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This is a very unsatisfactory method of attacking or defending any doctrine. There are no doubt, many points of agreement between Pelagius and all truly orthodox divines, and so there are many points of disagreement between them. There are also many points of agreement between modern perfectionists and all evangelical Christians, and so there are many points of disagreement between them and the Christian church in general. That there are some points of agreement between their views and my own, is no doubt true. And that we totally disagree in regard to those points that constitute their great peculiarities is, if I understand them, also true. But did I really agree in all points with Augustine, or Edwards, or Pelagius, or the modern perfectionists, neither the good nor the ill name of any of these would prove my sentiments to be either right or wrong. It would remain, after all, to show that those with whom I agreed were either right or wrong, in order, on the one hand, to establish that for which I contend, or on the other, to overthrow that which I maintain. It is often more convenient to give a doctrine or an argument a bad name, than it is soberly and satisfactorily to reply to it.
(2.) It is not a little curious, that we should be charged with holding the same sentiments with the perfectionists; while yet they seem to be more violently opposed to our views, since they have come to understand them, than almost any other persons whatever. I have been informed by one of their leaders, that he regards me as one of the master-builders of Babylon.
With respect to the modern perfectionists, those who have been acquainted with their writings, know that some of them have gone much farther from the truth than others. Some of their leading men, who commenced with them, and adopted their name, stopped far short of adopting some of their most abominable errors; still maintaining the authority and perpetual obligation of the moral law; and thus have been saved from going into many of the most objectionable and destructive notions of the sect. There are many more points of agreement between that class of perfectionists and the orthodox church, than between the church and any other class of them. And there are still a number of important points of difference, as every one knows who is possessed of correct information upon this subject.
I abhor the practice of denouncing whole classes of men for the errors of some of that name. I am well aware, that there are many of those who are termed perfectionists, who as truly abhor the extremes of error into which many of that name have fallen, as perhaps do any persons living.
2. Another objection is, that persons could not live in this world, if they were entirely sanctified. Strange. Does holiness injure a man? Does perfect conformity to all the laws of life and health, both physical and moral, render it impossible for a man to live? If a man break off from rebellion against God, will it kill him? Does there appear to have been anything in Christ's holiness inconsistent with life and health? The fact is, that this objection is founded in a gross mistake, in regard to what constitutes entire sanctification. It is supposed by those who hold this objection, that this state implies a continual and most intense degree of excitement, and many things which are not at all implied in it. I have thought, that it is rather a glorified than a sanctified state, that most men have before their minds, whenever they consider this subject. When Christ was upon earth, He was in a sanctified but not in a glorified state. "It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master" (Matt. 10:25). Now, what is there in the moral character of Jesus Christ, as represented in His history, that may not and ought not to be fully copied into the life of every Christian? I speak not of His knowledge, but of His spirit and temper. Ponder well every circumstance of His life that has come down to us, and say, beloved, what is there in it that may not, by the grace of God, be copied into your own? And think you, that a full imitation of Him, in all that relates to His moral character, would render it impossible for you to live in the world.
3. Again, it is objected, that should we become entirely, in the sense of permanently, sanctified, we could not know it, and should not be able intelligently to profess it. I answer: All that a sanctified soul needs to know or profess is, that the grace of God in Christ Jesus is sufficient for him, so that he finds it to be true, as Paul did, that he can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth him, and that he does not expect to sin, but that on the contrary, he is enabled through grace "to reckon himself dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11). A saint may not know that he shall never sin again; he may expect to sin no more, because of his confidence, not in his own resolutions, or strength, or attainments, but simply in the infinite grace and faithfulness of Christ. He may come to look upon, to regard, account, reckon himself, as being dead in deed and in fact unto sin, and as having done with it, and as being alive unto God, and to expect henceforth to live wholly to God, as much as he expects to live at all; and it may be true that he will thus live, without his being able to say that he knows that he is entirely, in the sense of permanently, sanctified. This he need not know, but this he may believe upon the strength of such promises as: "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" (1 Thess. 5:23, 24). It is also true, that a Christian may attain a state in which he will really fall no more into sin, as a matter of fact, while, at the same time, he may not be able to express even a thorough persuasion that he shall never fall again. All he may be able intelligently to say is: "God knoweth I hope to sin no more, but the event will show. May the Lord keep me; I trust that He will."
4. Another objection is, that the doctrine tends to spiritual pride. And is it true, indeed, that to become perfectly humble tends to pride? But entire humility is implied in entire sanctification. Is it true, that you must remain in sin, and of course cherish pride, in order to avoid pride? Is your humility more safe in your own hands, and are you more secure against spiritual pride, in refusing to receive Christ as your helper, than you would be in at once embracing Him as a full Savior?
I have seen several remarks in the papers of late, and have heard several suggestions from various quarters, which have but increased the fear which I have for some time entertained, that multitudes of Christians, and indeed many ministers, have radically defective views of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. To the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, as believed and taught by some of us, it has been frequently of late objected, that prayers offered in accordance with this belief, and by a sanctified soul, would savor strongly of spiritual pride and self-righteousness. I have seen this objection stated in its full force of late, in a religious periodical, in the form of a supposed prayer of a sanctified soul, the object of which was manifestly to expose the shocking absurdity, self-righteousness, and spiritual pride, of a prayer, or rather thanksgiving, made in accordance with a belief that one is entirely sanctified. Now, I must confess, that prayer, together with objections and remarks which suggest the same idea, have created in my mind no small degree of alarm. I fear much that many of our divines, in contending for the doctrines of grace, have entirely lost sight of the meaning of the language they use, and have in reality but very little practical understanding of what is intended by salvation by grace, in opposition to salvation by works. If this is not the case, I know not how to account for their feeling, and for their stating such an objection as this to the doctrine of entire sanctification.
