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“Nicodemus answered, and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?”—John 3:910.


THE evidence by which the attainableness of a state of entire sanctification in this life is sustained, is now, to some extent, before the reader’s mind, as the subject presents itself to my own. Notwithstanding the abundance and force of the evidence, some may still be disposed to ask, How can these things be? Are there not many passages of Scripture which positively contradict this doctrine? and are there not many fundamental objections against it? To a consideration of such passages and objections, the attention of the reader is now invited.

I. We will first consider the objections drawn from Scripture.

I begin with Romans 7:14 –25. (The reader is referred to the Bible, as the passage is too long to be quoted entire.) The bearing of this passage upon the doctrine under consideration, depends upon the question whether the apostle is here describing the state of the Christian under the Gospel, or of the sinner under the law, and acted upon by legal motives only. In favor of the first supposition, two, and only two, considerations deserving notice, have, to my knowledge, been adduced.

1. The present tense is here used, “I am carnal,” etc.; showing, it is said, that the apostle is describing his present character as a Christian. In answer to this, I remark,—1st, that it is perfectly common for the sacred writers to use this tense in describing not only past but future events. 2nd, The present tense was demanded in this instance, inasmuch as the design of the apostle is to describe his own, and the state of every other person, under the exclusive action of legal motives, in opposition to their state under the Gospel. Under the former, he says, “I am [and of course every other man is] carnal, sold [a bond slave] under sin.” Under the latter, Romans 8:2 , “I am free from the law of sin and death.” Thus said Whitefield, as a drunkard was reeling before him, “There is George Whitefield, but for the grace of God.” Supposing the apostle here to be describing his state as a sinner under the law, the present tense is demanded just as much as if he were describing his state as a Christian.

2. The language used by the apostle in this passage, it is said, is applicable to the Christian only. For example, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” “That which I do I allow not.” “What I hate, that I do,” etc. To this I answer,— 1st, That language equally strong is applied to the sinner in other parts of the Bible. Ezekiel 33:32 ,— “And lo! thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words, but they do them not.” Isaiah 58:2 ,—“Yet ye seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinances of their God; they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.” John 5:35 ,— “He was a burning and a shining light; and ye were willing, for a season, to rejoice in his light.” Romans 2:17 –18,—“Behold thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law.” Many other passages of similar import might be cited. With what propriety, I ask, can the language used in Romans 7 be cited as proof, that the sinner cannot there be referred to, when language equally strong is so frequently applied to him in other parts of the Bible?

2nd, Precisely similar language was at this time in common use among the heathen, and by them applied to men as sinners. “He that sins,” says one, “does not what he would; but what he would not, that he does.” “I see the good,” says another, “and approve it, but follow the bad.” “I have forgotten none of the things about which you admonished me; but, although I have a desire to do them, nature struggles against it.” “I knew that it was becoming; but, me miserable! I could not do it.” Such is the language common with those very heathen converts to whom the apostle was writing, and applied by them to sinners as such. On what principle, I ask, is it asserted, that they would understand this language, in opposition to all previous usage, as applicable to the Christian only?

We will now consider a few of the reasons in favor of the supposition that the sinner under the action of legal influences, and not the Christian under the Gospel, is the subject of the apostle’s remarks in this passage:—

1. It was so understood by the entire primitive Church for the first two or three centuries after the epistle was written. This, none, I believe, acquainted with the records of the primitive Church will deny. Did the entire Church, who received the passage directly from the apostle, mistake his meaning?

2. The supposition that the Christian is here referred to, places what the apostle says of himself, as a Christian, in this passage and elsewhere, in palpable and irreconcilable contradiction to each other. In the state here described, the apostle says of himself, “I am carnal, sold under sin,” that is, a bond slave under the power of sin, as the slave is under the absolute control of his master. We might here ask, Is this the Christian? Again, “The good that I would,” i.e., approve, “I do not, but the evil that I would not,” i.e., disapproves “that I do.” “I find then a law,” an invariable order of sequence—for such only is law—“that when I would do good, evil is present with me.” Speaking of himself as a Christian, the apostle says, “I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection.” Again, “The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Are these states compatible? Are they one and the same? Again, the Christian is represented in the Bible as “overcoming the world.” The individual here referred to is invariably overcome by the world. Are these characters identical? Again, in the state here described, the apostle declares himself to be in “captivity to the law of sin and death.” In Romans 8:2 , he says, that as a Christian he is free from that very law. How can an individual be a captive under a law, and free from that law, at one and the same time? Once more: In the state here referred to, the apostle says, “I am carnal.” In Romans 8:9 , he declares absolutely, that every real Christian is “not in the flesh,” that is, carnal, “but in the spirit.” How can these states be identical?

