LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

Home   About Us   Holiness Library   Bible Prophecy   Listen to Sermons  History of the Holiness Movement   Early English Bibles   Bible Studies   Links

 

 

 

 

DISCOURSE II.

 

 

PERFECTION IN HOLINESS ATTAINABLE.

 

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”—Matthew 5:48.

 

THE object of the preceding discourse was, to illustrate and explain the nature of Christian perfection. The object of the present discourse is to answer the inquiry, Is such a state attainable in this life?”—to ascertain the fact, whether it is practicable for us, as Christians, to consecrate our entire being, with all its powers and susceptibilities, to Christ, and to live under the continual influence of the all-pervading and all-controlling principle of pure and perfect love—of faith on the Son of God?”

I use the terms attainable and practicable, with reference not merely to our power as moral agents, but also with respect to the provisions and promises of Divine grace. If provision is made in the Gospel for the entire sanctification of believers in this life; if God has promised to render those “perfect in every good work to do his will,” by whom he is inquired of by faith to do it for them,—then is such a state, in the highest and most common acceptation of the term, attainable; and we are under the most sacred obligation to aim at that state, with the full and joyful expectation of attaining it.

The question now returns, Is perfection in holiness, in the sense of the term as above explained, attainable in this life? That it is attainable, I argue from the following reasons:—

I. The Bible positively affirms that provision is made in the Gospel for the attainment of that state, and that to make such provision is one of the great objects of Christ’s redemption. Romans 8:3 –4,—“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.” The phrase “righteousness of the law,” obviously means the precepts of the law, or the moral rectitude which the law requires. This I argue, 1st, From the fact that the same phrase is undeniably used in this sense in the preceding part of the epistle, chap. 2:26,—“If the circumcision keep the righteousness [the precepts] of the law.” Without the best of reasons, we should not suppose the apostle to use the same phrase, in entirely different senses, in the same epistle. 2nd, Justification, the only other sense ever, I believe, attributed to the phrase under consideration, is never in the Bible called the justification of the law, but is definitely distinguished from it, by being called “justification by faith.” 3rd, If justification were the thing primarily referred to in this phrase, still the moral rectitude required by the law, i.e., sanctification, is also implied in it. For, if Christ should justify, and not to the same extent sanctify his people, he would save them in, and not from, their sins. The phrase “righteousness of the law,” then, directly and primarily means, or obviously implies, the precepts of the law, or the moral rectitude required by the law. To have this righteousness fulfilled in us, implies, that it be perfectly accomplished in us, or, that we are brought into perfect conformity to the moral rectitude required by the law. This is declared to be one of the great objects of Christ’s death. Such conformity, then, is practicable to the Christian, or Christ failed to accomplish one of the prime purposes of his redemption.

Again, 1 Peter 2:24 ,—“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sin, might live unto righteousness.” To be dead to sin, and alive unto righteousness, implies entire sanctification; or, to be dead in sin, does not imply total depravity. That we might be thus dead, and thus alive, Christ “bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” Entire sanctification, then, is attainable, or Christ failed, in one important respect, to finish the work which his Father “gave him to do.”

2 Corinthians 5:15 ,—“And he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him that died for them, and rose again.” In other words, Christ died that his people might be free from all selfishness, and become purely and perfectly benevolent. Did he fail to accomplish his work?”

2 Peter 1:4 ,—“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

2 Corinthians 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.” If to “escape the corruption that is in the world through lust,” and to be “made partakers of the Divine nature,” to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” and to “perfect holiness,” do not imply entire sanctification, how, I ask, can that doctrine be expressed? That the Christian may be thus sanctified is the declared object for which the promises were given. Who will deny that they are adequate to this object? Unless they are thus inadequate, perfection in holiness is, in this life, practicable to the Christian.

Under this head I might cite many other passages, equally to my purpose; but these must suffice. On these and other kindred passages, I have one remark to make, to which the special attention of the reader is invited. It is this: We have the same evidence from the Bible, that provision is made for the entire sanctification of Christians, that we have that provision is made for their entire justification. Any principles of interpretation that will show that provision is not made for the former, will be equally conclusive to show that it is not made for the latter.

II. Perfection in holiness is promised to the Christian in the new covenant under which he is now placed. To present this part of the subject distinctly before the reader’s mind, we will first inquire what is the old or first covenant.

