The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
VII. OBJECTIONS ANSWERED.
To the doctrine we have been advocating it is objected, that the real practical question is not,
1. Whether this state is attainable on the ground of natural ability; for this is admitted.
2. It is not whether it is rational to hope to make this attainment, provided we set our hearts upon making it, and persevere in aiming to attain it; for this is admitted.
3. It is not whether this state is a rational object of pursuit, provided any are disposed to pursue it. But,
4. Is it rational for Christians to hope that they shall pursue it, and shall perseveringly set their hearts upon it? Is it rational for Christians to hope, that they shall so endeavour to attain it, as to fulfil the conditions of the promises wherein it is pledged?
To this I reply, that it makes a new issue. It yields the formerly contested ground, and proposes an entirely new question. Hitherto the question has been, Is this state an object of rational pursuit, provided any are disposed to pursue it? May Christians aim at this attainment with the rational hope of making it? This point is now yielded, if I understand the objection, and one entirely distinct is substituted, namely, Is it rational for Christians to hope, that they shall pursue after this attainment, or that they shall aim at and set themselves to make this attainment? This, I say, is quite another question, different from the one heretofore argued. It is however an important one, and I am quite willing to discuss it, but with this distinct understanding, that it is not the question upon which issue has been heretofore taken. This question, as we shall see, calls up a distinct inquiry. In this discussion I shall pursue the following outline:
1. What constitutes hope?
2. What is implied in a rational hope?
3. The grounds of rational hope may vary indefinitely in degree.
4. Wrong views may inspire an irrational hope.
5. Wrong views may prevent a rational hope.
6. Hope is a condition of the attainment in question.
7. What the objection under consideration admits.
8. What I understand it to deny.
9. What it amounts to.
10. What it must assume in reference to the provisions of grace.
11. What these provisions are not.
12. What they are.
13. What real grounds of hope there are in respect to the question under consideration.
14. Consider the tendency of denying that there are valid grounds of hope in this case.
1. I am to show what hope is.
Hope, in common parlance, and as I shall use the term in this discussion, is not a phenomenon of will, nor is it a voluntary state of mind. It includes a phenomenon both of the intellect and the sensibility. It is a state of mind compounded of desire and expectation. Desire alone is not hope. A man may desire an event ever so strongly, yet, if he has no degree of expectation that the desired event will occur, he cannot justly be said to hope for it. Expectation is not hope, for one may expect an event ever so confidently, yet if he does not at all desire it, he cannot be truly said to hope for it. Hope comprehends both desire and expectation. There must be some degree of both of these to compose hope.
2. What is implied in a rational hope?
(1.) The desire must be reasonable; that is, in accordance with reason. The thing desired must be such as reason sanctions or approves. If the desire is an unreasonable one, the fact, that there is good ground for expecting the desired end, will not make the hope rational. The expectation might in this case be rational, in the sense that there is valid reason for the expectation. But expectation alone is not hope. A rational hope must include a rational desire, or a desire in accordance with reason, and a rational expectation, that is, an expectation in accordance with reason.
(2.) The expectation to be rational must have for its foundation at least some degree of evidence. Hope may be, and often is, indulged barely on the ground that the desired event is possible, in the absence of all evidence that it is likely to occur. Thus we say of one who is at the point of death, and whose life is despaired of by all but his nearest friends, “where there is life there is hope.” When events are so greatly desired men are wont to indulge the hope that the event will occur, even in the absence of all evidence that it will occur, and in the face of the highest evidence, that it will not occur. But such hope can hardly be said to be rational. Hope to be rational must have for its support, not a bare possibility that the desired event may occur, but at least some degree of evidence that it will occur. This is true of hope in general. When an event is conditioned upon the exercise of our own agency, and upon an agency which we are able, either in our own strength or through grace to exert, it may be more or less rational to expect the occurrence of the event in proportion as we more or less desire it. Hope includes desire: there can be no hope without desire. There may be a good ground of hope, when there is in fact no hope. There may be a reason and a good reason for desire, where there is no desire. There may be and is good reason for sinners to desire to be Christians, when they have no such desire. Again, there may be good reason for both desire and expectation, when in fact there is neither. The thing which it is reasonable to desire may not be desired, and there may be good reason for expecting that an event will occur, when no such expectation is indulged. For example, a child may neither desire nor expect to comply with the wishes of a parent, in a given instance. Yet it may be very reasonable for him to desire to comply, in this instance, with parental authority; and the circumstances may be such as to afford evidence, that he will be brought to compliance, and yet there may be in this case no hope exercised by the child that he shall comply. There may be then a rational ground for hope when there is no hope. A thing may be strongly desired, and yet the evidence that it will occur may not be apprehended; and therefore, although such evidence may exist, it may not be perceived by the mind, or the mind may be so occupied with contemplating opposing evidence, or with looking at discouraging circumstances, as not to apprehend the evidence upon which a rational hope may be, or might be grounded.
