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with the Almighty to serve him with your bodies and spirits, which are his? May these reflections sink deep into the hearts of all the youth who hear me to-night, and be the means of directing your feet into the way of light, life, and peace.
On the Nature, Introduction, and Progress of Christian Perfection
in the Heart and Life of a Believer.
" That which is born of the Spirit, is Spirit.”—John iii., 6.
The nature of Christian perfection, although clearly and fully taught in the Bible, is not very well understood, and but seldom inculcated. Even those who have written upon the subject, appear to have but confused and indefinite ideas respecting it; their minds are full of confusion, and they have expressed themselves in a vague and indefinite manner, and too often darkened counsel by multiplying words without knowledge. We propose, in the discussion of this subject, to consider the nature, the introduction, and the progress of Christian perfection in the heart and life of a believer.
I. In describing the nature of Christian perfection, in order to prevent misapprehension, it will be necessary, in the first place, to state what is not meant by Christian perfection.
1. The perfection required is not a perfection of knowledge, even to the extent of our limited powers. It does, however, imply a degree of knowledge ; for a state of entire ignorance is incompatible with the exercise of Christian graces, or the discharge of Christian duties. We must have a knowledge of God in order to love him, and we must possess a knowledge of his will in order to obey him. There are many things we can never know or understand, arising from our limited capacities. This is called, by moralists, an invincible ignorance, in which the will does not participate. But there is a wilful and obstinate ignorance which is highly criminal, an ignorance arising from prejudice and neglect. No man is obliged to learn and know everything which is capable of being known, for this is utterly impossible; yet all persons are under some obligations to improve their own understanding; otherwise, it would be like a barren desert, or a forest overgrown with weeds and brambles. Universal ignorance, and infinite error will overspread the mind which is utterly neglected, and lies without any cultivation. Christian perfection, then, implies a degree of knowledge, but does not consist in a perfection of knowledge, or of knowing all that can possibly be known. It consists more in a right use of knowledge, than in a possession of knowledge, abstractly considered.
2. It does not consist in eminent native powers of the mind, or of the soul. The natural attributes which every man possesses are the gift of God, and possess no moral quality. Men greatly differ in the strength and weakness of these attributes, but the most giant intellect possess no more holiness than the most slender intellect. All the native strength we possess, whether of mind or of body, are entirely the gift of the Creator. Some men possess powerful intellects, capacious minds, and are capable of taking a wide and comprehensive view of almost any subject; and, at the same time, possess weak and slender bodies. On the other hand, other men possess feeble powers of mind, and strong and athletic bodies. But Christian perfection does not consist in the height or shortness of our stature, in the strength or weakness of our muscles, or in the force or imbecility of our minds. We have no control over these native powers; they do not come under the direction of the will, and, consequently, possess no moral quality. We are praiseworthy or blameable as to the use we make of these powers, and not with reference to their possession.
3. Christian perfection does not imply an exemption from infirmities. Absolute perfection belongs to God alone. He possesses every natural and moral perfection in an infinite degree, and is, therefore, exempt from every infirmity. But all the powers of man, in both body and mind, are created and finite, and, therefore, defective. Everything which God has created is limited and dependent, and, therefore, defective ; and, consequently, attended with many infirmities. Man possesses limited powers of mind, and, consequently, he must necessarily be fallible-he is fallible in his judgment, in his knowledge, and in his practice. He has infirmities both of body and mind, and will necessarily exhibit many defects in conversation and behavior. Some are very beautiful in person, and others are very ugly; some are very pleasing in their manners, and others are very disagreeable; some are very engaging in conversation, and others are very repulsive. Numerous infirmities will necessarily attend men of limited powers and capacities; and these infirmities will be greater in some than in others, even where there is no moral turpitude. But we are not to suppose that every infirmity is a sin. Men may err with the purest intentions—they may err from the want of information—they may err through attachment, or misplaced confidence. The exercise of the best intentions and the purest love, may lead men into extravagancies and difficulties, and may be the occasion of much pain and sorrow, where there is neither guilt nor crime. Christian perfection, then, is not a freedom from infirmities. Infirmities necessarily arise from our limited powers and faculties, and will necessarily attend us while our powers and faculties remain limited. A freedom from infirmities belongs alone to the Supreme Being, because he alone possesses every absolute perfection.
4. Christian perfection does not consist in a freedom from temp
tation. While we remain in the world, we shall be obnoxious to temptation. We are placed in a state of trial for the wisest and the best of purposes; and while we have animal bodies and fleshly appetites, temptations will arise thick and fast on every hand. We shall be attacked by temptations without, and temptations within ; and they will thoroughly prove and try the strength of out attachment to virtuous principles. But the mind may be sorely tried with fleshly appetites, and not sin. The Apostle James says: Every man is tempted when he is drawn away with his own lust and enticed. Sin does not consist in being tempted, but in yielding to temptations. A person may be tempted by Satan, or by the world, as well as by fleshly appetites, and yet commit no sin. All sin consists in the voluntary surrender of ourselves to evil concupi
If temptation is sin, then our Lord must have been a very great sinner, for he was in all points tempted like us we are ; but the apostle declares him to have been without sin. It is, then, no sin to be tempted, provided we resist the temptation and maintain our Christian integrity.
