark, the first promise is, “ye shall be clean.” If to be “clean” does not mean entire sanctification, what does it mean?
The second promise is, “From all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you.” If to be cleansed “from all filthiness and all idols,” be not a state of entire sanctification, what is?
The third promise is, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you an heart of flesh.” If to have a “clean heart,” a “new heart,” a “heart of flesh,” in opposition to a “heart of stone,” be not entire sanctification, what is?
The fourth promise is, “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
(iii.) Let us turn the language of these promises into that of command, and understand God as saying, “Make you a clean heart, a new heart, and a new spirit; put away all your iniquities, all your filthiness, and all your idols; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them.” Now what man, in the sober exercise of his reason, would doubt whether God meant to require a state of entire sanctification in such commands as these? The rules of legitimate interpretation would demand, that we should so understand him. Rule 5, concerning the interpretation of promises, says, “The interest of the promisor in the accomplishment of his design, or in fully meeting and relieving the necessities of the promisee, should also be taken into the account. If there is the most satisfactory proof, aside from that which is contained in the promise itself, that the promisor feels the highest interest in the promisee, and in fully meeting and relieving his necessities, then his promise must be understood accordingly.”
If this is so, what is the fair and proper construction of this language, when found in a promise? I do not hesitate to say, that to me it is amazing, that any doubt should be left on the mind of any man whether, in these promises, God means as much as in his commands, couched in the same language; for example, see Eze_18:30-31 : “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed and make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” Now, that the language in the promise under consideration, should mean as much as the language of this command, is demanded by every sober rule of interpretation. And who ever dreamed, that when God required his people to put away all their iniquities, he only meant that they should put away a part of them.
(iv.) This promise respects the church, and it cannot be pretended, that it has ever been fulfilled, according to its proper import, in any past age of the church.
(v.) As it regards the church, at a future period of its history, this promise is absolute, in the sense that it certainly will be fulfilled.
(vi.) It was manifestly designed to apply to Christians under the new dispensation, rather than to the Jews under the old dispensation. The sprinkling of clean water, and the outpouring of the Spirit, seem plainly to indicate, that the promise belonged more particularly to the Christian dispensation. It undeniably belongs to the same class of promises with that in Jer. xxxi. 31-34; Joel ii. 28, and many others, that manifestly look forward to the gospel-day as the time when they shall become due. As these promises have never been fulfilled, in their extent and meaning, their complete fulfilment remains to be realized by the church as a body. And those individuals, and that generation, will take possession of the blessing, who understand, and believe, and appropriate them to their own case.
(4.) I will next examine the promise in 1Th_5:23-24 : “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” Upon this I remark:–
(i.) It is admitted, that this is a prayer for, and a promise of, entire sanctification.
(ii.) The very language shows, that both the prayer and the promise refer to this life, as it is a prayer for the sanctification of the body as well as the soul; also that they might be preserved, not after, but unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(iii.) This is a prayer of inspiration, to which is annexed an express promise that God will do it.
(iv.) Its fulfilment is, from the nature of the case, conditioned upon our faith, as sanctification without faith is naturally impossible.
(v.) Now, if this promise, with those that have already been examined, does not, honestly interpreted, fully settle the question of the attainability of entire sanctification in this life, it is difficult to understand how any thing can be settled by an appeal to scripture.
There are great multitudes of promises of the same import, to which I might refer you, and which, if examined in the light of the foregoing rules of interpretation, would be seen to heap up demonstration upon demonstration, that this is a doctrine of the Bible. Only examine them in the light of these plain, self-evident principles, and it seems to me, that they cannot fail to produce conviction.
Having examined a few of the promises in proof of the position, that a state of entire sanctification is attainable in this life, I will now proceed to mention other considerations, in support of this doctrine.