Again, when the event in question consists in the action of the will, in conformity with the law of the reason, the probability that it will thus act depends upon the states of the sensibility, or upon the desires. It may therefore be more or less rational to expect this conformity of the will to the law of the intelligence, in proportion as this state of the will is more or less strongly desired. I merely make this remark in this place; we shall see its application hereafter. I also add in this place, that a man may more or less rationally expect to make the attainment under consideration, that is, to obtain in this life a complete victory over sin, in proportion as he more or less ardently desires it. This we shall see hereafter. The indulgence of hope implies existing desire, and as I said, the hope to be rational must have some degree of evidence, that the thing hoped for will occur.
3. The grounds of rational hope may vary indefinitely in degree.
I have said, that there may be rational grounds of hope when there is no hope. A sinner under terrible conviction of sin, and in present despair, may have grounds and strong grounds of hope, while he has no hope.
Again, the grounds of hope may be more or less strong, in proportion as hope is more or less strong. For example, an event which is dependent upon the exercise of our own agency, may be more or less likely to occur, in proportion to the strength or weakness of our hope that it will occur. Hope is compounded, as we have said, of desire and expectation. An event dependent upon our agency may be more or less likely to occur, in proportion as we desire its occurrence, and entertain the confident expectation that it will occur. In such a case, although the evidence may be really but slight upon which the expectation is at first founded, yet the very fact, that the mind has become confident that a strongly desired event will take place, which event depends upon the energetic and persevering exercise of our own agency; I say, the strength of the confidence, as well as the strength of the desire, may render the event all the more probable, and thus the grounds of hope may be increased by the increase of hope. For it should be remembered, that hope is possible and common when there are no good grounds for it, and the very fact, that a hope at present with slight grounds does exist, may increase the grounds of rational hope. Suppose, for example, that an Indian in our western forests, who had never heard the gospel, should come in some way to have the idea, and the desire, and expectation, of finding out a way of salvation. Now, before he had this hope, there could not be said to have been more than slight rational ground for it. But since he has the idea, the desire, and the expectation, he may from these facts have a rational ground of hope, that he shall discover a way of salvation. The desire and the expectation may render it highly probable, that he will in some manner discover the right way.
Again: the rational ground of hope, in respect to at least a certain class of events, may be greatly increased by the fact, that there is a present willingness that the desired and expected event should occur, and an endeavour to secure it. Hope does not necessarily imply a willingness. For example, a sinner may desire to be converted, and he may expect that he shall be, and yet not at present be willing to be; that is, he may conceive rightly of what constitutes conversion or turning to God, and he may, for the sake of his own salvation, desire to turn, that is, to turn as a condition of his own salvation, and he may expect that he shall in future turn; and yet he is not by the supposition as yet willing to turn; for willing is turning, and if he is willing he has turned already. If the event hoped for consists in, or is dependent upon, future acts of our own will, the grounds of hope that the event will occur, may be indefinitely strengthened by the fact, that we have the present consciousness of not only hoping for its occurrence, but also, that our will or heart is at present set upon it.