Exodus 34:27 28,—“And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words; for after the tenor of these words have I made a covenant with thee and with Israel . And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” Deuteronomy 9:11, 15 ,—“And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the Lord gave me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant.” “So I turned, and came down from the mount, and the mount burned with fire; and the two tables of the covenant were in my hands.” The first, or the old covenant, then, is the moral law, that law by which we are required to “love the Lord our God with all our powers, and our neighbor as ourselves.” This covenant, as we learn from Hebrews 9:1 –4, had annexed to it the types and shadows of the ancient dispensation. “Then verily the first covenant had” attached to it “ordinances of Divine service, and a worldly sanctuary,” etc.

What the new covenant is, we learn from Jeremiah 31:31 –34, and Hebrews 8:8 –11,—“Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt (which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord); but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more.”

The following blessings, specifically promised in this covenant, demand our special attention:—1. A confirmed state of pure and perfect holiness, such as the first covenant, or moral law, demands—“I will put my law In their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” 2. The pardon of all sin, or perfect justification—“I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more.” 3. The perpetual fruition of the Divine presence and favor—“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” 4. The general spread of the Gospel among mankind—“All shall know me.”

We will now notice the relations of these two covenants.

I. The same standard of character, perfect holiness, is common to both.

II. What the old covenant requires of Christians, the new promises to them. For example,—

1st, The old covenant requires perfect holiness. Its language is, “Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God;” “He that keepeth the whole law, and yet offendeth in one point, is guilty of all.”

On the other hand, the new covenant promises to the believer perfect holiness. Jeremiah 31:32 ,—“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel : After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” See also Hebrews 8:10 . Here, as above remarked, the very thing which the moral law requires is positively promised to the believer. Ezekiel 36:25 –27,—“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” Is it in the power of language to express the doctrine of entire sanctification, if it is not here expressed?

Jeremiah 50:20 ,—“In those days, and at that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah , and they shall not be found; for I will pardon them whom I reserve.” What other thought, let me ask, is such language adapted to convey but this,—a state of entire sanctification?

Deuteronomy 30:6 ,—“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” Here the perfect holiness required by the law is promised in the very words of the law itself.

Again, 2nd, The old covenant or moral law requires not only perfect, but perpetual holiness. Galatians 3:10 ,—“Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”

The new covenant, on the other hand, promises not only perfect but perpetual holiness. Jeremiah 32:39 –40,—“And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” If, to give to Christians one heart and one way, that they may fear God for ever, and never depart from him, does not imply, not only perfect, but perpetual holiness, we may truly say that language cannot express that idea.

Ezekiel 37:23 ,—“Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions.” Every one will perceive, that if the Holy Spirit has not here given us the promise, not only of perfect, but perpetual holiness, he has made as near an approach to it as is in the power of language to make, and that, if he had designed to express that promise, no stronger language could possibly have been used.

The same truth is taught with equal distinctness in Isaiah 59:21 , and Luke 1:74 – 75,—“As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord: My Spirit which is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.” “That he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”

I cite but one other passage under this head—a passage, which, if we had none others of the kind in the Bible, would place the doctrine under consideration upon an eternal rock. 1Thessalonians 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.” Here we have, 1. A prayer for perfect and perpetual holiness, dictated by the direct inspiration of the Spirit of God. Who can believe that the Holy Spirit has dictated a prayer which is not “according to the will of God,” and which he requires us to believe that God will never answer by the bestowment of the blessing “desired of him?”

2. We have the positive declaration of God himself, that this blessing, when asked in faith, shall be granted—“Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” On the promises of Scripture, as thus presented, I remark,—

I. That we have evidence just as conclusive, that perfect and perpetual holiness is promised to Christians, as we have that it is required of them. Any principles of interpretation that would prove that the former is not promised, would be equally conclusive to show that the latter is not required.

II. We have the same evidence from Scripture, that all Christians may, and that some of them will, attain to a state of entire sanctification in this life, that we have that they will attain to that state in heaven. No passages can be adduced which more positively affirm the latter than the former. Any principles of interpretation that will show that such passages as I have cited, and shall hereafter cite, do not prove the practicability of perfect holiness here, will annihilate all evidence that heaven itself is a state of perfect and perpetual purity.

An objection, deserving a passing notice, is sometimes brought to the view of the new covenant here given. This covenant, it is said, is applicable to the Jews only. To this position I reply,—

1st, That to the converted Jew, at least, entire sanctification is undeniably attainable. Why deny it to other Christians?

2nd, Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, does he, as mediator, sustain one relation to the Jewish, and another to the Gentile Christian? Has he not “broken down the wall of partition between them,” and made both one?

