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Section XIII.

Whether any of the Redeemed arrive to Perfect Holiness in this Life.

THAT no man, whatever his advantages and attainments may be, does arrive to sinless perfection in this life, seems to be clearly asserted in a number of passages of scripture. Solomon says, “There is no man that sinneth not. There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?”251251   1 Kings viii. 46. Eccl. vii. 20. Prov. xx. 9. These are strong expressions, asserting that there is no man on earth so perfect, as to be wholly without sin. Job says, “If I say I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.”252252   Job ix. 20. How could his saying he was perfect, prove 168him to be perverse, unless it be on this ground, that no man is perfect in this life? This being certain, if a man say he is perfect, it proves that he is deceived, and knows not the truth, and therefore, is not a good man. The apostle Paul, who probably was the holiest man that ever lived, declares he was not perfect. “Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect; but I follow after, if that i may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, 1 count not myself to have apprehended: But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 1 press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”253253   Phil. iii.12, 13, 14. And he gives such a particular and sad description of his own sinfulness, in his letter to the church at Rome, that many who are strangers to the corruption of the human heart, and the great degree of sin attending true christians, and their keen sensibility of it, cannot believe that he means there to describe his own exercises and character, or those of any christian.254254   See Rom. vii 14-24. And this same apostle represents all christians, as in a state of warfare, by reason of evil inclinations and lusts in their hearts, which oppose that which is the fruit of the Spirit in them, and prevents their doing what they would. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: And these are central y the ore to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”255255   Gal. v. 17. To will was present. When they looked forward, they wished actually to do and be all that which christianity dictates, and of which they could have any idea; but when they came to act, they always fell short, and sinful inclinations prevented their doing as they desired, and defiled their best exercises.

The apostle James testifies to the same truth. He says of himself, and of all christians, that in many things, they all offended.256256   James iii. 2. And the apostle John says, “If we say, we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”257257   1 John i. 8. Here it is not only asserted, that every christian is attended with sin, in all he does 169in this life; but that it is so evident to the real christian, and so much his sensible burden and unhappiness, that it is certain, that he who says, or thinks, he has no sin, is not only greatly deceived; but is a stranger to real christianity, and knows nor the saving truth.

These passages of scripture are decisive, and prove that it is made certain by a divine constitution, that no man shall be without sin in this life: For these are declarations from God, of this truth. Solomon could not say, “There is no man that sinneth not—There is not a just man upon earth, that doth good, and sinneth not,” if there were not a divine constitution, which rendered it certain, that the most righteous, and best of men are not without sin in this life: For this is affirmed of man, of every man in this world, in every age of it, from the beginning to the end of it. How could the apostle Paul say to a christian church, “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. And these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would:” And how could the apostles John and James say, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us—In many things we all offend,” if this were not true of all, and common to all christians, at all times? It is impossible they should say this under inspiration, were there not a known constitution of Heaven, that no man should be free from sin, in this life. Therefore these declarations demonstrate that there is such a constitution: That God has determined, and made it known, that no man shall live in the body, without sinning.

Hence we may be certain, that when the apostle John says, “Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not: Whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, neither known him.—Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin: For his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God;”258258   1 John iii. 6, 9. he does not mean to assert, that every true christian, or any one of them, is free from sin in this life: For then he would expressly contradict himself in this same letter. But his meaning in the last quoted passages must be, That he who is born of God, and united to Christ by faith, does not sin as others do, 170or as he did before he was born of God. He no longer lives in sin, and makes it his trade and business, as the unregenerate do; but lives a holy life, devoted to Christ, though attended with much imperfection and sin. If this be not his meaning, which is a natural and easy one, he not only contradicts what he had said in the words quoted from the first chapter, by asserting that christians may live without sin in this world; but asserts that every one that is born of God, does not, from that time, commit one sin, or have the least degree of sin in his heart or conduct: Which few or none of those who have made use of these passages, to prove christians may be perfectly holy in this life, do believe is true; so that these words prove too much, or nothing at all, for them.

Christians are frequently represented as being perfect, in distinction from those who are not real christians, or from other real christians, who are not perfect. This has been improved as an argument, that some christians do obtain sinless perfection, in this life, supposing that this is intended by being perfect. But the careful reader of the Bible will find, that to be perfect has a various and different meaning, when used with respect to different subjects and relations. When used with respect to God, it means absolute perfection, in which sense it is not applicable to any creature; especially to man in this state.—When applied to christians, it sometimes means real sincerity and uprightness of heart, or their being real christians, or good men, in distinction from those who are so only in appearance and pretence. In this sense Hezekiah appears to use it, when he says, “Remember now, O Lord, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart.”259259   Isaiah xxxviii. 3. And in this sense God speaks of Job as a perfect and upright man.260260   Job i. 8. Job himself uses the word in a different sense, when he says, “If I say I am perfect, it would prove me perverse.”261261   Chap, ix. 20. Otherwise he would contradict his Maker, and himself too; for he held his integrity fast, and appealed to God that he was upright.262262   Chap. xxxi. 6. Sometimes it means whole and entire christians, acting out every christian grace, or every branch of christianity, in distinction from those who were defective in some christian attainments, while 171they appeared to be chiefly attentive to others. And sometimes they are called perfect, who have made greater proficiency in the christian life, and are stronger and more thorough christians, in distinction from the weaker, and those of less attainments. He who carefully studies his Bible, will find, that christians are not said to be perfect in any higher sense than these. The Apostle Paul, in a forecited place, says, that he did not think himself perfect; yet in the very next words speaks of himself and others as being perfect. “Let us therefore as many as be perfect, be thus minded.”263263   Phil. iii. 12, 13, 14, 15. He must use the word in two different senses, otherwise he would contradict himself. When he says, he does not think or pretend that he is perfect, he me ins sinless perfection. When he says, “As many of us as be perfect,” he means those who had made considerable improvement, and advances in christianity; not being, in this respect, babes or children, but grown men.264264   See Heb. v. 13, 14.