3. Christ prayed for the entire sanctification of saints in this life. “I pray not,” he says, “that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” He did not pray that they should be kept from persecution or from natural death, but he manifestly prayed, that they should be kept from sin. Suppose Christ had commanded them to keep themselves from the evil of the world; what should we understand him to mean by such a command?
4. Christ has taught us to pray for entire sanctification in this life: “Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.” Now, if there is entire sanctification in heaven, Christ requires us to pray for its existence on earth. And is it probable that he has taught us to pray for that which he knows never can be, or will be granted?
5. The apostles evidently expected Christians to attain this state in this life. See Col_4:12. “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Upon this passage I remark,–
(1.) It was the object of the efforts of Epaphras, and a thing which he expected to effect, to be instrumental in causing those Christians to be “perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
(2.) If this language does not describe a state of entire, in the sense of permanent, sanctification, I know of none that would. If “to be perfect and complete in all the will of God,” be not Christian perfection, what is?
(3.) Paul knew that Epaphras was labouring to this end, and with this expectation; and he informed the church of it, in a manner that evidently showed his approbation of the views and conduct of Epaphras.
6. That the apostles expected Christians to attain this state is further manifest, from 2Co_7:1 : “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
Now, does not the apostle speak in this passage, as if he really expected those to whom he wrote, “to perfect holiness in the fear of God?” Observe how strong and full the language is: “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” If “to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh, and all filthiness of the spirit, and to perfect holiness,” be not entire sanctification, what is? That he expected this to take place in this life, is evident from the fact, that he requires them to be cleansed from all filthiness of the flesh as well as of the spirit. This passage plainly contemplates a state as distinguished from an act of consecration or sanctification, that is, it evidently expresses the idea of entire, in this sense of continued, sanctification.
7. All the intermediate steps can be taken; therefore the end can be reached. There is certainly no point in our progress towards entire sanctification, where it can be said we can go no further. To this it has been objected, that though all the intermediate steps can be taken, yet the goal can never be reached in this life, just as five may be divided by three, ad infinitum, without exhausting the fraction. Now this illustration deceives the mind that uses it, as it may the minds of those who listen to it. It is true, that you can never exhaust the fraction in dividing five by three, for the plain reason, that the division may be carried on ad infinitum. There is no end. You cannot, in this case, take all the intermediate steps, because they are infinite. But in the case of entire sanctification, all the intermediate steps can be taken; for there is an end, or state of entire sanctification, and that too at a point infinitely short of infinite.
8. That this state may be attained in this life, I argue from the fact, that provision is made against all the occasions of sin. Men sin only when they are tempted, either by the world, the flesh, or the devil. And it is expressly asserted, that, in every temptation, provision is made for our escape. Certainly, if it is possible for us to escape without sin, under every temptation, then a state of entire and permanent sanctification is attainable.
9. Full provision is made for overcoming the three great enemies of our souls, the world, the flesh, and the devil.
(1.) The world–“This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.” “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ.”
(2.) The flesh–“If ye walk in the Spirit, ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.”
(3.) Satan–“The shield of faith shall quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” And, “God shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.”
Now, all sober rules of biblical criticism require us to understand the passages I have quoted in the sense in which I have used them.
10. God is able to perform this work in and for us. Eph_3:14-19 : “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Upon this passage I remark,–
(1.) Paul evidently prays here for the entire sanctification of believers in this life. It is implied in our being “rooted and grounded in love,” and being “filled with all the fulness of God,” that we be as perfect in our measure and according to our capacity, as he is. If to be filled with the fulness of God, does not imply a state of entire sanctification, what does?
(2.) That Paul did not see any difficulty in the way of God’s accomplishing this work, is manifest from what he says in the twentieth verse–“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,” &c.