3rd, In Ephesians 3:6 , and elsewhere, we learn that the Gentiles have become “fellow-heirs,” and “of the same body,” and partakers of the same promise with the Jews.

4th, The promise, from Thessalonians, above cited, is expressly addressed to all Christians, without discrimination.[1]

III. I infer that a state of perfect holiness is attainable in this life, from the commands of Scripture, addressed to Christians under the new covenant. I refer here, not merely to the fact, that perfect holiness is required of Christians, but to the manner and circumstances in which these commands are given. A general sends to a subordinate officer a dispatch containing several distinct and specific requisitions. The officer selects one of these requisitions, given in the same manner and circumstances as all the rest, and affirms, that his commander never expected obedience to this command, and that it would be criminal to suppose he did. What would be thought of such a conclusion? In the light of this illustration let us first contemplate the command of Christ, Matthew 5:48 ,—“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” To every other precept found in this discourse, all admit that obedience is not only required, but expected. On what authority, I ask, is this one precept selected from the midst of such requisitions, as a solitary command to which obedience is not expected—a command clothed in similar language, given at the same time, and under the same circumstances as all the others among which it is found?

Again, 2 Corinthians 13:11 ,—“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” Why except the first of these precepts, and maintain that obedience to all the rest is expected? How could the expectations of the Spirit be more clearly indicated, respecting the precept, “Be perfect,” than by clustering it, in this manner, with other precepts, in respect to which we know that such expectations exist?

2 Corinthians 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.” Who would dare affirm to the Christian, that what he is here exhorted and commanded to do, he never can nor will do, and that it is heresy for him to expect it?

1 Timothy 6:13 –14,—“I give thee charge, in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Jesus Christ, who, before Pontius Pilate, witnessed a good confession, that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The command here referred to, as any one will see, who will read the context, includes everything required of Christians. Let us suppose that Timothy had answered this epistle, informing Paul that he had read his charge with solemn interest, and that, by the grace of God, he expected to keep it. What should we think, if, in Paul’s second epistle, such a rejoinder as this were found:—“Timothy, your letter to me has filled me with amazement and sorrow of heart. You have become a wild fanatic—a Perfectionist. How could you have misunderstood me so much, as to suppose that I ever dreamed that you would expect to keep that awful charge?” Why should we be shocked at such a reply? Simply because we cannot believe that such a charge could be dictated by the Spirit of God, not only in the absence of all expectation that it would be kept, but with the intention of impressing the subject with the opposite belief.

IV. I argue, that perfection in holiness is attainable in this life, from the fact, that the attainment of this state in this life is the declared object for which the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of God’s people, and for which all the gifts that Christ bestowed upon the Church when he ascended up on high were conferred. Ephesians 3:14 –21,—“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” Also Ephesians 4:11 –16,—“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lay in wait to deceive; but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”—To be “filled with all the fulness of God” implies, unquestionably, that we be put in possession of all the moral perfections of God, as far as finite can resemble infinite; which can be nothing less than entire perfection in holiness. The same thing is, with equal manifestness, implied in the phrases “unity of the faith,” “unto a perfect man,” and “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Verses 14–16, chap. 4, make it undeniably evident that these passages are to be understood with reference to this life. Now, that Christians may attain to this state of perfect holiness, is the declared object for which the Holy Spirit is here represented as dwelling in the hearts of God’s people, and for which the ministry of reconciliation, etc., was conferred upon the Church, by our Saviour, when he “ascended up on high, and gave gifts unto men.” Thus Christ expressly adapted means to an end, which means are inadequate to that end? If not, perfection in holiness is not only to be regarded as attainable, but to be expected, in this life.

V. As a fifth argument in favor of the attainableness of entire sanctification in this life, we will now consider the prayer dictated by our Saviour to his disciples, together with the one put up by him, in behalf of the Church, on the evening preceding his crucifixion. Who can believe that Christ has dictated a standing petition for the Church, which he requires her to believe that it is not for the glory of God to answer? Matthew 6:10 ,—“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That this is a prayer for perfection in holiness, none, I presume, will deny. From the fact that Christ dictated this petition, I infer, 1st, That the object of this petition is agreeable to the will of God, and, consequently, that when the Church puts up the petition in faith, she will be heard, and will have the petition which she desired of him. 2nd, That, in the petition, we have the pledge of Christ, that it shall be granted when asked in faith, just as the petition, “Thy kingdom come,” contains a pledge that that kingdom shall come.

