The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
3. I will next consider those passages of scripture which are by some supposed to contradict the doctrine we have been considering.
1Ki_8:46 : “If they sin against thee, (for there is no man that sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives unto the land of the enemy, far or near,” &c. On this passage, I remark,–
(1.) That this sentiment in nearly the same language, is repeated in 2Ch_6:26, and in Ecc_7:20, where the same original word in the same form is used.
(2.) These are the strongest passages I know of in the Old Testament, and the same remarks are applicable to the three.
(3.) I will quote, for the satisfaction of the reader, the note of Dr. Adam Clarke upon this passage, and also that of Barclay, the celebrated and highly spiritual author of “An Apology for the True Christian Divinity.” And let me say, that they appear to me to be satisfactory answers to the objection founded upon these passages.
CLARKE: “‘If they sin against thee.’–This must refer to some general defection from truth; to some species of false worship, idolatry, or corruption of the truth and ordinances of the Most High; as for it, they are here stated to be delivered into the hands of their enemies, and carried away captive, which was the general punishment of idolatry; and what is called, [verse 47,] acting perversely and committing wickedness.
“‘If they sin against thee, for there is no man that sinneth not.’ The second clause, as it is here translated, renders the supposition in the first clause, entirely nugatory; for, if there be no man that sinneth not, it is useless to say, if they sin; but this contradiction is taken away, by reference to the original ki yechetau lak, which should be translated, if they shall sin against thee; or should they sin against thee, ki ein adam asher lo yecheta; ‘for there is no man that may not sin;’ that is, there is no man impeccable, none infallible; none that is not liable to transgress. This is the true meaning of the phrase in various parts of the Bible, and so our translators have understood the original, for even in the thirty-first verse of this chapter, they have translated yecheta, if a man trespass; which certainly implies he might or might not do it; and in this way they have translated the same word, if a soul sin, in Lev_5:1, and Lev_6:2; 1Sa_2:25; 2Ch_6:22; and in several other places. The truth is, the Hebrew has no mood to express words in the permissive or optative way, but to express this sense it uses the future tense of the conjugation kal.
“This text has been a wonderful strong-hold for all who believe that there is no redemption from sin in this life; that no man can live without committing sin; and that we cannot be entirely freed from it till we die.
“(i.) The text speaks no such doctrine; it only speaks of the possibility of every man’s sinning; and this must be true of a state of probation.
“(ii.) There is not another text in the divine records that is more to the purpose than this.
“(iii.) The doctrine is flatly in opposition to the design of the gospel; for Jesus came to save his people from their sins, and to destroy the works of the devil.
“(iv.) It is a dangerous and destructive doctrine, and should be blotted out of every Christian’s creed. There are too many who are seeking to excuse their crimes by all means in their power; and we need not embody their excuses in a creed, to complete their deception, by stating that their sins are unavoidable.”
BARCLAY: “Secondly,–Another objection is from two passages of scripture, much of one signification. The one is 1Ki_8:46 : ‘For there is no man that sinneth not.’ The other is Ecc_7:20 : ‘For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not.’
“(i.) These affirm nothing of a daily and continual sinning, so as never to be redeemed from it; but only that all have sinned, that there is none that doth not sin, though not always so as never to cease to sin; and in this lies the question. Yea, in that place of the Kings he speaks within two verses of the returning of such with all their souls and hearts, which implies a possibility of leaving off sin.
“(ii.) There is a respect to be had to the seasons and dispensations; for if it should be granted that in Solomon’s time there were none that sinned not, it will not follow that there are none such now, or that it is a thing not now attainable by the grace of God under the gospel.
“(iii.) And lastly, this whole objection hangs upon a false interpretation; for the original Hebrew word may be read in the potential mood, thus,–There is no man who may not sin, as well as in the indicative; so both the old Latin, Junius, and Tremellius, and Vatablus have it, and the same word is so used, Ps. cxix. 11: ‘Thy word have I bid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee’–in the potential mood, and not in the indicative; which being more answerable to the universal scope of the scriptures, the testimony of the truth, and the sense of almost all interpreters, doubtless ought to be so understood, and the other interpretation rejected as spurious.”