11. The Bible nowhere represents death as the termination of sin in the saints, which it could not fail to do, were it true, that they cease not to sin until death. It has been the custom of the church for a long time, to console individuals, in view of death, by the consideration, that it would be the termination of all their sin. And how almost universal has been the custom in consoling the friends of deceased saints, to mention this as a most important fact, that now they had ceased from sin! Now, if death is the termination of sin in the saints, and if they never cease to sin until they pass into eternity, too much stress never has been or can be laid upon that circumstance; and it seems utterly incredible, that no inspired writer should ever have noticed the fact. The representations of scripture are all directly opposed to this idea. It is said, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.” Here it is not intimated that they rest from their sins, but from their good works in this life; such works as shall follow, not to curse, but to bless them. The representations of scripture are, that death is the termination of the saint’s sufferings and labours of love in this world, for the good of men and the glory of God. But nowhere in the Bible is it intimated, that the death of a saint is the termination of his serving the devil.
But if it be true that Christians continue to sin till they die, and death is the termination, and the only termination of their sin, it seems to me impossible that the scripture representations on the subject should be what they are.
12. The Bible representations of death are utterly inconsistent with its being an indispensable means of sanctification. Death is represented in the Bible as an enemy. But if death is the only condition upon which men are brought into a state of entire sanctification, its agency is as important and as indispensable as the influence of the Holy Ghost. When death is represented in the Bible as any thing else than an enemy, it is because it cuts short the sufferings of the saints, and introduces them into a state of eternal glory–not because it breaks them off from communion with the devil! How striking is the contrast between the language of the church and that of inspiration on this subject! The church is consoling the Christian in view of death, that it will be the termination of his sins–that he will then cease to serve the devil and his own lusts. The language of inspiration, on the other hand, is, that he will cease, not from wicked, but from good works, and labours and sufferings for God in this world. The language of the church is, that then he will enter upon a life of unalterable holiness–that he shall then, and not till then, be entirely sanctified. The language of inspiration is, that because he is sanctified, death shall be an entrance into a state of eternal glory.
13. Ministers are certainly bound to set up some definite standard, to which, as the ministers of God, they are to insist upon complete conformity. And now I would ask, what other standard can they and dare they set up than this? To insist upon any thing less than this, is to turn pope and grant an indulgence to sin. But to set up this standard, and then inculcate that conformity to it is not, as a matter of fact, attainable in this life, is as absolutely to take the part of sin against God, as it would be to insist upon repentance in theory, and then avow that in practice it is not attainable.
And here let me ask Christians what they expect ministers to preach? Do you think they have a right to connive at any sin in you, or to insist upon any thing else as a practicable fact, than that you should abandon every iniquity? It is sometimes said, that with us entire sanctification is a hobby. But I would humbly ask what else can we preach? Is not every minister bound to insist in every sermon that men shall wholly obey God? And because they will not make a compromise with any degree or form of sin, are they to be reproached for making the subject of entire obedience a hobby? I ask, by what authority can a minister preach any thing less? And how shall any minister dare to inculcate the duty as a theory, and yet not insist upon it as a practical matter, as something to be expected of every subject of God’s kingdom.
14. A denial of this doctrine has the natural tendency to beget the very apathy witnessed in the church. Professors of religion go on in sin, with out much conviction of its wickedness. Sin unblushingly stalks abroad even in the church of God, and does not fill Christians with horror, because they expect its existence as a thing of course. Tell a young convert that he must expect to backslide, and he will do so of course, and with comparatively little remorse, because he looks upon it as a kind of necessity. And being led to expect it, you find him, in a few months after his conversion, away from God, and not at all horrified with his state. Just so, inculcate the idea among Christians, that they are not expected to abandon all sin, and they will of course go on in sin with comparative indifference. Reprove them for their sin, and they will say, “O, we are imperfect creatures; we do not pretend to be perfect, nor do we expect we ever shall be in this world.” Many such answers as these will show you at once the God-dishonouring and soul-ruining tendency of a denial of this doctrine.