Myriads of circumstances may be taken into the account, in balancing and weighing the evidence for or against the occurrence of a given event. The event may depend in a great measure upon our desires, and when it really does depend under God upon our desires, present willingness and efforts, the grounds of confidence or of hope must vary, as our hopes and endeavours vary. There may be, as I have said, ground for hope when there is no hope, and the ground of hope may be indefinitely increased by the existence of hope. There may be a strong hope and a weak hope; strong grounds or reasons for hope, or weak grounds of hope. When there is any degree of present evidence that an event will occur, there is some ground of rational hope.
4. Wrong views may inspire an irrational hope.
This follows from the nature of hope. A thing may be desired–wrong views may inspire confidence or beget expectation, when there is not the slightest ground for expectation. The hope of the Universalist is a striking instance of this. The same is true of false professors of religion. They desire to be saved. False views inspire confidence that they are Christians, and that they shall be saved.
5. Wrong views may prevent a rational hope.
This is also common, as every one knows. A thing may be desired, and there may be the best grounds for confidence or expectation, which is an element of hope. But false views may forbid the expectation to be entertained. In this case, one element of hope exists, that is, desire, but the other, to wit, expectation, is rendered impossible by erroneous views.
Again: expectation may exist, yet false views may prevent desire. For example, I may expect to see a certain individual whom, from false impressions respecting him, I have no desire to see. It is indispensable to hope, that the views be such as to beget both desire and expectation.
6. Hope is a condition of the attainment in question.
(1.) The attainment implies and consists in the right future exercise of our own agency.
(2.) The right future exercise of our own agency, in respect to the state in question, depends under God, or is conditioned upon, the previous use of means to secure that result.
(3.) Those means will never be used unless there is hope; that is, unless there is both desire and expectation. If therefore any false instruction shall forbid the expectation of attaining the state in question, the attainment will not be sought, it will not be aimed at. There may be ever so good grounds or reasons to expect to make this attainment, yet if these grounds are not discovered, and the expectation is not intelligent, the attainment will be delayed. There must be hope indulged in this case, as a condition of making this attainment.
7. What I understand the objection to admit.
(1.) That the state in question is a possible state, or a possible attainment, both on the ground of natural ability and through grace.
(2.) That this attainment is provided for in the promises of the gospel; that is, that the promises of the gospel proffer grace to every believer sufficient to secure him against sin in all the future, on condition that he will believe and appropriate them.
(3.) That all the necessary means are provided and brought within the Christian’s reach to secure this attainment, and that there is no insurmountable difficulty in the way of this attainment, provided he is willing, and will use these necessary means in the required manner.
(4.) There is rational ground for hoping to make this attainment, if any will set their heart to make it.
(5.) Consequently, that this attainment is a rational object of pursuit; that it is rational to hope to make it, provided we are disposed to make it, or to aim to make it.
8. What I understand the objection to deny.
That it is rational for any Christian to hope, so to use the means as to secure the attainment in question; that is, that no Christian can rationally hope to exercise such faith, and so to use the means of grace, and so to avail himself of the proffered grace of the gospel, and so to fulfil the conditions of the promises, as to receive their fulfilment, and make the attainment in question in this life. The objection, as I understand it, denies that we can rationally hope, by present faith and the present use of our powers, to render it probable, that we shall in future use them aright; or, in other words, the objection denies that we can, by any thing whatever that we can at present do, gain any evidence, or lay a foundation for any rational hope that in future we shall obey God; or it denies that our present desire, or will, or faith, or efforts, have through grace any such connexion with our future state in this life, as to render it in any degree probable, that we shall receive the fulfilment of such promises as the following: 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.” It denies, that it is rational for us to hope, by the improvement of present grace, to secure future grace; that it is rational for us to expect, by a present laying hold on such promises as the one just quoted, to secure its present and its future fulfilment to us; it denies that it is rational for us to lay hold of such promises as that just quoted, with the expectation that they will be fulfilled to us; that is, we cannot at present do anything whatever, however much we may will and desire it, that shall render it in the least degree probable, that these promises will ever be fulfilled to us in this life. The objection must proceed upon denying this, for it is certain, that Christians do desire this attainment, and will it too; that is, they will at least that it might be so. If all Christians do not hope for it, it is because they regard it as not attainable.