Again, John 17:20 –23,—“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they, also, may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gayest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

On this passage I remark, 1st, That the union here prayed for is a union of perfect love—“As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.” In other words, perfection in holiness is the object of this prayer. 2nd, The salvation of the world is declared to be suspended upon the existence of this love among believers—“That the world may believe and know that thou hast sent me.” Consequently, we must admit that this love, and consequent union, will exist among believers, or maintain, 1st, That Christ, at that solemn hour, prayed for that which he requires us to believe that it is not for the glory of God to bestow upon his children. 2nd, That the world are never to believe in Christ. Christian, ponder this prayer, and then ask yourself if you can believe, or dare affirm, that this love shall never, in this life, exist in your heart.

VI. I argue, that perfection in holiness is attainable in this life, and that the sacred writers intended to teach the doctrine, from the fact, that inspired men made the attainment of this particular state the subject of definite, fervent, and constant prayer.

Colossians 4:12 —“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” Hebrews 13:20 –21—“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.” The prayer of the apostle, in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 , is also distinctly before the reader’s mind,—“The very God of peace sanctify you wholly,” etc. On these, and kindred passages, I remark—

1. Such prayers are in perfect conformity with the prayer of Christ himself in behalf of his Church, as recorded in John 17:20 –23, and cited above. They are also in conformity with the standing petition which Christ dictated to his Church—“Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in Heaven.”

2. All such prayers were dictated by direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Now, in Romans 8:27 , we learn, that the “Spirit maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” In 1 John 5:14 –15, we also learn, that this is the confidence that we live in him [Christ], and if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us, we know that whatsoever we ask, we have the petitions that we desired of him.” Have we not, then, proof positive, that when we pray, and pray in faith for perfect holiness, that blessing will be bestowed upon us? Is it possible, reader, for us to believe, that Christ himself prayed, and taught his Church to pray, and the Holy Spirit inspired and influenced apostles and saints to pray, for a blessing which the Scriptures require us to believe God will not bestow upon his people?

3. Let us suppose that God has revealed to us the fact, that he has made no provision for the bestowment of a certain blessing upon us; that whatever our prayers, intentions, and efforts actually may be, infinite wisdom has unchangeably determined to withhold the grace necessary to its attainment in this life.

Would it be proper for us, under such circumstances, to pray for that blessing? What would such a prayer be, less than a request that God would reverse the revealed dictates of infinite wisdom? In what other light shall we regard the prayers of inspired men for the perfect holiness of Christians, on the supposition that God had revealed to them the fact, that no provisions were made in the Gospel for the bestowment of that blessing; that he had irreversibly determined not to confer the grace necessary to its attainment, whatever the prayers and efforts of the people actually might be; and that it is a dangerous error for them to suppose the opposite? Is not the fact, that inspired men prayed thus fervently and constantly for this blessing, the highest possible evidence that they regarded the attainment of the blessing as coming within the range of the provisions and promises of Divine grace?

VII. I infer that perfect holiness is attainable in this life, from the many promises of Scripture which are conditioned on this state. For example, Isaiah 26:3 ,—“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.” Matthew 6:22 ,—If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” 2 Corinthians 13:11 .—“Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” Philippians 4:6 –7—“Be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through Christ Jesus.” All the blessings promised in such passages, of which the Bible is full, are conditioned, directly or indirectly, on the existence of perfect holiness in the subject. When, for example, God promises “perfect peace to those whose minds are stayed on him,” the condition of the promise is, of course, perfect faith, or confidence; because the want of such confidence would forfeit the blessing, or render the enjoyment of it an impossibility. So also the “single eye,” the command, “be perfect,” and “be careful for nothing,” etc., directly require the same thing, a state of perfect holiness. Does God promise to his people, in this life, blessings of infinite value, upon conditions which he requires them to regard as impracticable? What is this but the most solemn mockery conceivable? A parent continually holds before his children promises of the richest blessings in his power to bestow, but all pledged upon the conditions with which he holds it criminal in them to believe they will ever comply. What would he thought of such a parent? Shall we charge such conduct upon God?

In reply to the above argument, it is sometimes said that Christians do experience the fulfilment of these promises in proportion to their fidelity. Very true, I reply. This fact, however, does not in the least diminish the force of the argument, as above stated. God does hold out the richest blessings upon the definite condition of perfect holiness in us. Now as is true, according to the common theory, he requires us to believe that these blessings are proffered upon a condition with which we shall not comply, what is this, I ask again, but the most solemn mockery conceivable?

