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(2.) That Paul did not see any difficulty in the way of God's accomplishing this work, is manifest from what he says in: "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" (Eph. 3:20), etc.
7. The Bible nowhere represents death as the termination of sin in the saints, which it could not fail to do, were it true, that they cease not to sin until death. It has been the custom of the church for a long time, to console individuals, in view of death, by the consideration, that it would be the termination of all their sin. And how almost universal has been the custom in consoling the friends of deceased saints, to mention this as a most important fact, that now they had ceased from sin! Now, if death is the termination of sin in the saints, and if they never cease to sin until they pass into eternity, too much stress never has been or can be laid upon that circumstance; and it seems utterly incredible, that no inspired writer should ever have noticed the fact The representations of scripture are all directly opposed to this idea. It is said, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them" (Rev. 14:13). Here it is not intimated that they rest from their sins, but from their good works in this life; such works as shall follow, not to curse, but to bless them. The representations of scripture are, that death is the termination of the saint's sufferings and labors of love in this world, for the good of men and the glory of God. But nowhere in the Bible is it intimated, that the death of a saint is the termination of his serving the devil.
The Bible representations of death are utterly inconsistent with its being an indispensable means of sanctification. Death is represented in the Bible as an enemy. But if death is the only condition upon which men are brought into a state of entire sanctification, its agency is as important and as indispensable as the influence of the Holy Ghost. When death is represented in the Bible as any thing else than an enemy, it is because it cuts short the sufferings of the saints, and introduces them into a state of eternal glory not because it breaks them off from communion with the devil! How striking is the contrast between the language of the church and that of inspiration on this subject! The church is consoling the Christian in view of death, that it will be the termination of his sins that he will then cease to serve the devil and his own lusts. The language of inspiration, on the other hand, is, that he will cease, not from wicked, but from good works, and labors and sufferings for God in this world. The language of the church is, that then he will enter upon a life of unalterable holiness that he shall then, and not till then, be entirely sanctified. The language of inspiration is, that because he is sanctified, death shall be an entrance into a state of eternal glory.
8. Ministers are certainly bound to set up some definite standard, to which, as the ministers of God, they are to insist upon complete conformity. And now I would ask, what other standard can they and dare they set up than this? To insist upon any thing less than this, is to turn pope and grant an indulgence to sin. But to set up this standard, and then inculcate that conformity to it is not, as a matter of fact, attainable in this life, is as absolutely to take the part of sin against God, as it would be to insist upon repentance in theory, and then avow what in practice it is not attainable. And here let me ask Christians what they expect ministers to preach? Do you think they have a right to connive at any sin in you, or to insist upon any thing else as a practicable fact, than that you should abandon every iniquity? I ask, by what authority can a minister preach any thing less? And how shall any minister dare to inculcate the duty as a theory, and yet not insist upon it as a practical matter, as something to be expected of every subject of God's kingdom.
9. A denial of this doctrine has the natural tendency to beget the very apathy witnessed in the church. Professors of religion go on in sin, without much conviction of its wickedness. Sin unblushingly stalks abroad even in the church of God, and does not fill Christians with horror, because they expect its existence as a thing of course. Tell a young convert that he must expect to backslide, and he will do so of course, and with comparatively little remorse, because he looks upon it as a kind of necessity. And being led to expect it, you find him, in a few months after his conversion, away from God, and not at all horrified with his state. Just so, inculcate the idea among Christians, that they are not expected to abandon all sin, and they will of course go on in sin with comparative indifference. Reprove them for their sin, and they will say, "Oh, we are imperfect creatures; we do not pretend to be perfect, nor do we expect we ever shall be in this world." Many such answers as these will slow you at once the God-dishonoring and soul-ruining tendency of a denial of this doctrine.
10. A denial of this doctrine prepares the minds of ministers to temporize, and wink at great iniquity in their churches. Feeling, as they certainly must, if they disbelieve this doctrine, that a great amount of sin in all believers is to be expected as a thing of course, their whole preaching, and spirit, and demeanor, will be such as to beget a great degree of apathy among Christians, in regard to their abominable sins.
11. If this doctrine is not true, how profane and blasphemous is the covenant of every church of every evangelical denomination. Every church requires its members to make a solemn covenant with God and with the church, in the presence of God and angels, and with their hands upon the emblems of the broken body and shed blood of the blessed Jesus, "to abstain from all ungodliness and every worldly lust, to live soberly, righteously, and Godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:12). Now, if the doctrine of the attainability of entire sanctification in this life is not true, what profane mockery is this covenant! It is a covenant to live in a state of entire sanctification, made under the most solemn circumstances, enforced by the most awful sanctions, and insisted upon by the minister of God distributing the bread and wine. Now what right has any minister on earth to require less than this? And again, what right has any minister on earth to require this, unless it is a practicable thing, and unless it is expected of him who makes the vow?
Suppose, when this covenant was proposed to a convert about to unite with the church, he should take it to his closet, and spread it before the Lord, and inquire whether it would be right for him to make such a covenant, and whether the grace of the gospel can enable him to fulfil it? Do you suppose the Lord Jesus would reply, that if he made that covenant, he certainly would, and must, as a matter of course, live in the habitual violation of it as long as he lives, and that his grace was not sufficient to enable him to keep it? Would he, in such a case, have any right to take upon himself this covenant? No, no more than he would have a right to lie to the Holy Ghost.