3. If the apostle has described the condition of the Christian under the Gospel, in the passage under consideration, he has defeated his own object, by showing that the Gospel is equally impotent with the law in producing holiness of heart, the opposite of which he designed to show. The law convicts of sin, and then leaves the subject in bondage under sin. What more does the Gospel, if the Christian, also, is “carnal, sold under sin?”

Well might the Jew ask, in view of such a presentation of the power of the Gospel, What advantage hath the Christian, and what profit is there in faith in Christ, as far as holiness is concerned? Do the motions of sin, which are by the law, work in my members to bring forth fruit unto death?” So is the Christian, by the same influence precisely, “brought into captivity to the law of sin, which is in his members.” Am I in the flesh?—The Christian, also, is “carnal.” Am I in bondage, under the power of sin?—The Christian, also, is a bond slave, “sold under sin.” Do I “approve of the things which are more excellent,” and delight to know God and the “ordinances of righteousness,” and at the same time remain in a state of disobedience to God? The Christian, also, “delights in the law of the Lord, after the inward man,” without obeying that law. “The good that he would he does not; but the evil that he would not, that he does.” How could the apostle, by such a train of reasoning as this, convince the Jew, that in depending upon the law for sanctification as well as for justification, he was a sinner leaning upon a broken reed? and that the Gospel alone not only justifies but sanctifies the sinner?

4. The apostle, in the passage before us, declares expressly that he refers to his state as a sinner. “In me, that is, in my flesh,” that is, in my carnal, unrenewed state, “dwelleth no good thing.”

5. The individual here described is, by the apostle’s own showing, totally depraved. Notwithstanding all the opposition which the law of God and the law of his mind make to sin, he invariably practices it, on all occasions and under all circumstances. If such a state does not indicate the entire absence of holiness, nothing can do it. The whole matter is summed up by the apostle in Romans 7:25 ,—“So then, with the mind, I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” That is, in the language of Professor Stuart,—“While my mind, i.e., my reason and conscience, takes part with the law of God, and approves its sanctions, my carnal part obtains the predominance, and brings me into a state of condemnation and ruin.” For a full and complete illustration of the meaning of the entire passage, the reader is referred to the commentary of Professor Stuart.

I conclude, then, that this chapter, as it refers to another subject, has nothing to do with the question whether entire holiness is attainable in this life.

Galatians 5:17 ,—“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” The apostle here gives the reason for the declaration found in the verse preceding,—“Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” The reason assigned is this. The dictates of the flesh and of the Spirit are in contradiction the one to the other. Obedience to one excludes subjection to the other. Hence, if we “Walk in the Spirit,” we “cannot do the things that we would,” i.e., “fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” Strange that an objection to the doctrine of holiness should be drawn from this passage, which, when rightly understood, directly asserts the doctrine; unless the ground is taken that obedience to the command, “Walk in the Spirit,” is impracticable.

The common explanation of the passage makes the apostle assign the strange reason for the declaration, “Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh;” that as the flesh and the Spirit are contrary the one to the other, the Christian cannot do the things that he would, i.e., Cannot walk in the Spirit.