Now, if I understand the doctrine of salvation by grace, both sanctification and justification are wrought by the grace of God, and not by any works or merits of our own, irrespective of the grace of Christ through faith. If this is the real doctrine of the Bible, what earthly objection can there be to our confessing, professing, and thanking God for our sanctification, any more than for our justification? It is true, indeed, that in our justification our own agency is not concerned, while in our sanctification it is. Yet I understand the doctrine of the Bible to be, that both are brought about by grace through faith, and that we should no sooner be sanctified without the grace of Christ, than we should be justified without it. Now, who pretends to deny this? And yet if it is true, of what weight is that class of objections to which I have alluded? These objections manifestly turn upon the idea, no doubt latent and deep seated in the mind, that the real holiness of Christians, in whatever degree it exists, is, in some way, to be ascribed to some goodness originating in themselves, and not in the grace of Christ. But do let me ask, how is it possible that men who entertain, really and practically, right views upon this subject, can by any possibility feel, as if it must be proof conclusive of self-righteousness and Pharisaism, to profess and thank God for sanctification? Is it not understood on all hands, that sanctification is by grace, and that the gospel has made abundant provision for the sanctification of all men? This certainly is admitted by those who have stated this objection. Now, if this is so, which is the most honorable to God, to confess and complain that our sins triumph and gain dominion over us, or to be able truly and honestly to thank Him for having given us the victory over our sins? God has said, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14).
Now, in view of this and multitudes of kindred promises, suppose we come to God, and say: "O Lord, Thou hast made these great and precious promises, but, as a matter of fact, they do not accord with our own experience. For sin does continually have dominion over us. Thy grace is not sufficient for us. We are continually overcome by temptation, nevertheless Thy promise, that in every temptation Thou wilt make a way for us to escape. Thou hast said, the truth shall make us free, but we are not free. We are still the slaves of our appetites and lusts."
Now, which, I inquire, is the most honorable to God, to go on with a string of confessions and self-accusations, that are in flat contradiction to the promises of God, and almost, to say the least, a burlesque upon the grace of the gospel, or to be able, through grace, to confess that we have found it true in our own experience, that His grace is sufficient for us that as our day is so our strength is, and that sin does not have dominion over us, because we are not under the law, but under grace?
To this I know it will be answered, that in this confessing of our sins we do not impeach the grace or faithfulness of God, inasmuch as all these promises are conditionated upon faith, and consequently, that the reason of our remaining in sin is to be ascribed to our unbelief, and is therefore no disparagement to the grace of Christ. But I beg that it may be duly considered, that faith itself is of the operation of God is itself produced by grace; and therefore the fact of our being obliged to confess our unbelief is a dishonor to the grace of Christ. Is it honorable or dishonorable to God, that we should be able to confess that even our unbelief is overcome, and that we are able to testify from our own experience, that the grace of the gospel is sufficient for our present salvation and sanctification? There is no doubt a vast amount of self-righteousness in the church, which, while it talks of grace, really means nothing by it. For a man to go any farther than to hope that he is converted, seems to many minds to savor of self-righteousness. Now, why is this, unless they themselves entertain self-righteous notions in regard to conversion? Many persons would feel shocked to hear a man in prayer unqualifiedly thank God that he had been converted and justified. And they might just as well feel shocked at this, and upon precisely the same principle, as to feel shocked, if he should unqualifiedly thank God that he had been sanctified by His grace.
But again, I say, that the very fact that a man feels shocked to hear a converted or a sanctified soul unqualifiedly thank God for the grace received, shows that down deep in his heart lies concealed a self-righteous view of the way of salvation, and that in his mind all holiness in Christians is a ground of boasting; and that, if persons have become truly and fully sanctified, they really have a ground of boasting before God. I know not how else to account for this wonderful prejudice. For my own part, I do not conceive it to be the least evidence of self-righteousness, when I hear a man sincerely and heartily thank God for converting and justifying him by His grace. Nor should I feel either shocked, horrified, or disgusted, to hear a man thank God that He had sanctified him wholly by His grace. If in either or both cases I had the corroborative evidence of an apparently holy life, I should bless God, take courage, and feel like calling on all around to glorify God for such an instance of His glorious and excellent grace.
The feeling seems to be very general, that such a prayer or thanksgiving is similar, in fact, and in the principle upon which it rests, with that of the Pharisee noticed by our Savior. But what reason is there for this assumption? We are expressly informed, that was the prayer of a Pharisee. But the Pharisees were self-righteous, and expressly and openly rejected the grace of Christ. The Pharisee then boasted of his own righteousness, originated in and consummated by, his own goodness, and not in the grace of Christ. Hence he did not thank God, that the grace of Christ had made him unlike other men. Now, this prayer was designed to teach us the abominable folly of any man's putting in a claim to righteousness and true holiness, irrespective of the grace of God by Jesus Christ. But certainly this is an infinitely different thing from the thanksgiving of a soul, who fully recognizes the grace of Christ, and attributes his sanctification entirely to that grace. And I cannot see how a man, who has entirely divested himself of Pharisaical notions in respect to the doctrine of sanctification, can suppose these two prayers to be analogous in their principle and spirit.