9. What the objection really amounts to.
(1.) That, although the promise just quoted is undeniably a promise of the very state in question in this life, yet it is irrational to hope, by anything that we can at present do, however much we may at present will and desire it, to secure to ourselves either its present or its future fulfilment in this life.
(2.) It amounts to a denial, that at any future time during this life it will be rational for us to hope, by anything that we can at that time do, to secure either at that or any other time, the fulfilment of the promise to us.
(3.) It amounts to a denial, that we can rationally hope, at any time in this life, to believe or do anything that will render it in the least degree probable, that this promise will be fulfilled to us; that, however much we may at present desire and will to secure the thing promised, we can at present or at any future time, rationally hope to secure the thing promised.
(4.) It amounts to a denial, that it is rational to expect under any circumstances, that this class of promises will ever be fulfilled to the saints.
(5.) The principles assumed and lying at the foundation of this objection must, if sound, prove the gospel a delusion. If it is true, that by no present act of faith we can secure to us the present or the future fulfilment of the promise of entire sanctification, I see not why this is not equally true in respect to all the promises. If there is no such connexion between our present and future faith and obedience, as to render it even in the least degree probable, that the promises of persevering grace shall be vouchsafed to us, then what is the gospel but a delusion? Where is the ground of a rational hope of salvation? But suppose it should be replied to this, that in respect to other promises, and especially in respect to promises of salvation and of sufficient grace to secure our salvation, there is such a connexion between present faith and future faith and salvation, as to render the latter at least probable, and as therefore to afford a rational ground of hope of perseverance, in such a sense as to secure salvation; but that this is not the case with the promises of entire sanctification. Should this be alleged, I call for proof. Observe, I admit the connexion contended for as just stated between present faith and obedience, and future perseverance, and final salvation, that the former renders the latter at least probable; but I also contend, that the same is true in respect to the promises of entire sanctification. Let the contrary be shown, if it can be. Let the principle be produced, if it can be, either from scripture or reason, that will settle and recognize the difference contended for, to wit, that present faith and obedience do lay a rational foundation of hope that we shall persevere to the end of life, in such a sense as that we shall be saved; and yet that present faith in the promises of entire sanctification does not render it in the least degree probable, that we shall ever receive the fulfilment of those promises. Let it be shown, if it can be, that the present belief of certain promises renders it certain or probable that they will be fulfilled to us, but that no such connexion obtains in respect to other promises. Let it be shown, if it can be, that present faith in the promises of perseverance and salvation renders it either certain or probable, that these promises will be fulfilled to us, while present faith in the promise of entire sanctification in this life, renders it neither certain, nor in the least degree probable, that these promises will ever, in this life, be fulfilled to us.
Suppose a Calvinist should allege, that the first act of faith renders it certain that the new believer will be saved, and therefore it renders it certain that he will persevere to the end of life, but that the same is not true of promises of entire sanctification in this life. I ask for his proof of the truth of this assertion; that is, I ask him to prove, that faith in the latter promises does not sustain as real and as certain a relation to the reception of the thing promised as does faith in the former promises. Suppose him to answer, that God has revealed his design to save all Christians, and from hence we know, that if they once believe they shall certainly persevere and be saved. But in answer to this I ask, is it not as expressly revealed as possible, that God will wholly sanctify all Christians, spirit, soul, and body, and preserve them blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? The language in 1 Thes. v. 23, 24, may be regarded either as an express promise, or as an express declaration: “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.” Here observe, Paul expressly affirms that God will do it. Now where in the bible is there a more express promise, or a more express revelation of the will and design of God than this? Nowhere. But suppose it should be replied to this, that, if we take this view of the subject, it follows, that all saints have been wholly sanctified in this life. I answer, they no doubt have been, for there is not a word in the Bible of their being sanctified in any other life than this; and if they have gone to heaven, they were no doubt sanctified wholly in this life.