(iv.) Whatever may be thought of the views of these authors, to me it is a plain and satisfactory answer to the objection founded upon these passages, that the objection might be strictly true under the Old Testament dispensation, and prove nothing in regard to the attainability of a state of entire sanctification under the New. What! does the New Testament dispensation differ nothing from the Old in its advantages for the acquisition of holiness? If it be true, that no one under the comparatively dark dispensation of Judaism, attained a state of permanent sanctification, does that prove such a state is not attainable under the gospel? It is expressly stated in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that “the old covenant made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did.” Under the old covenant, God expressly promised that he would make a new one with the house of Israel, in “writing the law in their hearts,” and in “engraving it in their inward parts.” And this new covenant was to be made with the house of Israel, under the Christian dispensation. What then do all such passages in the Old Testament prove, in relation to the privileges and holiness of Christians under the new dispensation?
(v.) Whether any of the Old Testament saints did so far receive the new Covenant by way of anticipation, as to enter upon a state of permanent sanctification, it is not my present purpose to inquire. Nor will I inquire, whether, admitting that Solomon said in his day, that “there was not a just man upon the earth that liveth and sinneth not,” the same could with equal truth have been asserted of every generation under the Jewish dispensation?
(vi.) It is expressly asserted of Abraham, and multitudes of the Old Testament saints, that they “died in faith, not having received the promises.” Now what can this mean? It cannot be, that they did not know the promises; for to them the promises were made. It cannot mean, that they did not receive Christ, for the Bible expressly asserts that they did–that “Abraham rejoiced to see Christ’s day”–that Moses, and indeed all the Old Testament saints, had so much knowledge of Christ as a Saviour to be revealed, as to bring them into a state of salvation. But still they did not receive the promise of the Spirit, as it is poured out under the Christian dispensation. This was the great thing all along promised, first to Abraham, or to his seed, which is Christ. Gal_3:14, Gal_3:16 : “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ;” and afterwards to the Christian church, by all the prophets. Act_2:16-21 : “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, (saith God,) I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on my servants, and on my handmaidens, I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy; and I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come; and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Act_2:38-39 : “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Act_3:24, Act_3:26 : “Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel, and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.” “Unto you first, God having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities;” and lastly, by Christ himself, which he expressly styles “the promise” of the Father. Act_1:4-5 : “And being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” They did not receive the light and the glory of the Christian dispensation, nor the fulness of the Holy Spirit. And it is asserted in the Bible, that “they without us,” that is, without our privileges, “could not be made perfect.”
4. The next objection is founded upon the Lord’s Prayer. In this Christ has taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Here it is objected, that if a person should become entirely sanctified, he could no longer use this clause of this prayer, which, it is said, was manifestly designed to be used by the church to the end of time. Upon this prayer I remark:–
(1.) Christ has taught us to pray for entire, in the sense of perpetual sanctification. “Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.”
(2.) He designed, that we should expect this prayer to be answered, or that we should mock him by asking what we do not believe is agreeable to his will, and that too which we know could not consistently be granted; and that we are to repeat this insult to God as often as we pray.
(3.) The petition for forgiveness of our trespasses, it is plain, must apply to past sins, and not to sins we are committing at the time we make the prayer; for it would be absurd and abominable to pray for the forgiveness of a sin which we are then in the act of committing.
(4.) This prayer cannot properly be made in respect to any sin of which we have not repented; for it would be highly abominable in the sight of God, to pray for the forgiveness of a sin of which we did not repent.
(5.) If there be any hour or day in which a man has committed no actual sin, he could not consistently make this prayer in reference to that hour or that day.
(6.) But at the very time, it would be highly proper for him to make this prayer in relation to all his past sins, and that too, although he may have repented of, and confessed them, and prayed for their forgiveness, a thousand times before. This does not imply a doubt whether God has forgiven the sins of which we have repented; but it is only a renewal of our grief and humiliation for our sins, and a fresh acknowledgment of, and casting ourselves upon, his mercy. God may forgive when we repent before we ask him, and while we abhor ourselves so much as to have no heart to ask for forgiveness; but his having forgiven us does not render the petition improper.