Philippians 3:12 —“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” On this passage I remark,—1st, from a comparison of this passage with the phrase in verse 15, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect,” it is evident the apostle considered himself in one sense perfect, and in another imperfect. Why, then, is the inference directly drawn that, in verse 12, he affirms his imperfection in holiness, when the opposite conclusion is as fully sustained by verse 15? But, 2nd, The apostle, as is perfectly evident from the context, is not here speaking of sanctification at all. There are three senses, somewhat differing the one from the other, in which the verb here rendered perfect, as well as the adjective from which it is derived, are used in the Bible,—1. To designate moral perfection, or entire sanctification in holiness, as in Matthew 5:48 —“Be ye therefore perfect.” 2. Maturity in Christian knowledge and virtue, 1 Corinthians 2:6 , “We speak wisdom to them that are perfect.” 3. Exaltation to a state of reward or happiness in a future world, in consequence of a life of devotion to the Divine service in the present world. Thus, in Hebrews 2:10 , Christ, as the Captain of our salvation, is said to have been made “perfect,” that is, advanced to a state of glory through [or on account of] sufferings.” “Among the Greeks,” says Professor Stuart, speaking upon the passage last referred to, “this verb was employed to designate the condition of those who, having run in the stadium, and proved to be victorious in the contest, were proclaimed as successful combatants, and had the honours and rewards of victory bestowed upon them.” Such persons were said to be perfect, or to have been perfected. Now, that the apostle uses the term “perfect” in this last sense exclusively in Philippians 3:12 , is demonstrably evident from the fact that he was writing to Greeks, and uses it with reference to the very custom, in reference to which they had been accustomed to use the term in this one sense only. He represented himself as running in a race; but not as yet being “perfect;” that is, as not having been advanced to a state of glory in consequence of having victoriously finished his course. It is, then, in reference to having finished his course and received the consequent rewards, and not in reference to moral perfection, that the apostle uses the term “perfect” in the passage under consideration. This the apostle himself directly affirms. He uses the phrases, “not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect,” and “I count not myself to have apprehended,” with express reference, not to present holiness at all, but with exclusive respect to the “resurrection of the dead,” and “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” i.e., to the glory and blessedness consequent on having victoriously finished his Christian race. Hence, Professor Robinson, in his Lexicon on the New Testament, thus explains the phrase, “either were already perfect”—“Not as though I had already completed my course, and arrived at the goal, so as to receive the prize.” In respect to holiness, an individual who is running the Christian race, is perfect, who puts forth his entire energies in that course. In respect to a state of glory and blessedness, he is perfect, when, and only when, he has finished his course, and received the consequent reward. It is with exclusive reference to the latter, and not to the former, that the apostle affirms, that he had not “attained, and was not perfect.” The passage, then, has no reference at all to the question whether perfection in holiness is attainable in this life.

1 John 1:8,—“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” The phrase “have no sin” may relate to our present or to our past chapter. Thus, when a man says, “I am a sinner,” he may mean, I am now actually sinning, or I have sinned, and on that account sustain the character of a sinner. In which sense does the apostle here use the phrase, “If we say we have no sin?” Does he refer to our character in view of what we are now doing, or of what we have done in past time? To the latter, I argue, for the following reasons:—1st, The denial here spoken of stands opposed to the phrase “confessing our sins” in the following verse. Confession relates to past, and not to present sin; it being absolutely impossible for a person to commit a sin, repent of it, and confess it, at one and the same moment; which must be the case if confession relates to sins which we are now committing.

2nd, In verse 10 the apostle repeats the thought contained in the phrase under consideration, in a manner which leaves no doubt in respect to his meaning,—“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar.” This declaration is added, to give emphasis to the affirmation, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” and is only another form of stating the same thing.

3rd, The Context plainly shows that the apostle is speaking of another thing, altogether, than the question whether a man ever attains to a state of entire holiness in this life. In the verse preceding, he says, “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” He then adds,—“If we say we have no sin,” to be cleansed from, to be forgiven, that is, if we deny our need of the redemption of Christ, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Now, what class of persons existed at the time, to whom this declaration was applicable? I answer, it was the unconverted Jew, who maintained, that in consequence of his obedience to the law, he was free from all sin, and did not need the redemption of Christ. Such persons the apostle addresses by saying, “If we deny our need of Christ’s redemption, by affirming our freedom from sin, we deceive ourselves; and not only so, by saying that “we have not sinned,” i.e., affirming that “we have no sin,” we also make God a liar. The passage, then, refers exclusively to sinners who deny their need of Christ’s redemption, by saying that they “have not sinned,” and not to such men as John Wesley and James B. Taylor, who believed, that, by the grace of Christ applied to “cleanse them from all sin,” they had “been made perfect in love.” To be made thus perfect, is what we are here taught to expect, as the consequence of “walking in the light,” and “confessing our sins.” The passage, then, instead of contradicting the doctrine under consideration, when rightly explained, altogether favors the doctrine. What else can be the meaning of the declarations,—“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin?” Also, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness?”

James 3:2 —“In many things we offend all.” Here, it is said, we have the positive testimony of inspiration, that in many respects all Christians sin.