But, secondly, it would not follow, that they have all been wholly sanctified until at or near the close of life, because many of them have probably never understood and appropriated this and similar promises by faith, and consequently have failed to realize in their own experience their fulfilment, for any considerable length of time before their death. The exact question here is: If the soul at present apprehends, and lays hold on the promises of entire sanctification in this life, is there not as real and as certain a connexion between present faith and the future fulfilment of the promise, as there is between present faith in any other promises and the future fulfilment of those promises. If this is not so, let the contrary be shown, if it can be. The burden of proof lies on the objector. If to this any one should reply, that present faith in any promise does not sustain any such relation to the fulfilment of the promise, as to render it rational to hope for its fulfilment, I answer, that if this is so, then the gospel is a mere nullity and sheer nonsense. Nay, it is infinitely worse than nonsense.
I will not at present contend that present faith in any promise of future good sustains such a relation to its fulfilment, that its fulfilment to us is absolutely certain; but upon this I do insist, that present faith in any promise of God does render it at least in some degree probable, that the promise will be fulfilled to us; and that therefore we have ground of rational hope, when we are conscious of desiring a promised blessing, and of laying hold by faith upon the promise of it, and of setting our hearts upon obtaining it;–I say, when we are conscious of this state of mind in regard to any promised blessing, we have rational ground of hope that we shall receive the thing promised. And it matters not at all what the blessing promised is. If God has promised it, he is able to give it; and we have no right to say, that the nature of the thing promised forbids the rational expectation that we shall receive it. It is plain that the principle on which this objection is based amounts to a real denial of the gospel, and makes all the promises a mere nullity.
10. What this objection must assume in reference to the provisions of grace:–
That grace has made no provisions for securing the fulfilment of the conditions of the promises. This must certainly be assumed in relation to the promises of entire sanctification in this life; that grace has made no such provisions as to render the fulfilment of the conditions of this class of promises in any degree probable; that the grace of God in Jesus Christ does not even afford the least degree of evidence, that real saints will ever in this life so believe those promises as to secure the blessing promised; that therefore it is irrational for the saints to hope, through any provisions of grace, to fulfil the conditions and secure the blessing promised; the grace of God is not sufficient for the saints, in the sense, that it is rational for them to hope so to believe the promises of entire sanctification, as to secure the thing promised. The gospel and the grace of God then are a complete failure, so far as the hope of living in this life without rebellion against God is concerned. His name is called Jesus in vain, so far as it respects salvation from sin in this life. There is then no rational ground of hope, that by anything we can possibly do while in the present exercise of faith, and love, and zeal, we can render it, through grace, in the least degree probable, that we shall persevere in seeking this blessing until we have fulfilled the condition of the promise, and secured the blessing. Nothing that we can now do, while in faith and love, will render it through grace in the least degree probable, that we shall at any future time believe or do anything that will secure to us the promised blessing. Christians do at present desire this attainment, and have a heart or will to it. This objection must assume that grace has made no such provision as to render the hope rational, that this will and desire will exist in future, do what we may at present to secure it.
11. What the provisions of grace are not.
(1.) Grace has made no provision to save any one without entire holiness of heart.
(2.) It has made no provision to secure holiness without the right exercise of our own will or agency, for all holiness consists in this.
(3.) It has made no provision to save any one who will not fulfil the conditions of salvation.
(4.) It has made no provision for the bestowment of irresistible grace, for the very terms imply a contradiction. A moral agent cannot be forced or necessitated to act in any given manner, and still remain a moral agent. That is, he cannot be a moral agent in any case in which he acts from necessity.
(5.) Grace has made no provision to render salvation possible without hope; that is, without desire and expectation.
12. What these provisions are.
In this place, I can only state what I understand them to be; and to avoid much repetition, I must request the reader to consult foregoing and subsequent lectures, where these different points are developed and discussed at length.
(1.) God foresaw that all mankind would fall into a state of total alienation from him and his government.
(2.) He also foresaw that by the wisest arrangement, he could secure the return and salvation of a part of mankind.
(3.) He resolved to do so, and “chose them to eternal salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”
(4.) He has instituted a system of means to effect this end; that is, with design to effect it.
(5.) These means are:–
(i.) The revelation of the law.
(ii.) The atonement and mediatorial work of Christ.
(iii.) The publication of the gospel, and the institution of all the means of grace.
(iv.) The administration of providential and moral governments.
(v.) The gift and agency of the Holy Spirit to excite in them desire, and to work in them to will and to do, in so far as to secure in them the fulfilment of the conditions, and to them the fulfilment of the promises.