15. A denial of this doctrine prepares the minds of ministers to temporize, and wink at great iniquity in their churches. Feeling, as they certainly must, if they disbelieve this doctrine, that a great amount of sin in all believers is to be expected as a thing of course, their whole preaching, and spirit, and demeanour, will be such as to beget a great degree of apathy among Christians, in regard to their abominable sins.
16. If this doctrine is not true, how profane and blasphemous is the covenant of every church of every evangelical denomination. Every church requires its members to make a solemn covenant with God and with the church, in the presence of God and angels, and with their hands upon the emblems of the broken body and shed blood of the blessed Jesus, “to abstain from all ungodliness and every worldly lust, to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” Now, if the doctrine of the attainability of entire sanctification in this life is not true, what profane mockery is this covenant! It is a covenant to live in a state of entire sanctification, made under the most solemn circumstances, enforced by the most awful sanctions, and insisted upon by the minister of God distributing the bread and wine. Now what right has any minister on earth to require less than this?
And again: what right has any minister on earth to require this, unless it is a practicable thing, and unless it is expected of him who makes the vow?
Suppose, when this covenant was proposed to a convert about to unite with the church, he should take it to his closet, and spread it before the Lord, and inquire whether it would be right for him to make such a covenant, and whether the grace of the gospel can enable him to fulfil it? Do you suppose the Lord Jesus would reply, that if he made that covenant, he certainly would, and must, as a matter of course, live in the habitual violation of it as long as he lives, and that his grace was not sufficient to enable him to keep it? Would he, in such a case, have any right to take upon himself this covenant? No, no more than he would have a right to lie to the Holy Ghost.
17. It has long been maintained by orthodox divines, that a person is not a Christian who does not aim at living without sin–that unless he aims at perfection, he manifestly consents to live in sin; and is therefore impenitent. It has been said, and I think truly, that if a man does not, in the fixed purpose of his heart, aim at total abstinence from sin, and at being wholly conformed to the will of God, he is not yet regenerated, and does not so much as mean to cease from abusing God. In Barnes’ Notes upon 2 Cor. viii. 1, we have the following:–
“The unceasing and steady aim of every Christian should be perfection–perfection in all things–in the love of God, of Christ, of man; perfection of heart, and feeling, and emotion; perfection in his words, and plans, and dealings with men; perfection in his prayers, and in his submission to the will of God. No man can be a Christian who does not sincerely desire it, and who does not constantly aim at it. No man is a friend of God who can acquiesce in a state of sin, and who is satisfied and contented that he is not as holy as God is holy. And any man who has no desire to be perfect as God is, and who does not make it his daily and constant aim to be as perfect as God, may set it down as demonstrably certain that he has no true religion.”
Now if this so, I would ask how a person can aim at, and intend to do, what he knows to be impossible. Is it not a contradiction to say that a man can intend to do what he knows he cannot do? To this it has been objected, that if true, it proves too much–that it would prove that no man ever was a Christian who did not believe in this doctrine. To this I reply:–
A man may believe in what is really a state of entire sanctification, and aim at attaining it, although he may not call it by that name. This I believe to be the real fact with Christians; and they would much more frequently attain what they aim at, did they know how to appropriate the grace of Christ to their own circumstances. Mrs. President Edwards, for example, firmly believed that she could attain a state of entire consecration. She aimed at, and manifestly attained it, and yet, such were her views of constitutional depravity, that she did not call her state one of entire sanctification. It has been common for Christians to suppose, that a state of entire consecration is attainable; but while they believe in the sinfulness of their natures, they would not of course call even entire consecration, entire sanctification. Mrs. Edwards believed in, aimed at, and attained, entire consecration. She aimed at what she believed to be attainable, and she could aim at nothing more. She called it by the same name with her husband, who was opposed to the doctrine of Christian perfection, as held by the Wesleyan Methodists, manifestly on the ground of his notions of physical depravity. I care not what this state is called, if the thing be fully explained and insisted upon, together with the conditions of attaining it. Call it what you please, Christian perfection, heavenly mindedness, the full assurance of faith or hope, or a state of entire consecration; by all these I understand the same thing. And it is certain, that by whatever name it is called, the thing must be aimed at to be attained. The practicability of its attainment must be admitted, or it cannot be aimed at.