If so, the doctrine under consideration must be given up, of course. But what is the meaning of the above declaration? To answer this, it is necessary to explain the verse preceding,—“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” The term “masters” may mean, simply, religious teachers, or it may mean slanderers, or critics on the manners and morals of others. The Greeks and Romans, as Calvin remarks, in speaking upon the term, “were at that time accustomed to call persons of the class last mentioned, masters, because they set themselves up as masters in morals.” In this sense, not only Calvin, but Schleusner explains the term. It is used in the same sense as the term judges is in Matthew 7:1 , the same identical sin being prohibited in the phrase “judge not,” as in the prohibition, “Be not many masters.” That the term masters is to be understood in this passage in this sense, as designating, not religious teachers, but slanderers, or critics on the manners of others, I argue, 1st, From the fact that the abuse of the tongue is the exclusive subject of discourse in the whole passage with which the term is connected. 2nd, The apostle declares absolutely, that, if we are “masters,” we shall receive greater condemnation, which is only conditionally true of religious teachers, that is, if they sin. The apostle, as Calvin observes, forbids “that there should be many masters,” because many are everywhere disposed to rush into this business. Understanding the term “masters” here, in this, its true sense, the declaration, “In many things we offend all,” may be readily explained. It contains the reason why we “shall,” if we are “masters,” “receive the greater condemnation.” The reason is this: as masters, “we all offend in many things,” that is, are great offenders. The term poluv, here rendered “many things,” is often used adverbially in the Bible, as explained above, Thus, the apostle says, “I wept much.” Again, “He straitly charged them,” i.e., earnestly. “And he besought him much.” “I greatly desired him to come to you.” In all these passages, the term rendered “many things” in the passage under consideration, is used. Now, when the apostle says that “we all offend greatly,” or are aggravated offenders, he does not affirm this of us all as Christians, but as masters; just as in the phrase, “we shall receive greater condemnation,” he affirms that as masters, and not as Christians, we shall be thus condemned. If we are masters, we are to receive greater condemnation; because we then are aggravated offenders, the only reason conceivable why we should be thus condemned.

The common explanation of the passage makes the apostle render the strangest reason conceivable for the fact that masters “will receive the greater condemnation,” to wit, that all men sin in many things. How does the fact, that all men sin in many things, prove, that those who are guilty of particular sins shall receive severer punishment than others? Or that religious teachers, even, if they sin, will be thus punished? Suppose a person should reason in a similar manner in respect to any other crime—murder, for example. “All men sin in many things; therefore, the murderer shall receive the greater condemnation.” This would be just as reasonable as in reference to the sin of evil speaking, or the sins of religious teachers.

Further, according to the common explanation of the passage, “masters” are to be punished more than they deserve. Two men, we will suppose, commit to-day the same sin. One immediately dies without repentance. The other subsequently becomes a “master,” or slanderer. The former, according to the Bible, will be punished for that sin, all that it deserves. The latter, according to the present explanation of the passage, is, for that identical sin, to receive still “greater condemnation,” i.e., to receive greater punishment than the sin deserves. The meaning of the passage, together with the context, it may be thus expressed: Do not multitudes of you, my brethren, be “masters” or slanderers. If we are, we shall receive greater condemnation; because, in that case, we all offend in many things, that is, are aggravated offenders. On the other hand, “if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.” The object of the apostle is, to contrast our character and prospects as “masters,” with our state when our tongue is subject to the law of life. In the former case we are to “receive greater condemnation,” because we are then all of us great offenders. In the latter, we are perfect. Nothing, then, was farther from the intention of the sacred writer, than the design of denying the doctrine of holiness, as maintained in these discourses.

Matthew 6:12 ,—“And forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” From the fact, that this petition is found in the Lord’s prayer, it is argued, that Christians will always have sins to confess, or will never arrive at a state of perfect holiness in this life. This principle, if admitted, would prove that the kingdom of God will never come, and that the Christian will never be in a state in this life in which he will not be subject to injuries from others. The time will arrive, when the kingdom of God will have come, and when “they will not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain.” At that time the above petitions will be inappropriate; because the prayers of all the saints in this respect will have been fully answered. So of the petition under consideration. The Saviour says, “After this MANNER pray ye;” that is, if ye have, among other things, sins to confess, confess them in this manner. It was no part of his design to affirm or deny that we shall ever be in a state in which our “heart will not condemn us.”