(6.) Grace has made sufficient provisions to render the salvation of all possible, and such as will actually secure the salvation of a portion of mankind.
(7.) Grace has brought salvation so within the reach of all who hear the gospel, as to leave them wholly without excuse, if they are not saved.
(8.) Grace has made the salvation of every human being secure, who can be persuaded, by all the influences that God can wisely bring to bear upon him, to accept the offers of salvation.
(9.) Grace has provided such means and instrumentalities as will actually secure the conviction, conversion, perseverance, entire sanctification, and final salvation of a part of mankind.
(10.) Grace has not only provided the motives of moral government, but the influences necessary to secure the saving effect of this government over all the elect.
(11.) Grace has not only made promises to be fulfilled upon certain conditions, but it has provided an influence which will, in every case of the elect secure in them the fulfilment of the conditions of these promises unto salvation.
(12.) Grace has not only given commands, but has provided the requisite influence to secure obedience to them, in such a sense, as to secure the perseverance, sanctification, and full salvation of all the elect unto salvation.
This I understand to be a summary statement of the doctrine of grace, as it is taught in the Bible.
13. What are the real grounds of hope in respect to the question now under consideration?
Here it is necessary to state again distinctly, what is not, and what is, the real question to be decided.
It is not what Christians have hoped upon this subject, for they may have entertained groundless expectations and irrational hopes; or they may have had no hope or expectation, when there have been good grounds of hope. Let it be distinctly understood then, that the true point of inquiry is, have Christians a right to expect to obtain in this life a complete victory over sin? Not, do they expect it? but, have they a right to indulge such a hope? Provided they have such a hope, is it irrational? Or, provided they have not such a hope, have they good and sufficient ground for such hope revealed in the Bible? This brings us to inquire what are not, and what are, the grounds of rational hope.
(1.) They are not in the mere natural ability of man, for the Bible abundantly reveals the fact, that if man is left to himself, he will never so exert his agency as to comply with the conditions of salvation. This is equally true of all men.
(2.) They are not in the gospel, or in the means of grace, aside from the agency of the Holy Spirit, for the Bible reveals the fact, that no one will ever be sanctified by these means, without the agency of the Holy Spirit.
In prosecuting inquiry upon this subject, I remark:
(i.) That the inquiry now before us respects real Christians. It might be interesting and useful to look into the subject in its bearings upon the impenitent world, but this would occupy too much time and space in this place. It might be useful to inquire, what ground of rational hope any sinner may have, that he shall actually be converted and saved, when the gospel is addressed to him. It certainly cannot be denied, with any show of reason, that every sinner to whom the gospel call is addressed, has some reason to hope that God has designs of mercy toward him, and that he shall be converted, and kept, and sanctified, and saved. He must have some ground to hope for this result, upon the bare presentation to him of the offers of mercy. He has all the evidence he can ask or desire, that God is ready and willing to save him, provided that he is willing to accept of mercy, and comply with the conditions of salvation. So that, if he is disposed to accept it, he need not raise any question about the grounds of hope. There is nothing in his way but his own indisposition; if this is removed, he may surely hope to be saved. But the offers of mercy also afford some ground of hope, that the Holy Spirit will strive with him and overcome his reluctance, so that he may rationally hope to be converted.
The ground of this hope may be more or less strong in the case of individual sinners, as they find the providence and Spirit of God working together for the accomplishment of this result. If, for example, the sinner finds, in addition to the offers of salvation by the word of the gospel, that the Holy Spirit is striving with him, convincing him of sin, and trying to induce him to turn and live, he has of course increased grounds for the hope that he shall be saved.
But, as I said, the inquiry now before us respects the grounds of hope in Christians.
(ii.) I remark, that Christians, of course, from the very nature of their religion, have come strongly to desire a complete and lasting victory over sin. I need not in this place attempt to prove this.
(iii.) Christians not only desire this, but in fact so far as they are Christians, they will to obtain this victory. That is, when they have the heart of a child of God, and are in a state of acceptance with him, they will to render to God a present, full, universal, and endless obedience. This is implied in the very nature of true religion.