(7.) And although his sins may be forgiven, he ought still to confess them, to repent of them, both in this world and in the world to come. And it is perfectly suitable, so long as he lives in the world, to say the least, to continue to repent, and repeat the request for forgiveness. For myself, I am unable to see why this passage should be made a stumbling-block; for if it be improper to pray for the forgiveness of sins of which we have repented, then it is improper to pray for forgiveness at all. And if this prayer cannot be used with propriety in reference to past sins of which we have already repented, it cannot properly be used at all, except upon the absurd supposition, that we are to pray for the forgiveness of sins which we are now committing, and of which we have not repented. And if it be improper to use this form of prayer in reference to all past sins of which we have repented, it is just as improper to use it in reference to sins committed to-day or yesterday, of which we have repented.
5. Another objection is founded on Jam_3:1-2 : “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” Upon this passage I remark:
(1.) The term rendered masters here, may be rendered teachers, critics, or censors, and be understood either in a good or bad sense. The Apostle exhorts the brethren not to be many masters, because if they are so, they will incur the greater condemnation; “for,” says he, “in many things we offend all.” The fact that we all offend is here urged as a reason why we should not be many masters; which shows that the term masters is here used in a bad sense. “Be not many masters,” for if we are masters, “we shall receive the greater condemnation,” because we are all great offenders. Now I understand this to be the simple meaning of this passage; do not many [or any] of you become censors, or critics, and set yourselves up to judge and condemn others. For inasmuch as you have all sinned yourselves, and we are all great offenders, we shall receive the greater condemnation, if we set ourselves up as censors. “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
(2.) It does not appear to me that the apostle designs to affirm anything at all of the present character of himself, or of those to whom he wrote; nor to have had the remotest allusion to the doctrine of entire sanctification, but simply to affirm a well-established truth in its application to a particular sin; that if they became censors, and injuriously condemned others, inasmuch as they had all committed many sins, they should receive the greater condemnation.
(3.) That the apostle did not design to deny the doctrine of Christian perfection or entire sanctification, as maintained in these lectures, seems evident from the fact, that he immediately subjoins, “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”
6. Another objection is founded upon 1Jo_1:8 : “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Upon this I remark:
(1.) Those who make this passage an objection to the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, assume that the apostle is here speaking of sanctification instead of justification; whereas an honest examination of the passage, if I mistake not, will render it evident that the apostle makes no allusion here to sanctification, but is speaking solely of justification. A little attention to the connexion in which this verse stands will, I think, render this evident. But before I proceed to state what I understand to be the meaning of this passage, let us consider it in the connexion in which it stands, in the sense in which they understand it who quote it for the purpose of opposing the sentiment advocated in these lectures.
They understand the apostle as affirming, that, if we say we are in a state of entire sanctification and do not sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Now if this were the apostle’s meaning, he involves himself in this connexion in two flat contradictions.
(2.) This verse is immediately preceded by the assertion that the “blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” Now it would be very remarkable, if immediately after this assertion the apostle should mean to say, (as they suppose he did,) that it does not cleanse us from all sin, and if we say it does, we deceive ourselves; for he had just asserted, that the blood of Jesus Christ does cleanse us from all sin. If this were his meaning, it involves him in as palpable a contradiction as could be expressed.
(3.) This view of the subject then represents the apostle in the conclusion of the seventh verse, as saying, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin; and in the eighth verse, as saying, that if we suppose ourselves to be cleansed from all sin, we deceive ourselves, thus flatly contradicting what he had just said. And in the ninth verse he goes on to say, that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness;” that is, the blood of Jesus cleanseth us from all sin; but if we say it does, we deceive ourselves. “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Now, all unrighteousness is sin. If we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, we are cleansed from sin. And now suppose a man should confess his sin, and God should in faithfulness and justice forgive his sin, and cleanse him from all unrighteousness, and then he should confess and profess that God had done this; are we to understand, that the apostle would then affirm that he deceives himself, in supposing that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin? But, as I have already said, I do not understand the apostle as affirming anything in respect to the present moral character of any one, but as speaking of the doctrine of justification.