Hebrews. 12:6,—“Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,” From the fact, that all Christians are chastened of God, it is inferred that they never become perfect in holiness in this life; because they would not then need chastisement. I reply, that the case of the earthly parent, cited by the apostle to illustrate his meaning, proves precisely the opposite to what the objection supposes. An earthly parent induces obedience in his child by the rod; but the rod, properly applied, brings the child into a state in which the rod is no more needed. So of the rod in the hand of our heavenly Father. Its object is to render us “partakers of his holiness.” Till this end is accomplished the rod will be used. When this end is accomplished it will no longer be needed. That the Christian will never come into this state in this life, it was no part of the apostle’s abject to affirm.

These are all the passages that I have met with from the New Testament, which have been supposed to deny the doctrine under consideration. A very few passing remarks are called for, upon certain passages in the Old Testament, which are commonly adduced for the same object as the passages noticed above. Two preliminary observations are deemed requisite to a correct understanding of these passages, in respect to the subject before us.

1. Whatever is said of the character of saints, under the old dispensation, cannot be applied to Christians under the new, unless such application was manifestly intended by the sacred writer. The ancient saints, we are told, “received not the promises, God having reserved some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

2. When the sacred writers would express a fact which is true of the majority of men, though not of every individual, they make use, in most instances, of universal terms.

One example will illustrate both of the above principles. Jeremiah 9:4 ,—“Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders.” Who supposes that this passage is applicable to all Christians, or even to real saints at the time the prophet wrote—to the prophet himself, for example? Now, in the light of this example, let us contemplate two similar passages. Ecclesiastes 7:20 –21, “For there is not a just man on earth, that doeth good and sinneth not.” On this passage I remark,—1. If it is to be understood in an unlimited sense, no reason can be assigned why it should be applied to Christians in the full possession of the blessings of the new covenant. It was made with reference to men in the state then present, and not with reference to their condition under an entirely different dispensation. 2. The context shows that it is only in a general, and not in an unlimited sense, that this passage is to be understood. In the verse preceding the writer says,—“Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men that are in the city.” We are here exhorted to use prudence in our transactions with men. The reason is then assigned—“There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not;” i.e., in all your transactions with men, act upon the prudential maxim, that no man can be trusted. As a prudential maxim, the declaration under consideration is true,—true not in a universal, but general sense; just as the declaration of the prophet, above cited, is true in a similar sense. In this sense only each of the writers under consideration evidently designed to be understood.

Again, Proverbs 20:9 —“Who can say, I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin?” The first remark upon the passage last cited is equally applicable to this. The true meaning of this passage, however, is, in my judgment, generally overlooked. The, design of the sacred writer, as I suppose, is this: to ask the question,—“Who, in looking over his past life, can deny the fact that he is a sinner, and is clear from all the sin charged upon him?” When an individual, in the language of the Bible, would affirm his innocency of any crime, or sin, he was accustomed to affirm that he “had cleansed his hands,” or “washed them in innocency;” i.e., had kept himself pure. So of the sacred writer in the passage before us—“Who can say, I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin?” i.e., Who can say, I have preserved my heart free from all sin, and my hands from all the iniquity that may be laid to my charge? This question is asked with reference to the entire past life, and not with reference to the fact whether any individual does, at any period of life, attain to a state of entire sanctification.

Job 9:20 ,—“If I say, I am perfect, that also will prove me perverse.” How does this declaration, which Job applies to himself, and to no other person, prove that all other saints, and Christians even, are imperfect, any more than the confession of David proves that all are guilty of adultery? The inference is just as legitimate in one case as in the other.

1 Kings 8:46 ,—“If they sin against thee (for there is no man that sinneth not).” This passage, if rightly translated, simply affirms, that all men do, at some period of their lives, sin, and not that no man, at any period, arrives at a state of entire holiness. The former, and not the latter, is the thought that would naturally suggest itself to the speaker, under the circumstances in which he was then placed. The following note, from the Comprehensive Bible, shows clearly, to my mind, that a different rendering should have been given to the passage:—“The second clause of this verse, as it is here translated, renders this 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 removed by rendering the original,—‘If they shall sin against thee (for there is no man that may not sin;)’ i.e., there is no man impeccable, or infallible; none that is not liable to sin.” In the conjugation in which the word is here found, this is its appropriate meaning.