(iv.) The inquiry before us respects future acts of will. The state under consideration consists in an abiding consecration to God. The Christian is at present in this state, and the inquiry respects his grounds of hope, that he shall ever attain to a state in this life, in which he shall abide steadily and uniformly in this state, and go no more into voluntary rebellion against God. Has grace made no such provisions as to render the hope rational, that we shall in this life ever cease to sin? Or has it pleased God to make no such provisions, and are we to expect to sin as long as we live in this world? Has the Christian any rational ground for a hope, that he shall be sanctified in this life? that is, that he shall obtain a complete and final victory over sin in this life? The question here is, not whether Christians do hope for this, but, may they rationally hope for this? Have they good reason for such a hope, did they apprehend or understand this ground? They have desire, which is an element of hope–have they grounds for a rational expectation? I do not here inquire, whether they do expect it, but whether they have good and valid reason for such an expectation? Is the difficulty owing to a want in the provisions of grace, or in a misconception of these provisions? Some Christians do hope for this attainment. Are they mad and irrational, or have they good reason for this hope?
In replying to these inquiries, I remark, that the Holy Spirit is given to the saints for the express purpose revealed in such passages as the following. 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.” With this, and similar promises, and express declarations in his hands, is it rational or irrational in him, to expect to receive the fulfilment of such promises? If it be answered, that these promises are conditioned upon his faith, and it is irrational for him to hope to fulfil the condition; I reply, that the Holy Spirit is given to him, and abides in him, to draw him into a fulfilment of the conditions of the promises. It is nowhere so much as hinted in the Bible, that the Holy Spirit will not do this until the close of life. Observe, that this is the very office-work of the Spirit, to work in us to fulfil the conditions of the promises of entire sanctification, and thus to secure this end. His business with and in us, is to procure our entire sanctification; and, as I said, there is not so much as a hint in the Bible, that he does not desire or design to secure this before death. Now, suppose we lay aside all knowledge of facts, in relation to the past experience of the church, and look into the Bible. From reading this, would any man get the idea, that God did not expect, desire, and intend, that saints should obtain an entire victory over sin in this life? When we read such promises and declarations as abound in the Bible, should we not see rational ground for hope, that we shall obtain a complete victory over sin in this life?
But here it may be said, that the past history of the church shows what are the real promises of grace; that grace has not in fact secured this attainment, at least to a great part of the church until at or near the close of life; and therefore grace in fact made no provision for this attainment in their case.
But if this objection has any weight, it proves equally, that grace has made in no case any provision for any one’s being any better than he really is, and has been, and that it had been irrational in any one to have expected to be any better than in fact he has turned out to be. If he had at any time expected to be any better at any future time, than he turned out to be, this, upon the principle of the objection in question, would prove that he had no rational ground for the expectation: that grace in fact had made no such provision as to render any such hope rational. If this be true, we shall all see when we get into the eternal world, that in no case could we have indulged a rational hope of being any better than we have been, and that when we did indulge any such hope, we had no ground for it.
But again, if what the church has been settles the question of what it is rational for her to hope in time to be, why then we must dismiss the hope of any improvement. This objection proves too much, therefore it proves nothing.
But again, since the Holy Spirit is given to and abides in Christians, for the very purpose of securing their entire and permanent sanctification, and since there is no intimation in the Bible that this work is to be delayed until death, but, on the contrary, express declarations and promises, that as fully and expressly as possible teach the contrary, it is perfectly rational to hope for this, and downright unbelief not to expect it. What can be more express to this point than the promises and declarations that have been already quoted upon this subject?
Now the question is, not whether these promises and declarations have inspired hope, but might they not reasonably have done so? The question is, not whether these promises have been understood and relied upon, but might they not reasonably have inspired confidence, that we should, or that they should gain a complete and lasting victory over sin in this life? Do not let us be again diverted by the objection, that the provisions of grace, and what it is rational to hope for, is settled by what has been accomplished. We have seen that this objection is not valid.