This then appears to me to be the meaning of the whole passage. If we say that we are not sinners, that is, have no sin to need the blood of Christ; that we have never sinned, and consequently need no Saviour, we deceive ourselves. For we have sinned, and nothing but the blood of Christ cleanseth from sin, or procures our pardon and justification. And now, if we will not deny, but confess that we have sinned, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “But if we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
7. It has been objected to the view I have given of Jer. xxxi. 31-34, that if that passage is to be considered as a promise of entire sanctification, it proves too much, inasmuch as it is said, “they shall all know the Lord from the least to the greatest;” therefore, says the objector, it would prove that all the Church has been in a state of entire sanctification ever since the commencement of the New Testament dispensation. To this objection I answer:–
(1.) I have already, I trust, shown that this promise is conditioned upon faith, and that the blessing cannot possibly be received but by faith.
(2.) It is doubtless true, that many may have received this covenant in its fulness.
(3.) A promise may be unconditional or absolute, and certain of a fulfilment in relation to the whole church as a body, in some period of its history, which is nevertheless conditional, in relation to its application to any particular individual, or generation of individuals.
(4.) I think it is in entire keeping with the prophecies, to understand this passage as expressly promising to the Church a day, when all her members shall be sanctified, and “Holiness to the Lord shall be written upon the bells of the horses.” Indeed, it appears to be abundantly foretold, that the church as a body shall in this world enter into a state of entire sanctification in some period of her history, and that this will be the carrying out of the promises of the New Covenant of which we are speaking. But it is by no means an objection to this view of the subject, that all the church have not yet entered into this state.
It has been maintained, that this promise in Jeremiah has been fulfilled already. This has been argued:–
(i.) From the fact that the promise has no condition, expressed or implied, and the responsibility therefore rests with God.
(ii.) That the apostle, in his epistle to the Hebrews, quotes it as to be fulfilled at the advent of Christ. Now to this I answer:–It might as well be argued, that all the rest of the promises and prophecies relating to the gospel-day were fulfilled, because the time had come when the promise is due. Suppose it were denied, that the world would ever be converted, or that there ever would be any more piety in the world than there has been and is at present; and when the promises and prophecies respecting the latter-day glory and the conversion of the world should be adduced in proof that the world is to be converted, it should be replied, that these promises had already been fulfilled, that they were unconditional, and that the advent of the Messiah was the time when they became due. But suppose, that in answer to this, it should be urged, that nothing has ever yet occurred in the history of this world that seems at all to have come up to the meaning of these promises and prophecies, that the world has never been in the state which seems to be plainly described in these promises and prophecies–and that it cannot be, that anything the world has yet experienced is what is meant by such language as is used in the Bible, in relation to the future state of the world. Now suppose to this it should be replied, that the event has shown what the promises and prophecies really meant; that we are to interpret the language by the fact; that as the promises and prophecies were unconditional, and the gospel day has really come when they were to be fulfilled, we certainly know, whatever their language may be, that they meant nothing more than what the world has already realized? This would be precisely like the reasoning of some persons in relation to Jer. xxxi. 31-34. They say:–
(a.) The promises are without condition.
(b.) The time has come for their fulfilment. Therefore, the world has realized their fulfilment, and all that was intended by them: that the facts in the case settle the question of construction and interpretation; and we know that they never intended to promise a state of entire sanctification, because, as a matter of fact, no such state has been realized by the church. Indeed! Then the Bible is the most hyperbolical, not to say ridiculous, book in the universe. If what the world has seen in regard to the extension and universal prevalence of the Redeemer’s kingdom, is all that the promises relating to these events really mean, then the Bible of all books in the world is the most calculated to deceive mankind. But who, after all, in the exercise of his sober senses, will admit any such reasoning as this? Who does not know, or may not know, if he will use his common sense, that although these promises and prophecies are unconditionally expressed, yet that they are, as a matter of fact, really conditioned upon a right exercise of human agency, and that a time is to come when the world shall be converted; and that the conversion of the world implies in itself a vastly higher state of religious action in the church, than has for centuries, or perhaps ever been witnessed–and that the promise of the New Covenant is still to be fulfilled in a higher sense than it ever has been? If any man doubts this, I must believe that he does not understand his Bible. Faith, then, is an indispensable condition of the fulfilment of all promises of spiritual blessings, the reception of which involves the exercise of our own agency.