The imperfection of good men, whose lives are recorded in Scripture, is also adduced to prove that perfection in holiness is impracticable in this life. In reply, I remark, that all that is recorded, is the simple fact, that such men were, at particular times, guilty of particular sins. How does this prove that, subsequently, they did not attain to perfection in holiness? How, for example, does the fact, that Paul disputed with Barnabas, the only sin—if it be a sin—of Paul’s Christian life, I believe, on record,— how does this fact, I say, prove, that, when Paul afterwards said, “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God,” he was not in a state of entire sanctification?

Having noticed all the objections derived from Scripture to the doctrine under consideration, it remains to notice some others arising from the supposed tendencies of the doctrine itself.

I. This doctrine, it is said, is, or in its legitimate tendencies, leads to, Perfectionism.[1]

If any individual will point out anything intrinsic, in the doctrine here maintained, at all allied to that error, I, for one, will be among the first to abandon the position which I am now endeavouring to sustain. Perfectionism, technically so called, is, in my judgment, in the nature and necessary tendencies of its principles, worse than the worst form of infidelity. The doctrine of holiness, now under consideration, in all its essential features and elements, stands in direct opposition to Perfectionism. It has absolutely nothing in common with it, but a few terms derived from the Bible.

1. Perfectionism, for example, in its fundamental principles, is the abrogation of all law. The doctrine of holiness, as here maintained, is perfect obedience to the precepts of the law. It is the “righteousness of the law fulfilled in us.”

2. In abrogating the moral law, as a rule of duty, Perfectionism abrogates all obligation of every kind, and to all beings. The doctrine of holiness, as here maintained, contemplates the Christian as a “debtor to all men,” to the full extent of his capacities, and consists in a perfect discharge of all these obligations,—of every obligation to God and man.

3. Perfectionism is a “rest” which suspends all efforts and prayer, even, for the salvation of the world. The doctrine of holiness, as here maintained, consists in such a sympathy with the love of Christ, as constrains the subject to consecrate his entire being to the glory of Christ, in the salvation of men.

4. Perfectionism substitutes the direct teaching of the Spirit, falsely called, in the place of the “word.” This expects such teachings only in the diligent study of the Word, and tries every doctrine by the “law and the testimony,”—“the law and the testimony,” expounded in conformity with the legitimate laws of interpretation.

5. Perfectionism surrenders up the soul to blind impulse, assuming, that every existing desire or impulse is caused by the direct agency of the Spirit, and therefore to be gratified. The doctrine of holiness, as here maintained, consists in the subjection of all our powers and propensities to the revealed will of God.

6. Perfectionism abrogates the Sabbath, and all the ordinances of the Gospel, and, in its legitimate tendencies, even marriage itself. The doctrine of holiness, as here maintained, is a state of perfect moral purity, induced and perpetuated by a careful observance of all these ordinances, together with subjection to other influences of the Gospel, received by faith.

7. Perfectionism renders, in its fundamental principles, all perfection an impossibility. If, as this system maintains, the Christian is freed from all obligation, is bound by no law,—in short, if there is no standard with which to compare his actions (and there is none), if the moral law, as a rule of action, is abrogated,—moral perfection can no more be predicated of the Christian than of the horse, the ox, or the ass. The doctrine of holiness, on the other hand, as here maintained, contemplates the moral law as the only rule and standard of the moral conduct, and consists in perfect conformity to the precepts of this law.

Perfectionism, in short, in its essential elements, is the perfection of licentiousness. The doctrine of holiness, as here maintained, is the perfect and perpetual harmony of the soul, with “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest,” “just,” “pure,” “lovely,” and of “good report,” “and if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,” with these things also.

What agreement, then, has the doctrine of holiness, as here maintained, with Perfectionism? The same that light has with darkness. A man might, with the same propriety, affirm that I am a Unitarian, because I believe in one God, while I hang my whole eternity upon the doctrine of the Trinity, as to affirm that I am a Perfectionist, because I hold the doctrine of holiness as now presented.

II. This doctrine, it is said, will lead to spiritual pride. I answer,—1. An individual holding the sentiment under consideration, who has the true standard of holiness before his mind, and is conscious of coming “short of the glory of God,” will be weighed down in deep humiliation and self-abasement, under the conviction that he not only is not what he ought to be, but what he might become. On the other hand, the man holding the common views will be greatly comforted, under a consciousness of moral imperfection, with the thought that he, in common with holy Paul, and David, and Isaiah, and all the purest saints that ever lived, through the “law in his members warring against the law of his mind, is in captivity unto the law of sin and death.” 2. If an individual should attain to a state of entire consecration to Christ, spiritual pride would, of course, be wholly excluded. I shall recur to this subject again in a subsequent discourse.