VIII. I argue, that perfection in holiness is attainable in this life, from the testimony of Scripture that some did attain to that state. On this subject I remark—

1. That from what the sacred writers have left on record in respect to the provisions and promises of Divine grace, from their prayers, exhortations, precepts, etc., in respect of this identical subject; in short, from the fact that this particular subject was the special theme of their meditations, discourses, and prayers, we ought to conclude, in the absence of positive proof to the contrary, that they did attain to this state, just as, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we ought to conclude that they died in the triumphs of faith.

2. The fact, that some of them are said to have fallen into sin in some particular instances, is no evidence at all that they did not subsequently attain to a state of entire sanctification, any more than the sins of Paul previous to his conversion are proof of his want of holiness subsequent to that event.

3. There is no positive evidence on record that many of those men did not attain to this state, any more than there is that they did not “die in faith.”

4. There is, on the other hand, positive evidence that some of them did attain to this state. To show this, I begin with the character of Paul, as drawn by the pen of inspiration. In respect to this apostle, I remark—1. That there is but one act of his entire Christian life, on record, which is of a doubtful character. I refer to the controversy with Barnabas. 2. With this exception—and whether it be an exception, is, to say the least, doubtful—his character, as presented by the sacred historian, is “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” 3. The testimony of the apostle to his own attainments, shows that he had arrived to a state of entire sanctification. Galatians 2:20 ,—“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith on the Son of God.” 1 Thessalonians 2:10 ,—“Ye are witnesses, and God, also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably, we behaved ourselves among you that believe.” 1 Corinthians 4:4 ,—“I know nothing by myself,” i.e., I am conscious of no wrong. Acts 20:26 ,—“Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure of the blood of all men.” Now, who would dare to apply such language to himself, who was conscious of being in any other than a state of entire consecration to Christ? How can he be “pure of the blood of all men,” who is constantly failing in his duty? And we do fail in our duty to men, when we are not wholly consecrated to Christ. How can he be conscious of no wrong, and affirm of himself that he lives “holily, and justly, and unblameably,” not in the sight of men merely, but also in the sight of God, who is conscious of daily and hourly departures from the rectitude required by the Gospel? Who, let me ask, in view of the character of Paul, as drawn by the pen of inspiration, and of his own testimony to his own attainments, will dare to lay sin to his charge, or affirm that he did not arrive to a state of perfect consecration to Christ?

Further, the apostle presents himself as an example for the imitation of Christians, requiring and exhorting them to copy that example, without any intimation, that, in so doing, they will not discharge their whole duty. Philippians 4:9 ,—“Those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.” Philippians 3:17 ,—“Brethren, be ye followers together of me, and mark them which walk so, as ye have us for an ensample.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 ,—“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ;” i.e., Be ye imitators of me, inasmuch as I am an imitator of Christ. Now, who would dare to address such language to Christians, unless he was conscious of presenting to them a perfect pattern for their imitation? Such, then, was Paul. If he did not claim to have been in a state of entire sanctification I know not by what language such a claim can be expressed.

Again 1 John 3:21 , and 4:17–18,—“Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.” “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear.” Who can read such declarations, without the conviction that the apostle is here speaking of what he knew to be true from actual experience? Was he a stranger to a heart that doth not condemn, and its effects, and to perfect love, and its consequences? Is he not testifying as a witness to what his own consciousness affirmed to be a reality?

If the “one hundred and forty and four thousand also, who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth,” are not declared, Revelation 14:4 –5, to have attained to perfect holiness in this life, I have failed to divine the meaning of the passage. “These are they who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins.” “And in their mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God.” The phrase “they are without fault” evidently relates to their character as Christians in this life; because the conjunction “for” connects this with the preceding part of the sentence, the meaning of which is perfectly evident; also, because the reason is here assigned for their pre-eminent glory in heaven. All this may be said to be mere hyperbole. I will not, therefore, insist upon it. The same principle, however, would be equally applicable to any phraseology that could have been adopted.

Isaiah 6:5 –8,—“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar. And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged.”

Previous to this event, the prophet had at least some degree of holiness. What was his state subsequently when “his iniquity was taken away, and his sin purged?” was it a little higher degree of holiness than he before possessed? Was it not, as the language used implies, a state of perfect holiness?

Other cases might be cited; but these must suffice.