Desire has existed, why has not expectation also existed? We shall see in its place. I said, that the Bible represents the design of God to be, to sanctify Christians wholly in this life, and nowhere so much as intimates, that this work is not to be complete in this life. Let such passages as the following be consulted upon this question. Tit_2:11-14. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” This passage teaches that this state is to be expected; it also teaches that it is to be expected before death, (Tit_2:12.); that Christ gave himself to secure this result, (Tit_2:14.) The chapter concludes with this direction to Titus, “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” Now suppose Titus to have taught, as some now teach, that it is dangerous error to hope to live in this life according to the teaching of this passage;–suppose he had told them, that although Christ had given himself expressly to secure this result, yet there was no rational ground of hope, that they would ever do this in this present evil world; would he have complied with the spirit of the apostle’s injunction in verse fifteen?
Again: the thing spoken of in this passage is no doubt a state of entire sanctification, in the sense, that it implies a complete victory over sin in this present evil world.
Again, 2Co_6:17-18 : “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Now in view of these promises, the apostle immediately adds the following injunction. 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.” Did the apostle think it irrational to expect or hope to make this attainment in this life? Suppose he had added to the injunction just quoted, that it was dangerous for them to expect to make the attainment which he exhorted them to make. Suppose he had said, you have no right to infer from the promises I have just quoted, that it is rational in you to hope to make this attainment in this life. But suppose the Corinthians to have inquired, Do not these promises relate to this life? Yes, says the apostle. And does not your injunction to perfect holiness in the fear of God, relate to this life? Yes. Did you not utter this injunction seeing that we have the promises? Yes. Is it not rational, seeing we have these promises, to hope to avail ourselves of them, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God in this life? Now suppose that to this last question the apostle had answered, No. Would not this have placed the apostle and the promises and his injunction in a most ridiculous light? To be sure it would. Would not any honest mind feel shocked at such an absurdity. Certainly.
Again, 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.” Now suppose that, immediately upon making this declaration, the apostle had added, you cannot rationally hope that God will do what I have just expressly affirmed that he will do. Suppose he had said, the declaration in the 24th verse is only a promise, and made upon a condition with which you cannot rationally hope to comply, and therefore as a matter of fact, you cannot rationally hope to be sanctified wholly and preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. How shocking and ridiculous would such a prayer, with such a promise, accompanied with such a conclusion, appear.
Again, a Christian is supposed not only to desire to make this attainment, but also to be at present willing to make it, and at present to have his heart set upon obedience to God, and upon attaining to such a degree of communion with God as to abide in Christ, and sin no more. A Christian is supposed at present to be disposed to make this attainment; not only to desire it, but also to will it. Now, may he rationally aim at it, and rationally intend or hope to make this attainment? Or must he calculate to sin so long as he lives; and is it irrational for him to expect or hope to have done with rebelling against God, and with unbelief, and accusing him of lying, as long as he lives? If he is at present desirous and willing to have done with sin, is it rational for him to hope, by any means within his reach and which he is at present disposed to use, to attain a state in which he shall have a permanent victory over sin, in which he shall abide in Christ, in such a sense as to have done with rebellion against God? By present willingness, desire and effort, is it rational for him to hope to secure a future desire and willingness, and an abiding state of heart-conformity to God? Are there any means within his reach, and which he can at present, while he has the will and desire, rationally hope so to use as to secure to him either at present, or at some future time in this life, a complete and lasting victory over sin? May he hope through present faith to secure future faith? through present love, and faith, and effort, to secure future faith, and love, and successful effort? For it is not contended by me, that the Christian will or can ever stand fast in the will of God without effort. This I have sufficiently insisted on. The question is exactly this: May a Christian, who is conscious of being at present willing to attain, and desirous of attaining, a state of abiding consecration to God in this life, rationally hope to make such an attainment? Has the grace of God made any such provision as to render such a hope rational? Not, can he rationally hope to make it without desire and effort; but with both present desire and effort? Not whether he could rationally hope to make such an attainment, if he is at present neither willing nor desirous to make it; but whether, provided he at present has both the will and desire, he may rationally hope to secure so rich an anointing of the Holy Spirit, and to be so thoroughly baptized into the death of Christ, as to remain henceforth in a state of abiding consecration to God?