Again: it is not a little curious, that those who give this interpretation to these promises, imagine that they see a very close connexion, if not an absolute identity of our views with those of modern Antinomian Perfectionists. Now, it is of importance to remark, that this is one of the leading peculiarities of that sect. They (the Antinomian Perfectionists) insist that these are promises without condition, and that consequently their own watchfulness, prayers, exertions, and the right exercise of their own agency, are not at all to be taken into the account in the matter of their perseverance in holiness–that the responsibility is thrown entirely upon Christ, inasmuch as his promises are without condition. The thing he has promised, say they, is, that without any condition, he will keep them in a state of entire sanctification, that therefore for them to confess sin is to accuse Christ of breaking his promises. For them to make any efforts at perseverance in holiness, is to set aside the gospel, and go back to the law. For them even to fear that they shall sin, is to fear that Christ will tell a lie. These sayings are not found in their Confession of Faith, but they are held at least by many of them, as every one knows who is at all familiar with their views.
The fact is, that this, and their setting aside the moral law, are the two great errors of their whole system. It would be easy to show, that the adoption of this sentiment, that these promises are without condition, expressed or implied, has led to some of their most fanatical and absurd opinions and practices. They take the ground, that no condition is expressed, and that therefore none is implied; overlooking the fact, that the very nature of the thing promised implies that faith is the condition upon which its fulfilment must depend. It is hoped, therefore, that our brethren who charge us with perfectionism, will be led to see that to themselves, and not to us, does this charge belong.
These are the principal passages that occur to my mind, and those I believe upon which the principal stress has been laid, by the opposers of this doctrine. And as I do not wish to protract the discussion, I shall omit the examination of other passages.
There are many objections to the doctrine of entire sanctification, besides those derived from the passages of scripture which I have considered. Some of these objections are doubtless honestly felt, and deserve to be considered. I will therefore proceed to notice such of them as now occur to my mind.
8. It is objected, that the doctrine of entire and permanent sanctification in this life, tends to the errors of modern perfectionism. This objection has been urged by some good men, and I doubt not, honestly urged. But still I cannot believe that they have duly considered the matter. It seems to me, that one fact will set aside this objection. It is well known that the Wesleyan Methodists have, as a denomination, from the earliest period of their history, maintained this doctrine in all its length and breadth. Now if such is the tendency of the doctrine, it is passing strange that this tendency has never developed itself in that denomination. So far as I can learn, the Methodists have been in a great measure, if not entirely, exempt from the errors held by modern perfectionists. Perfectionists, as a body, and I believe with very few exceptions, have arisen out of those denominations that deny the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life.
Now the reason of this is obvious to my mind. When professors of religion, who have been all their life subject to bondage, begin to inquire earnestly for deliverance from their sins, they have found neither sympathy nor instruction, in regard to the prospect of getting rid of them in this life. Then they have gone to the Bible, and there found, in almost every part of it, Christ presented as a Saviour from their sins. But when they proclaim this truth, they are at once treated as heretics and fanatics by their brethren, until, being overcome of evil, they fall into censoriousness; and finding the church so decidedly and utterly wrong, in her opposition to this one great important truth, they lose confidence in their ministers and the church, and being influenced by a wrong spirit, Satan takes the advantage of them, and drives them to the extreme of error and delusion. This I believe to be the true history of many of the most pious members of the Calvinistic churches. On the contrary, the Methodists are very much secured against these errors. They are taught that Jesus Christ is a Saviour from all sin in this world. And when they inquire for deliverance they are pointed to Jesus Christ as a present and all-sufficient Redeemer. Finding sympathy and instruction on this great and agonizing point, their confidence in their ministers and their brethren remains, and they walk quietly with them.
It seems to me impossible that the tendency of this doctrine should be to the peculiar errors of the modern perfectionists, and yet not an instance occur among all the Methodist ministers, or the thousands of their members, for one hundred years.