IX. I argue that perfection in holiness is attainable in this life, from the fact, that no one can point out any incentive to sin, from within or around him, for which a specific remedy is not provided in the Gospel. Do our lusts rebel? We are told, that if “Christ be in us, the body is dead because of sin;” that “the old man is crucified with him;” and that if we will “walk in the spirit, we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” Do the world and Satan entice? We are assured that “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith;” that “stronger is he that is in us, than he that is in the world; and that, when we have “put on the whole armour of God,” we shall be able, with the shield of faith, to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” In short, from whatever source temptation to sin arises, we are assured that God will not “suffer us to be tempted above what we are able,” but will, “with the temptation, make way for our escape.” With Christ within us, and these “exceeding great and precious promises” around us, we are commanded to “reckon ourselves dead indeed to sin, and alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the presence of such facts and promises, who would dare to say to the Christian, It is impracticable for you to “cleanse yourself from all filthiness of the flesh, and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God?”

X. I argue that perfection in holiness is attainable in this life, from the fact, that no one can lay down any line this side of that state, beyond which it is not practicable for the Christian to go. Who would dare to lay down such a line, and then say to the convert, panting after holiness, “as the hart panteth after the water-brooks,” “Hitherto mayest thou come, and no farther?”

IX. As another argument in favor of the attainableness of holiness in this life, I adduce the striking contrast between the language of inspiration and of the Church upon this subject, wherever the Church has denied the doctrine under consideration. I appeal to the conscience and memory of every one who reads these pages, whether from the pulpit, the press, or the private walks of life, as far as this doctrine has been denied, you have ever heard language which corresponds with the plain, positive, and unqualified declarations of the Bible upon this subject, which have now been spread out before you. Why this contrast between the language of inspiration and of the Church? One supposition, and one only, in my judgment, solves the mystery. The Church and the sacred writers hold different sentiments upon this subject.

Let any minister, for example, holding the common sentiments upon this subject, begin, in the simple and unqualified language of inspiration, to pray that his people may be “sanctified wholly, and preserved in that state unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ;” let him charge them, “before God and our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep the commandments of God without spot unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ;” let him begin to talk of the perfect peace of pure and perfect love; let him tell his people that the blood of Christ “cleanseth from all sin,” and that he “bore our sins in his own body on the tree;” that we, “being dead to sin, might live unto righteousness;” that the “righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” etc.,—what would his Church and Congregation think of him? Would they not conclude that he had adopted some entirely new theory in regard to Christian perfection? I ask again, why has the language of the Bible so entirely disappeared, so far as this doctrine is denied? and why is it, that, as soon as this doctrine is adopted, the simple and expressive language of the Bible reappears, as the only language appropriate to express the sentiments of the preacher and the Church.

XII. The convictions of the Church, as universally expressed in her covenants, demand the admission of the attainableness of perfect holiness in this life. I have never, that I recollect, read or heard of such a covenant, which did not pledge its members to a state of entire sanctification. Every one, in the presence of God, angels, and men, and that under the sanction of the most solemn oath, avouches the Lord to be his God, promising to obey him in all things, and none else, to “deny himself of all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present evil world.” This is nothing less than a pledge to “be perfect,” and no Church dares to pledge her members to do less than this.

Yet, while this pledge is thus solemnly imposed upon all her members, they are required, under sanctions hardly less awful, to believe that this pledge will never be redeemed, and that it is a crime to suppose that it may. All this is done in the face of an acknowledged Divine declaration—“It is better that thou shouldst not vow, than to vow and not pay.” Now, why has the Holy Spirit thus constrained the Church to pledge her members in direct opposition to her creed? To open her eyes to the absurdity and ruinous tendency of her creed, in respect to the subject under consideration. Such is my solemn conviction. The Churches of Christ are bound fundamentally to change their covenants, or admit the doctrine under consideration.

XIII. The tendency of this doctrine, as compared with that of its opposite, is another important reason why we should admit it. To place this part of the subject distinctly before the mind, I remark,—

1. That, as it was observed in the preceding discourse, no evil can result from the belief of this doctrine, provided we keep the true standard of holiness distinctly in view. Christ requires us to consecrate to him our entire being. What evil can result from the belief that we may do this, provided we understand what this requirement is? All the evil that has ever arisen, connected with this doctrine, can be demonstrated to have arisen, not from the belief that perfection in holiness is practicable to the Christian, but from a misapprehension of the nature of holiness itself.

2. The belief that perfection in holiness is attainable in this life, involves the very principle that is considered necessary to efficient action on every other subject. Who would expect an army to fight with energy under the impression of inevitable defeat? All acknowledge it to be the duty of the Christian to aim at perfection in holiness. How can he do this efficiently with the persuasion that such perfection is impracticable?