And now I would humbly inquire, whether to preach any thing short of this is not to give countenance to sin?
18. Another argument in favour of this doctrine is, that the gospel, as a matter of fact, has often, not only temporarily, but permanently and perfectly overcome every form of sin, in different individuals. Who has not seen the most beastly lusts, drunkenness, lasciviousness, and every kind of abomination, long indulged and fully ripe, entirely and for ever slain by the power of the grace of God? Now how was this done? Only by bringing this sin fully into the light of the gospel, and showing the individual the relation which the death of Christ sustained to that sin.
Nothing is wanting to slay any and every form of sin, but for the mind to be fully baptized into the death of Christ, and to see the bearings of one’s own sins upon the sufferings, and agonies, and death of the blessed Jesus. Let me state a fact to illustrate my meaning. An habitual and most inveterate smoker of tobacco, of my acquaintance, after having been plied with almost every argument to induce him to break the power of the habit and relinquish its use in vain, on a certain occasion lighted his pipe, and was about to put it to his mouth, when the inquiry was started, Did Christ die to purchase this vile indulgence for me? The perceived relation of the death of Christ to this sin instantly broke the power of the habit, and from that day he has been free. I could relate many other facts more striking than this, where a similar view of the relation of a particular sin to the atonement of Christ, has, in a moment, not only broken the power of the habit, but destroyed entirely and for ever, the appetite for similar indulgences. And in multitudes of cases when the appetite has not been entirely slain, the will has been endowed with abundant and abiding efficiency effectually to control it. If the most inveterate habits of sin, and even those that involve physical consequences, and have deeply debased the physical constitution, and rendered it a source of overpowering temptation to the mind, can be, and often have been, utterly broken up, and for ever slain by the grace of God, why should it be doubted, that by the same grace a man can triumph over all sin, and that for ever?
19. If this doctrine is not true, what is true upon the subject? It is certainly of great importance that ministers should be definite in their instructions; and if Christians are not expected to be wholly conformed to the will of God in this life, how much is expected of them? Who can say, Hitherto canst thou, must thou come, but no farther? It is certainly absurd, not to say ridiculous, for ministers to be for ever pressing Christians up to higher and higher attainments, saying at every step, you can and must go higher, and yet all along informing them, that they are expected to fall short of their whole duty, that they can as a matter of fact, be better than they are, far better, indefinitely better; but still it is not expected that they will do their whole duty. I have often been pained to hear men preach, who were afraid to commit themselves in favour of the whole truth; and who were yet evidently afraid of falling short in their instructions, of insisting that men should stand “perfect and complete in all the will of God.” To be consistent they are evidently perplexed, and well they may be; for in truth there is no consistency in their views and teachings. If they do not inculcate, as a matter of fact, that men ought to do, and are expected to do, their whole duty, they are sadly at a loss to know what to inculcate. They have evidently many misgivings about insisting upon less than this, and still they fear to go to the full extent of apostolic teaching on this subject. And in their attempts to throw in qualifying terms and caveats, to avoid the impression, that they believe in the doctrine of entire sanctification, they place themselves in a truly awkward position. Cases have occurred in which ministers have been asked, how far we may go, must go, and are expected to go, in dependence upon the grace of Christ, and how holy men may be, and are expected to be, and must be, in this life. They could give no other answer to this, than that they can be a great deal better than they are. Now this indefiniteness is a great stumbling-block to the church. It cannot be according to the teachings of the Holy Ghost.