And here let me say, it is my full conviction, that there are but two ways in which ministers of the present day can prevent members of their churches from becoming perfectionists. One is, to suffer them to live so far from God, that they will not inquire after holiness of heart; and the other is, most fully to inculcate the glorious doctrine of entire consecration; and that it is the high privilege as well as the duty of Christians, to live in a state of entire consecration to God. I have many additional things to say upon the tendency of this doctrine, but at present this must suffice.
By some it is said to be identical with perfectionism; and attempts are made to show in what particulars antinomian perfectionism and our views are the same. On this I remark:–
(1.) It seems to have been a favourite policy of certain controversial writers for a long time, instead of meeting a proposition in the open field of fair and Christian argument, to give it a bad name, and attempt to put it down, not by force of argument, but by showing that it is identical with, or sustains a near relation to Pelagianism, Antinomianism, Calvinism, or some other ism, against which certain classes of minds are deeply prejudiced. In the recent controversy between what are called old and new school divines, who has not witnessed with pain the frequent attempts that have been made to put down the new school divinity, as it is called, by calling it Pelagianism, and quoting certain passages from Pelagius and other writers, to show the identity of sentiment that exists between them.
This is a very unsatisfactory method of attacking or defending any doctrine. There are no doubt, many points of agreement between Pelagius and all truly orthodox divines, and so there are many points of disagreement between them. There are also many points of agreement between modern perfectionists and all evangelical Christians, and so there are many points of disagreement between them and the Christian church in general. That there are some points of agreement between their views and my own, is no doubt true. And that we totally disagree in regard to those points that constitute their great peculiarities is, if I understand them, also true.
But did I really agree in all points with Augustine, or Edwards, or Pelagius, or the modern perfectionists, neither the good nor the ill name of any of these would prove my sentiments to be either right or wrong. It would remain, after all, to show that those with whom I agreed were either right or wrong, in order, on the one hand, to establish that for which I contend, or on the other, to overthrow that which I maintain. It is often more convenient to give a doctrine or an argument a bad name, than it is soberly and satisfactorily to reply to it.
(2.) It is not a little curious, that we should be charged with holding the same sentiments with the perfectionists; while yet they seem to be more violently opposed to our views, since they have come to understand them, than almost any other persons whatever. I have been informed by one of their leaders, that he regards me as one of the master-builders of Babylon. And I also understand, that they manifest greater hostility to the Oberlin Evangelist than almost any other class of persons.
(3.) I will not take time, nor is it needful, to go into an investigation or a denial, even of the supposed or alleged points of agreement between us and the perfectionists. But, for the present, it must be sufficient to read and examine for yourselves. You have, at the commencement of these lectures upon this subject, their confession of faith drawn up with care, by their leader, in compliance with a particular request; let a comparison of that with what is here taught, settle the question of our agreement or disagreement with that sect.
With respect to the modern perfectionists, those who have been acquainted with their writings, know that some of them have gone much farther from the truth than others. Some of their leading men, who commenced with them, and adopted their name, stopped far short of adopting some of their most abominable errors; still maintaining the authority and perpetual obligation of the moral law; and thus have been saved from going into many of the most objectionable and destructive notions of the sect. There are many more points of agreement between that class of perfectionists and the orthodox church, than between the church and any other class of them. And there are still a number of important points of difference, as every one knows who is possessed of correct information upon this subject.
I abhor the practice of denouncing whole classes of men for the errors of some of that name. I am well aware, that there are many of those who are termed perfectionists, who as truly abhor the extremes of error into which many of that name have fallen, as perhaps do any persons living.
9. Another objection is, that persons could not live in this world, if they were entirely sanctified. Strange! Does holiness injure a man? Does perfect conformity to all the laws of life and health, both physical and moral, render it impossible for a man to live? If a man break off from rebellion against God, will it kill him? Does there appear to have been anything in Christ’s holiness inconsistent with life and health? The fact is, that this objection is founded in a gross mistake, in regard to what constitutes entire sanctification. It is supposed by those who hold this objection, that this state implies a continual and most intense degree of excitement, and many things which are not at all implied in it. I have thought, that it is rather a glorified than a sanctified state, that most men have before their minds, whenever they consider this subject. When Christ was upon earth, he was in a sanctified but not in a glorified state. “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master.” Now, what is there in the moral character of Jesus Christ, as represented in his history, that may not and ought not to be fully copied into the life of every Christian? I speak not of his knowledge, but of his spirit and temper. Ponder well every circumstance of his life that has come down to us, and say, beloved, what is there in it that may not, by the grace of God, be copied into your own? And think you, that a full imitation of him, in all that relates to his moral character, would render it impossible for you to live in the world?