3. Every Christian also admits that no one can be saved who does not aim at perfection. Now, to aim at this state with the belief that it is unattainable, is an absolute impossibility. To aim at the accomplishment of an object, is the same thing as to intend to accomplish it. How can a man intend to do that which he regards as impracticable? Let the hunter, for example, if he can, point his weapon at the moon, with the intention of hitting it. He will find the formation of such intention, with his present belief of the power of his weapon, and the distance of the object, an impossibility. Has God required the Christian, upon pain of his eternal displeasure, to aim at perfection in holiness, and then required him to believe a certain fact, the belief of which renders the formation of that intention an impossibility? Who can believe it? The principle before us, no one, I believe, at all acquainted with the laws of mind, will deny. Whatever a man regards as impracticable, or thinks it absolutely certain that he never will perform, the changeless laws of mind render it impossible for him to aim at, or intend to perform it. How can a man throw a stone at the sun, aiming or intending to hit the sun? An individual is shooting at a mark, with the full belief, that no man, whatever his natural powers may be, ever did or ever will hit that mark. It is an absolute impossibility that he ever should, with that belief intend to hit it. For the same reason, while a man regards perfection in holiness as impracticable; while he believes that no man ever did, or ever will, in this life, attain to that state, and that it is criminal to suppose the opposite,—to aim at perfection in holiness, or to intend to be perfectly holy, is, then, an absolute impossibility. Now the Church universally affirms, and ministers everywhere preach the same thing, that no one can be a Christian who does not aim at perfection in holiness, or intend to be perfectly holy. The Church and the ministry, then, almost as universally, hold it criminal for any man not to believe a certain fact, to wit, that such perfection is unattainable, the belief of which fact renders the existence of such intention an absolute impossibility. “Thus have ye made void the law of God by your traditions.” If a man must aim at perfection in holiness, or he cannot be saved, he must theoretically or practically believe that such perfection is practicable, or he cannot be saved.

XIV. As a final argument, in favor of the truth of the doctrine under consideration, I notice the absurdity of the common supposition, that the Christian is always perfectly sanctified at, or a few minutes before, death, and never at an earlier period. Two considerations will place the absurdity of this supposition in its proper light:—1st, the grace which sanctifies the believer amid the gloom and wreck and distraction of dissolving nature, would, if applied, have sanctified him at an earlier period. 2nd, No other reason can be assigned for this grace being thus withheld, but the supposition that God can be better glorified, and his kingdom better advanced by saints partially, than wholly, consecrated to their sacred calling. Where is the foundation for such an absurdity in the Bible?

Some objections to the interpretation which has been given to the various passages cited in this discourse demand a passing notice.

I. The fact, it is said, that provision is made in the Gospel for the entire sanctification of Christians; that this state is promised to them in the new covenant, on condition of their faith; and that, in view of these provisions and promises, perfect holiness is required of them, proves merely that such a state is attainable, but not that it is actually attained. I reply,—

1. That my object in citing such passages has been, not to show Christians what they are, but what they may become; and thus to lay the foundation for the exercise of that faith by which they may come into the full possession of all the “riches of Christ’s inheritance in the saints.”

2. The manner in which the sacred writers have presented the provisions, promises, and commands of the Gospel, demonstrates the fact that they did expect Christians to “cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God”—an expectation precisely the opposite of what is now commonly entertained upon the same subject.

3. The supposition that such men as Paul, for example, knew that provision was made in the Gospel for their entire sanctification; that it was promised to them in the new covenant, and required of them as Christians; the supposition, I say, that they knew, that by simply trusting Christ for this blessing, they could enjoy it, and yet withheld the faith necessary to its attainment, is absolutely incredible. It is to suppose, that they lived in the habitual and allowed indulgence of known sin. The same remark is equally applicable to real Christians of every age. When they know their privileges they will avail themselves of them. That they may know their privileges, and thus “come out of darkness into God’s marvellous light,” is the great object of this work, and of all my prayers and efforts.

II. The prayer of Christ, recorded in John 17:20 –23, it is objected, is put up in behalf of all Christians without distinction; and this prayer, in all its fullness, must be answered in the experience of each Christian, or Christ prayed in vain. In other words, according to this objection, the union now existing among Christians, is all that is implied in such language as the following:—“That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee;” that “they may be one in us;” that “they may be made perfect in one;” and the effect produced by this union, is all that is meant by the phrases “that the world may believe,” and “that the world may know,”—“That thou hast sent me.”