It has long been maintained by orthodox divines, that a person is not a Christian who does not aim at living without sin that unless he aims at perfection, he manifestly consents to live in sin; and is therefore unrepentant. It has been said, and I think truly, that if a man does not, in the fixed purpose of his heart, aim at total abstinence from sin, and at being wholly conformed to the will of God, he is not yet regenerated, and does not so much as mean to cease from abusing God. In Barnes' Notes upon 2 Cor. 8:1, we have the following:
"The unceasing and steady aim of every Christian should be perfection in all things in the love of God, of Christ, of man; perfection of heart, and feeling, and emotion; perfection in his words, and plans, and dealings with men; perfection in his prayers, and in his submission to the will of God. No man can be a Christian who does not sincerely desire it, and who does not constantly aim at it. No man is a friend of God who can acquiesce in a state of sin, and who is satisfied and contented that he is not as holy as God is holy. And any man who has no desire to be perfect as God is, and who does not make it his daily and constant aim to be as perfect as God, may set it down as demonstrably certain that he has no true religion."
Now if this is so, I would ask how a person can aim at, and intend to do, what he knows to be impossible. Is it not a contradiction to say that a man can intend to do what he knows he cannot do? To this it has been objected, that if true, it proves too much that it would prove that no man ever was a Christian who did not believe in this doctrine. To this I reply:
A man may believe in what is really a state of entire sanctification, and aim at attaining it, although he may not call it by that name. This I believe to be the real fact with Christians; and they would much more frequently attain what they aim at, did they know how to appropriate the grace of Christ to their own circumstances. Mrs. President Edwards, for example, firmly believed that she could attain a state of entire consecration. She aimed at, and manifestly attained it, and yet, such were her views of constitutional depravity, that she did not call her state one of entire sanctification. It has been common for Christians to suppose, that a state of entire consecration is attainable; but while they believe in the sinfulness of their natures, they would not of course call even entire consecration, entire sanctification. Mrs. Edwards believed in, aimed at, and attained, entire consecration. She aimed at what she believed to be attainable, and she could aim at nothing more. She called it by the same name with her husband, who was opposed to the doctrine of Christian perfection, as held by the Wesleyan Methodists, manifestly on the ground of his notions of physical depravity. I care not what this state is called, if the thing be fully explained and insisted upon, together with the conditions of attaining it. Call it what you please, Christian perfection, heavenly mindedness, the full assurance of faith or hope, or a state of entire consecration; by all these I understand the same thing. And it is certain, that by whatever name it is called, the thing must be aimed at to be attained. The practicability of its attainment must be admitted, or it cannot be aimed at. And now I would humbly inquire, whether to preach any thing short of this is not to give countenance to sin?
12. Another argument in favor of this doctrine is, that the gospel, as a matter of fact, has often, not only temporarily, but permanently and perfectly, overcome every form of sin, in different individuals. Who has not seen the most beastly lusts, drunkenness, lasciviousness, and every kind of abomination, long indulged and fully ripe, entirely and forever slain by the power of the grace of God? Now how was this done? Only by bringing this sin fully into the light of the gospel, and showing the individual the relation which the death of Christ sustained to that sin.
Nothing is wanting to slay any and every form of sin, but for the mind to be fully baptized into the death of Christ, and to see the bearings of one's own sins upon the sufferings, and agonies, and death of the blessed Jesus. Let me state a fact to illustrate my meaning. An habitual and most inveterate smoker of tobacco, of my acquaintance, after having been plied with almost every argument to induce him to break the power of the habit and relinquish its use, in vain, on a certain occasion lighted his pipe, and was about to put it to his mouth, when the inquiry was started, Did Christ die to purchase this vile indulgence for me? The perceived relation of the death of Christ to this sin instantly broke the power of the habit, and from that day he has been free. I could relate many other facts more striking than this, where a similar view of the relation of a particular sin to the atonement of Christ, has, in a moment, not only broken the power of the habit, but destroyed entirely and forever, the appetite for similar indulgences. And in multitudes of cases when the appetite has not been entirely slain, the will has been endowed with abundant and abiding efficiency effectually to control it. If the most inveterate habits of sin, and even those that involve physical consequences, and have deeply debased the physical constitution, and rendered it a source of overpowering temptation to the mind, can be, and often have been, utterly broken up, and forever slain by the grace of God, why should it be doubted, that by the same grace a man can triumph over all sin, and that forever?