10. Again, it is objected that should we become entirely in the sense of permanently sanctified, we could not know it, and should not be able intelligently to profess it.
I answer: All that a sanctified soul needs to know or profess is, that the grace of God in Christ Jesus is sufficient for him, so that he finds it to be true, as Paul did, that he can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth him, and that he does not expect to sin, but that on the contrary, he is enabled through grace “to reckon himself dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” A saint may not know that he shall never sin again; he may expect to sin no more, because of his confidence, not in his own resolutions, or strength, or attainments, but simply in the infinite grace and faithfulness of Christ. He may come to look upon, to regard, account, reckon himself, as being dead in deed and in fact unto sin, and as having done with it, and as being alive unto God, and to expect henceforth to live wholly to God, as much as he expects to live at all; and it may be true that he will thus live, without his being able to say that he knows that he is entirely, in the sense of permanently, sanctified. This he need not know, but this he may believe upon the strength of such promises as 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 is also true, that a Christian may attain a state in which he will really fall no more into sin, as a matter of fact, while, at the same time, he may not be able to express even a thorough persuasion that he shall never fall again. All he may be able intelligently to say is: “God knoweth I hope to sin no more, but the event will show. May the Lord keep me; I trust that he will.”
11. Another objection is, that the doctrine tends to spiritual pride. And is it true, indeed, that to become perfectly humble tends to pride? But entire humility is implied in entire sanctification. Is it true, that you must remain in sin, and of course cherish pride in order to avoid pride? Is your humility more safe in your own hands, and are you more secure against spiritual pride, in refusing to receive Christ as your helper, than you would be in at once embracing him as a full Saviour?
I have seen several remarks in the papers of late, and have heard several suggestions from various quarters, which have but increased the fear which I have for some time entertained, that multitudes of Christians, and indeed many ministers, have radically defective views of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. To the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, as believed and taught by some of us, it has been frequently of late objected, that prayers offered in accordance with this belief, and by a sanctified soul, would savour strongly of spiritual pride and self-righteousness. I have seen this objection stated in its full force of late, in a religious periodical, in the form of a supposed prayer of a sanctified soul–the object of which was manifestly to expose the shocking absurdity, self-righteousness, and spiritual pride of a prayer, or rather thanksgiving, made in accordance with a belief that one is entirely sanctified. Now, I must confess, that that prayer, together with objections and remarks which suggest the same idea, have created in my mind no small degree of alarm. I fear much that many of our divines, in contending for the doctrines of grace, have entirely lost sight of the meaning of the language they use, and have in reality but very little practical understanding of what is intended by salvation by grace, in opposition to salvation by works. If this is not the case, I know not how to account for their feeling, and for their stating such an objection as this to the doctrine of entire sanctification.
Now, if I understand the doctrine of salvation by grace, both sanctification and justification are wrought by the grace of God, and not by any works or merits of our own, irrespective of the grace of Christ through faith. If this is the real doctrine of the Bible, what earthly objection can there be to our confessing, professing, and thanking God for our sanctification, any more than for our justification. It is true, indeed, that in our justification our own agency is not concerned, while in our sanctification it is. Yet I understand the doctrine of the Bible to be, that both are brought about by grace through faith, and that we should no sooner be sanctified without the grace of Christ, than we should be justified without it. Now, who pretends to deny this? And yet if it is true, of what weight is that class of objections to which I have alluded? These objections manifestly turn upon the idea, no doubt latent and deep seated in the mind, that the real holiness of Christians, in whatever degree it exists, is, in some way, to be ascribed to some goodness originating in themselves, and not in the grace of Christ. But do let me ask, how is it possible that men who entertain, really and practically, right views upon this subject, can by any possibility feel, as if it must be proof conclusive of self-righteousness and Pharisaism, to profess and thank God for sanctification? Is it not understood on all hands, that sanctification is by grace, and that the gospel has made abundant provision for the sanctification of all men? This certainly is admitted by those who have stated this objection. Now, if this is so, which is the most honourable to God, to confess and complain that our sins triumph and gain dominion over us, or to be able truly and honestly to thank Him for having given us the victory over our sins? God has said, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
Now, in view of this and multitudes of kindred promises, suppose we come to God, and say: “O Lord, thou hast made these great and precious promises, but, as a matter of fact, they do not accord with our own experience. For sin does continually have dominion over us. Thy grace is not sufficient for us. We are continually overcome by temptation, notwithstanding thy promise, that in every temptation thou wilt make a way for us to escape. Thou hast said, the truth shall make us free, but we are not free. We are still the slaves of our appetites and lusts.”