5. Christian perfection does not imply a freedom from the Christian warfare. Our spiritual enemies are numerous and powerful, and will remain so while we continue in the body. He who imagines otherwise, will find himself miserably disappointed. This life is the school of discipline, where we are trained to holiness and purity; and we must not only wage war against the world, the flesh, and the devil, but we must maintain the conflict against them with unabated ardor, and unyielding hostility. In this warfare, all our Christian graces will be called into active exercise ; and in this school of discipline will become greatly improved and strengthened. Armed with the panoply of heaven, and fighting under the Captain of our salvation, it is certain that we shall vanquish our spiritual foes; but we should remember they still live. They have been repelled, but not exterminated. In due time they will renew the assault, and although repulsed a thousand times, yet they will continue to harass us as long as we remain in the world. There is no safety in laying down our arms, or sleeping upon our post. We must maintain our watch, and be continually armed for the conflict, as long as life remains. There is no other safety or security for us, as long as we are within the reach of the enemies' arrows.
6. Christian perfection does not consist in ecstacies and raptures. We admit that true piety is warm and ardent, and is attended with a high state of devotional feeling. If we love God supremely, the spirit of love will overcome and subdue every opposite emotion, and will diffuse itself throughout the whole heart. And when this is the state of the mind, the heart will be warm with love, and a glow of generous and benevolent feeling will swallow up every other emotion of the soul; and this state of feeling will be constant and abiding. Not a few persons, however, have mistaken rhapsodies and ecstacies for the spirit of devotion, and have vainly ima
gined, because they have been strongly excited, and continually excited, that they are, therefore, wholly sanctified. It should be remembered that excitement depends very much upon the state of the nerves;
persons are much more excitable than others : and that the nerves of all persons are more excitable when enfeebled by disease, than in the enjoyment of good health. A high state of excitement, instead of being an evidence of full sanctification, is sometimes the result of weakness, either of body or mind, and is more a defect than a virtue. Too much excitement on one subject frequently disqualifies persons for the proper and regular discharge of important duties. True piety, instead of spending all its force on emotions, and passing off in ecstasies and rhapsodies, in shouts and praises, will lead its possessor to obey God in all things, and discharge every social and relative duty. It is a mistaken notion of Christian perfection, to suppose that it disqualifies a man to live on earth, and merely fits and prepares him to serve God in heaven. So far from this supposition being correct, true holiness qualifies a man to discharge all the relative and social duties of life more uniformly and faithfully. When every power of the soul is brought under the great principles of justice and equity, of truth and righteousness, the mind will be freed from a sinful prejudice and bias; and, consequently, every social and relative duty will be more easily, readily, and cheerfully performed.
7. Christian perfection does not convert men into ascetics, and drive them into cloisters and monasteries. Some have placed the essence of religion in a pensive and melancholy state of mind, which leads to seclusion and retirement. This kind of religion was very popular in the days of Origen, and continues to remain so still in the Romish church. But this is altogether a mistaken view of Christian purity, and has been perverted to the most vicious practices. Man was made a social being, and Christianity is a social religion. It does not call men out of the active pursuits of life, and drive them into seclusion and retirement; but calls them to holiness and virtue, and qualifies them for the right and full performance of those duties which are necessary for all Christians, and common to all states of life. When our Lord was in the world. he freely mingled with all classes and conditions of men, and did good to all, as opportunity presented. And he has styled Christians the salt of the earth, the city set upon a hill, the light of the world ; and has commanded them to let their light so shine before men, that they may see their good works; but how can this be done when their religion drives them into retirement ?. Instead of letting their light shine, they will put it under a bushel, and thus deprive the world of the benefit which they might derive from their pious 'examples and Christian efforts to benefit society. Christian perfection consists in the possession of those holy tempers, and in the performance of all the duties of life which Christianity requires. And if this be perfection, who can exceed it? And yet, what state
or circumstances of life, can allow any people to fall short of it? Let us remember, that Christian perfection is of a practical, as well as of a devotional character; and that it equally requires the regular discharge of social duties, as well as of devotional exercises.
8. The perfection required in the Scriptures is not that infinite moral perfection which belongs alone to God. God is infinite in all his perfections, and, consequently, infallible; but the attributes of man are finite, and, consequently, he is, and must necessarily remain fallible ; he is wholly incapable of either the attainment or exercise of infinite perfection. Holiness, justice, and truth, essentially belong to God, and can never be separated from him. The Scriptures uniformly declare that these infinite perfections are unattainable by man; and that he is vile when contrasted with the infinitely holy and pure God. All created intelligences, angels as well as men, are destitute of the infinite perfections of God. All the writers against Christian perfections have assumed, as the true standard by which we are to be tried, the infinite moral perfections of God, and then have gone on to declare that no such perfection is attain. able. But this is not the question at issue; for such a perfection no man contends, and the Scriptures no where demand it of us.
II. Having shown what is not Christian perfection, we proceed, in the second place, to define and explain it. There are many terms employed by the sacred writers, which either imply or express this doctrine. În the illustration of the doctrine, we shall not confine ourselves to a single expression, but consider the various terms which are employed by the inspired writers to express and enforce the doctrine. It is variously termed perfection, sanctification, holiness, purity, (uprightness, integrity, sincerity,) love, and righteousness.
1. Perfection, as the word is used in the Scriptures, signifies that state or quality of a thing, in which it is free from defect or redundancy. It is very properly applied to weights and measures. God said to the Jews, Thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have. A weight, which is neither too light nor too heavy, is a perfect weight; and a measure, which is neither too long nor too short, is a perfect measure. According to the Mosaic law, both the priest and the offering must be perfect, in order that the sacrifice might be acceptable to God; if there was a defect or blemish in either, the sacrifice was not acceptable. According to this law, a man in the enjoyment of good health, well formed, and entire in all his parts, was a perfect man; and so a lamb free from blemish was a perfect lamb. Moral perfection is also enjoined in the Old and New Testaments. Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. The perfection here enjoined refers both to the inward dispositions of the heart, and to the outward acts of the life. When the heart and the life are brought into an entire conformity of the divine law, the holy will of God, the man, in the language of the Bible, is perfect. According to this