In reply, I remark,—

1. That the supposition that the union, or rather the disunion, now existing among Christians, presents a full reflection of all that is implied in the language above referred to, renders the Bible the most unmeaning book that ever was written.

2. The supposition that Christ prayed for any higher union than now exists, involves all the difficulties embraced in the supposition that he prayed for a perfect union. In both instances alike, according to the above objection, he prayed in vain.

3. If Christ did not here pray for a perfect union among Christians, and consequently for their entire sanctification, it is absolutely beyond the power of language to express such a prayer.

4. Christ here prays as the Mediator of the new covenant, and when the Church comes to her Mediator, in faith, for an answer to this prayer (and the day is no doubt near when she will do it), this prayer, in all its blessed fullness, will be answered.

III. It is further objected, that no particular time is specified when the prayer of Christ, and the promises of the new covenant, etc., are to be fulfilled; consequently, they do not prove the attainableness of entire sanctification in this life. I reply,—

1. In some of the promises the time of their fulfilment is definitely specified. For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 . When can our “whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” if not in this life?

2. If no time were specified, we should involve ourselves in infinite guilt, were we to “limit the Holy One,” by fixing a time, at or subsequent to the hour of death. Such a limitation of the promises sanctions those principles of interpretation by which the worst forms of error are sustained from the Bible. Take, for example, the passage, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” True, says the universalist, and all men will be holy in eternity. Shall we sanction such a principle by our manner of limiting the application of the exceeding great and precious promises of Divine grace?

I close this discourse with a few brief reflections:—

1. We are now prepared for a distinct survey of the foundation on which the doctrine under consideration rests;—a doctrine upheld by the declared provisions and promises of the Gospel; a doctrine sustained by the prayer of Christ as the Mediator of the new covenant, and by the “prayers of the saints,” as dictated by him and by the Spirit of grace; a doctrine which so perfectly corresponds with what God requires of us as Christians, and with all that inspired apostles and prophets taught and wrote upon the subject. Upon what foundation does such a doctrine rest, but upon the “Rock of Ages?”

2. We see the reason of the aspect of living death which the Church now presents to the world. It is simply this: She is in a state of unbelief in respect to the nature and extent of the provisions and promises of Divine grace.

3. We see when it is that the Church will realize, in her own experience, the fulfillment of the promises of the new covenant. 1. When she fully becomes aware of the nature and extent of these promises. 2. When the conditions are fulfilled by her on which the fulfillment of these promises rests, as recorded in Ezekiel 36:37 :—“Thus saith the Lord God—I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel , to do this thing for them.” When this is done—and the time is near, I believe, when it will be done—there will then exist upon earth “a holy generation, a royal priesthood, and a peculiar people.”

4. Christian brother, suppose that in view of all the facts, arguments, and Divine declarations, which have now been spread before you, you should reproach your Redeemer with holy boldness, confidently expecting that his “blood shall cleanse you from all sin”—“that the very God of peace shall sanctify you wholly, and preserve your whole spirit, and soul, and body, blameless to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”—would that Redeemer, think you, frown you from his presence, for having asked and expected more than he himself has authorized you to ask and expect? On the other hand, should you refuse to “open your mouth thus wide,” would he not charge it to your unbelief, and would he not marvel at that unbelief?



[1] I have recently learned that certain objections to the views of the “two covenants,” presented in this volume, have been started by some, on account of the declaration of Paul, Hebrews 8:13—“In that he saith a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now, that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” If the old covenant is the moral law, does not the apostle, it is asked, here affirm its abrogation? In reply, I would remark, that the old covenant, as shown in this discourse, it the moral law, with the types and shadows of the ancient dispensation annexed to it. It includes, therefore, not only the “ten commandments,” but all the precepts of the Pentateuch, together with the whole ritual of Moses. All these together, considered as a system of moral influences for the moral renovation of man, constituted the old covenant. The moral law, as embodied in the ten commandments, was, by way of eminence, called the covenant, because it embodied the most essential elements of that covenant. Now, the moral law, considered as a rule of action,  constitutes and essential element of both covenants, the new as well as the old. In this sense it can never “wax old,” nor be abrogated. But, contemplated as a part of the ancient dispensation, and as a part of a system of influences for the moral renovation of man, it has, together with the entire ritual of that dispensation, already “waxed old and vanished away.”