Now, which, I inquire, is the most honourable to God, to go on with a string of confessions and self-accusations, that are in flat contradiction to the promises of God, and almost, to say the least, a burlesque upon the grace of the gospel, or to be able, through grace, to confess that we have found it true in our own experience, that his grace is sufficient for us–that as our day is so our strength is, and that sin does not have dominion over us, because we are not under the law, but under grace?
To this I know it will be answered, that in this confessing of our sins we do not impeach the grace or faithfulness of God, inasmuch as all these promises are conditioned upon faith, and consequently, that the reason of our remaining in sin is to be ascribed to our unbelief, and is therefore no disparagement to the grace of Christ. But I beg, that it may be duly considered, that faith itself is of the operation of God–is itself produced by grace; and therefore the fact of our being obliged to confess our unbelief is a dishonour to the grace of Christ. Is it honourable or dishonourable to God, that we should be able to confess that even our unbelief is overcome, and that we are able to testify from our own experience, that the grace of the gospel is sufficient for our present salvation and sanctification? There is no doubt a vast amount of self-righteousness in the church, which, while it talks of grace, really means nothing by it. For a man to go any farther than to hope that he is converted, seems to many minds to savour of self-righteousness. Now, why is this, unless they themselves entertain self-righteous notions in regard to conversion? Many persons would feel shocked to hear a man in prayer unqualifiedly thank God that he had been converted and justified. And they might just as well feel shocked at this, and upon precisely the same principle, as to feel shocked, if he should unqualifiedly thank God that he had been sanctified by his grace.
But again, I say, that the very fact that a man feels shocked to hear a converted or a sanctified soul unqualifiedly thank God for the grace received, shows that down deep in his heart lies concealed a self-righteous view of the way of salvation, and that in his mind all holiness in Christians is a ground of boasting; and that, if persons have become truly and fully sanctified, they really have a ground of boasting before God. I know not how else to account for this wonderful prejudice. For my own part, I do not conceive it to be the least evidence of self-righteousness, when I hear a man sincerely and heartily thank God for converting and justifying him by his grace. Nor should I feel either shocked, horrified, or disgusted, to hear a man thank God, that he had sanctified him wholly by his grace. If in either or both cases I had the corroborative evidence of an apparently holy life, I should bless God, take courage, and feel like, calling on all around to glorify God for such an instance of his glorious and excellent grace.
The feeling seems to be very general, that such a prayer or thanksgiving is similar, in fact, and in the principle upon which it rests, with that of the Pharisee noticed by our Saviour. But what reason is there for this assumption? We are expressly informed, that that was the prayer of a Pharisee. But the Pharisees were self-righteous, and expressly and openly rejected the grace of Christ. The Pharisee then boasted of his own righteousness, originating in, and consummated by, his own goodness, and not in the grace of Christ. Hence he did not thank God, that the grace of Christ has made him unlike other men. Now, this prayer was designed to teach us the abominable folly of any man’s putting in a claim to righteousness and true holiness, irrespective of the grace of God by Jesus Christ. But certainly this is an infinitely different thing from the thanksgiving of a soul, who fully recognizes the grace of Christ, and attributes his sanctification entirely to that grace. And I cannot see how a man, who has entirely divested himself of Pharisaical notions in respect to the doctrine of sanctification, can suppose these two prayers to be analogous in their principle and spirit.