III. It is further objected, that the belief of this doctrine will lead individuals to suppose themselves perfect, when they are not, and thus leave them in delusions fearfully dangerous. I answer,—1. This will not be the case, if as remarked in a former discourse, the true standard of holiness be kept before the mind.

2. If no doctrine is to be proclaimed which hypocrites will abuse, we must certainly find some other doctrine than this that none are entirely sanctified in this life.

IV. I have never yet seen any person that was perfect. I answer,—1. The reason may be, and I have no doubt is, the unbelief of the Church in respect to the nature and extent of the provisions and promises of Divine grace. 2. If, brother, your confidence in the provisions and promises of Divine grace is at all weakened, or your judgment of their nature and extent is at all influenced by the actual attainments of Christians at the present time, you ought to know that your faith rests upon “things seen,” and not upon the Word of God. Where is the authority for determining the meaning of God’s declarations by the attainments of those who, by their unbelief, perhaps, are “making void the law of God?” 3. The objection under consideration lies with equal force against the Divine declaration, that the “earth shall yet be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” No such event has ever yet taken place. What should we think of the Christian, who, for this reason, should affirm that such an event never will take place? The question before us is, not what Christians have attained, but what God has promised.  




1. The reader is now prepared to determine the fact, where the weight of evidence lies, in respect to the momentous question, Is perfection in holiness attainable in this life? On the one hand, we have a long array of Divine declarations in respect to the provisions of the Gospel and the design of the redemption of Christ. We have also a similar array of “exceeding great and precious promises,” the meaning of which cannot easily be misapprehended by the honest inquirer after truth. In addition to all these, we have the express commands of Scripture addressed to us as Christians, together with the prayer of Christ, and of inspired men, who spake and prayed as they were “moved by the Holy Ghost,” all bearing upon this one point. On the other hand, we have a small number of passages, a careful analysis of which clearly shows to have no relevancy to the subject whatever—passages the most important of which (such, for example, as Romans 7 , Galatians 5:17 , Philippians 3:12 , and 1 John 1:8 ) have long since been given up as proof texts upon this subject, by many, who deny the doctrine maintained in these discourses. Under such circumstances, how is it possible for us to doubt, not only where the weight of evidence, but where the truth lies?

2. Here, also, I may be permitted to allude to the manifest carelessness with which the Church generally has made up her judgment upon the doctrine under consideration, and to the necessity of a careful and prayerful re-examination of the whole subject. In reading the works of the ablest divines upon this subject, I have been forcibly struck with their manner of treating it, as indicating the fact, that their opinions were formed, and their proof texts selected, almost at random, without reference to fundamental principles. How else can we account, for example, for the strange phenomenon that a declaration, which Job made with exclusive reference to himself, has been so universally cited as proof that the man who embraces the views maintained in these discourses is not only deceived, but shows himself, by the sentiment which he has embraced, to be perverse. How else can we account for the general adoption of the maxim, as if it were a revealed truth, that, if a man should become entirely sanctified, he would be taken directly to heaven, and not be permitted to live on earth a moment? Sin, or at least some degree of it, is regarded as an essential element of Christian character, as a life-preserver, notwithstanding the Divine declaration, that, “he that would love life, and see good days, must refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile,” and that implicit obedience to all God’s commandments is the only surety for long life.

3. Permit me, in conclusion, to allude to the state of mind necessary to a correct investigation of this subject. It is a supreme and ardent desire after holiness, and a knowledge of the means of attaining it. “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” Without this state of mind, we are unprepared, not only for this, but for every inquiry in respect to the Scriptures.

Reader, is this your state? Is the inquiry after the way of holiness the great and absorbing inquiry of your heart? “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.”

[1] A form of error which arose, before the institution at Oberlin was founded, in two theological seminaries of the United States—one in Troy, New York, under the care of Dr. Beman and the Rev. E. Kirk; the other in New Haven, Connecticut. A species of absolute Antinomianism, the extravagance and evil of which is sufficiently obvious, and which, it will be clearly seen, has no relation to the form of Christian truth and experience presented in these discourses, except that of contrariety and counteraction.