20. The tendency of a denial of this doctrine is, to my mind, conclusive proof that the doctrine itself must be true. Many developements in the recent history of the church throw light upon this subject. Who does not see that the facts developed in the temperance reformation have a direct and powerful bearing upon this question? It has been ascertained, that there is no possibility of completing the temperance reformation, except by adopting the principle of total abstinence from all intoxicating drinks. Let a temperance lecturer go forth as an evangelist, to promote revivals on the subject of temperance–let him inveigh against drunkenness, while he admits and defends the moderate use of alcohol, or insinuates, at least, that total abstinence is not expected or practicable. In this stage of the temperance reformation, every one can see that such a man could make no progress; that he would be employed like a child in building dams of sand to obstruct the rushing of mighty waters. It is as certain as that causes produce their effects, that no permanent reformation could be effected, without adopting and insisting on the total abstinence principle.
And now, if this is true, as it respects the temperance reformation, how much more so when applied to the subjects of holiness and sin. A man might, by some possibility, even in his own strength, overcome his habits of drunkenness, and retain what might be called the temperate use of alcohol. But no such thing is possible in a reformation from sin. There is no temperate indulgence in sin. Sin, as a matter of fact, is never overcome by any man in his own strength. If he admits into his creed the necessity of any degree of sin, or if he allows in practice any degree of sin, he becomes impenitent, consents to live in sin, and of course grieves the Holy Spirit, the certain result of which is a relapsing into a state of legal bondage to sin. And this is probably a true history of many professed Christians in the church. It is just what might be expected from the views and practice of the church upon this subject.
The secret of backsliding is, that reformations are not carried deep enough. Christians are not set with all their hearts to aim at a speedy deliverance from all sin, but on the contrary are left, and in many instances taught, to indulge the expectation that they shall sin as long as they live. I probably never shall forget the effect produced on my mind by reading, when a young convert, in the diary of David Brainerd, that he never expected to make any considerable attainments in holiness in this life. I can now easily see that this was a natural inference from the theory of physical sinfulness which he held. But not perceiving this at the time, I doubt not that this expression of his views had a very injurious effect upon me for many years. It led me to reason thus: if such a man as David Brainerd did not expect to make much advancement in holiness in this life, it is vain for me to expect such a thing.
The fact is, if there be anything that is important to high attainments in holiness, and to the progress of the work of sanctification in this life, it is the adoption of the principle of total abstinence from sin. Total abstinence from sin must be every man’s motto, or sin will certainly sweep him away as with a flood. That cannot possibly be a true principle in temperance, that leaves the causes which produce drunkenness to operate in their full strength. Nor can that be true in regard to holiness which leaves the root unextracted, and the certain causes of spiritual decline and backsliding at work in the very heart of the church. And I am fully convinced that until evangelists and pastors adopt, and carry out in practice, the principle of total abstinence from all sin, they will as certainly find themselves, every few months, called to do their work over again, as a temperance lecturer would who should admit the moderate use of alcohol.
21. Again, the tendency of the opposite view of this subject shows that that cannot be true. Who does not know that to call upon sinners to repent, and at the same time to inform them that they will not, and cannot, and are not expected to repent, would for ever prevent their repentance? Suppose you say to a sinner, “You are naturally able to repent; but it is certain that you never will repent in this life, either with or without the Holy Spirit.” Who does not see that such teaching would prevent his repentance as surely as he believed it? To say to a professor of religion, “You are naturally able to be wholly conformed to the will of God; but it is certain that you never will be, in this life, either in your own strength, or by the grace of God:” if this teaching be believed, it will just as certainly prevent his sanctification, as the other teaching would the repentance of the sinner. I can speak from experience on this subject. While I inculcated the common views, I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction, and into a state of temporary repentance and faith. But falling short of urging them up to a point, where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in him, they would of course soon relapse again into their former state. I seldom saw, and can now understand that I had no reason to expect to see, under the instructions which I then gave, such a state of religious principle, such steady and confirmed walking with God among Christians, as I have seen since the change in my views and instructions.