13. If this doctrine is not true, what is true upon the subject? It is certainly of great importance that ministers should be definite in their instructions; and if Christians are not expected to be wholly conformed to the will of God in this life, how much is expected of them? Who can say, Hitherto canst thou, must thou come, but no further? It is certainly absurd, not to say ridiculous, for ministers to be forever pressing Christians up to higher and higher attainments, saying at every step, you can and must go higher, and yet all along informing them, that they are expected to fall short of their whole duty, that they can as a matter of fact, be better than they are, far better, indefinitely better; but still it is not expected that they will do their whole duty. I have often been pained to hear men preach, who were afraid to commit themselves in favor of the whole truth; and who were yet evidently afraid of falling short in their instructions, of insisting that men should stand "perfect and complete in all the will of God" (Col. 4:12). To be consistent they are evidently perplexed, and well they may be; for in truth there is no consistency in their views and teachings. If they do not inculcate, as a matter of fact, that men ought to do, and are expected to do, their whole duty, they are sadly at a loss to know what to inculcate. They have evidently many misgivings about insisting upon less than this, and still they fear to go to the full extent of apostolic teaching on this subject. And in their attempts to throw in qualifying terms and caveats, to avoid the impression, that they believe in the doctrine of entire sanctification, they place themselves in a truly awkward position. Cases have occurred in which ministers have been asked, how far we may go, must go, and are expected to go, in dependence upon the grace of Christ, and how holy men may be, and are expected to be, and must be, in this life. They could give no other answer to this, than that they can be a great deal better than they are. Now this indefiniteness is a great stumbling block to the church. It cannot be according to the teachings of the Holy Ghost.
14. The tendency of a denial of this doctrine is, to my mind, conclusive proof that the doctrine itself must be true. Many developments in the recent history of the church throw light upon this subject. Who does not see that the facts developed in the temperance reformation have a direct and powerful bearing upon this question? It has been ascertained, that there is no possibility of completing the temperance reformation, except by adopting the principle of total abstinence from all intoxicating drinks. Let a temperance lecturer go forth as an evangelist, to promote revivals on the subject of temperance let him inveigh against drunkenness, while he admits and defends the moderate use of alcohol, or insinuates, at least, that total abstinence is not expected or practicable. In this stage of the temperance reformation, every one can see that such a man can make no progress; that he would be employed like a child in building dams of sand to obstruct the rushing of mighty waters. It is as certain as that causes produce their effects, that no permanent reformation could be effected, without adopting and insisting on the total abstinence principle.
And now, if this is true, as it respects the temperance reformation, how much more so when applied to the subjects of holiness and sin. A man might, by some possibility, even in his own strength, overcome his habits of drunkenness, and retain what might be called the temperate use of alcohol. But no such thing is possible in a reformation from sin. There is no temperate indulgence in sin. Sin, as a matter of fact, is never overcome by any man in his own strength. If he admits into his creed the necessity of any degree of sin, or if he allows in practice any degree of sin, he becomes unrepentant, consents to live in sin, and of course grieves the Holy Spirit, the certain result of which is a relapsing into a state of legal bondage to sin. And this is probably a true history of many professed Christians in the church. It is just what might be expected from the views and practice of the church upon this subject.
The secret of backsliding is, that reformations are not carried deep enough. Christians are not set with all their hearts to aim at a speedy deliverance from all sin, but on the contrary are left, and in many instances taught, to indulge the expectation that they shall sin as long as they live. I probably never shall forget the effect produced on my mind by reading, when a young convert, in the diary of David Brainerd, that he never expected to make any considerable attainments in holiness in this life. I can now easily see that this was a natural inference from the theory of physical sinfulness which he held. But not perceiving this at the time, I doubt not that this expression of his views had a very injurious effect upon me for many years. It led me to reason thus: if such a man as David Brainerd did not expect to make much advancement in holiness in this life, it is vain for me to expect such a thing.
The fact is, if there be anything that is important to high attainments in holiness, and to the progress of the work of sanctification in this life, it is the adoption of the principle of total abstinence from sin. Total abstinence from sin must be every man's motto, or sin will certainly sweep him away as with a flood. That cannot possibly be a true principle in temperance, that leaves the causes which produce drunkenness to operate in their full strength. Nor can that be true in regard to holiness which leaves the root unextracted, and the certain causes of spiritual decline and backsliding at work in the very heart of the church. And I am fully convinced that until evangelists and pastors adopt, and carry out in practice, the principle of total abstinence from all sin, they will as certainly find themselves, every few months, called to do their work over again, as a temperance lecturer would who should admit the moderate use of alcohol.
Again, who does not know that to call upon sinners to repent, and at the same time to inform them that they will not, and cannot, and are not expected to repent, would for ever prevent their repentance? Suppose you say to a sinner, "You are naturally able to repent; but it is certain that you never will repent in this life, either with or without the Holy Spirit." Who does not see that such teaching would prevent his repentance as surely as he believed it? To say to a professor of religion, "You are naturally able to be wholly conformed to the will of God; but it is certain that you never will be, in this life, either in your own strength, or by the grace of God"; if this teaching be believed, it will just as certainly prevent his sanctification, as the other teaching would the repentance of the sinner. I can speak from experience on this subject. While I inculcated the common views, I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction, and into a state of temporary repentance and faith. But falling short of urging them up to a point where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in Him, they would of course soon relapse again into their former state. I seldom saw, and can now understand that I had no reason to expect to see, under the instructions which I then gave, such a state of religious principle, such steady and confirmed walking with God among Christians, as I have seen since the change in my views and instructions.