It is certainly the duty of all christians to be perfectly holy, in obedience to the law of God, requiring them to love God with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength; and their neighbours as themselves. And every thing contrary to this, or short of it which takes place in their hearts or lives, is criminal. The law cannot be abated, nor their obligation to obey it perfectly annulled in the least degree. But it does not follow from this, that any one does, or will, come up to the rule, and do the whole of his duty, in this life. For this the christian depends wholly upon God. He is no farther holy, than he is made so by the omnipotent energy of the divine Spirit; and though God requires them to be perfectly holy, yet he is under no obligation, by promise, or any other way, to make them perfectly holy in this world. His requiring it of them, does not imply any such obligation, and the covenant of grace contains no promise of this. In that there is a divine promise, that they shall persevere in holiness to the end of life; and that they shall be perfectly holy in his kingdom forever; for this is necessarily implied in perfect happiness and eternal life. But it contains no promise of any particular degree of holiness, more than is necessary to prevent their falling totally and finally, 172from a state of grace. As to the degree of holiness and the particular exercises of it, in every christian, God orders it as he pleases, to answer his own wise and infinitely good purposes.

The Redeemer is able to make every believer perfectly holy, from his first conversion, so that he never should be guilty of another sin. And if this had been wisest and best, it would have been so ordered. Therefore, we are certain, it is most wise and best, that none of the redeemed should be perfectly holy in this life, though we were unable to see any reason why it is so. But we may now see some of the wise ends which are answered hereby, and reasons why the redeemed are in such an imperfect state, and in so great a degree sinful, while iii this world: a few of which will be mentioned here.

1. If they were perfectly holy, they would not be so fit to live in this disordered, sinful world. There would not be that analogy of one thing to another, which is observed in the works of God, and which is proper and wise. This is not a world and state suited to be the dwelling place of perfectly holy creatures. It is a proper state of discipline, suited to form and train up the redeemed from among men for a state of perfect holiness and happiness, in another world.

2. If christians were perfectly holy in this life, it would not be so much a state of trial, as now it is. Their temptations could not be so many and strong, as now they are; and Satan could not have so much power and advantage to tempt, and try to distress and seduce them. And their danger would not be so great and visible. And they would not have that opportunity or occasion of the exercise of some particular graces, such as constant humiliation and repentance for their renewed sins, loathing and abhorring themselves, fighting against and mortifying their own lusts, longing for deliverance, and faith and patience in these dark and disagreeable circumstances, as now they have; by which they honour Christ, and are preparing for greater happiness and rewards in his kingdom.

3. Such a state of imperfection and sin, is suited and necessary, more effectually to teach them, and make them know by abundant experience, their own total depravity by nature; the evil nature and odiousness of 173sin; their own ill desert; the exceeding, inexpressible, and inconceivable deceitfulness, obstinacy and wickedness of their own hearts; and their absolute dependance on sovereign grace, to prevent their eternal destruction, and to save them; their need of the atonement which Christ has made; and the greatness of that power and grace which saves such creatures. These, and many other things, are more thoroughly and effectually impressed on their minds, and they are instructed, and learn them to better advantage in the school of Christ, in this state of imperfection and sin, than could be, in a state of perfect holiness.

King David, by falling into sin, was led to reflect upon, and confess his native depravity; the exceeding evil of sin, as against God; his desert of destruction, and the justice of God in punishing him; his need of pardon, and of an atonement, and of the renovation of his heart, and his dependence on God for this. On that occasion, the following is his language: “According to the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin; for I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, 1 was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”265265   Psal. li. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10.

4. Believers, by being sanctified but in part, and attended with so much sin in this life, obtain a more clear view, and greater sense of the evil of sin, and the miserable state of the sinner; and are hereby prepared to know and enjoy the happiness of a perfectly holy state, to a greater degree than otherwise they could: The more sensible they are of the evil from which they are delivered, the greater will the positive good, which they enjoy, appear to them. And their gratitude and praise for the sovereign grace, of which they are the subjects, will rise proportionably higher; by which God will be 174more glorified, and they more happy forever; so that all this will turn to their good in the end, and they will be much more happy, than if they had been perfectly holy from their conversion; and had not, after that, gone through a state of conflict with sin and Satan; and through much tribulation entered into the kingdom of heaven.

5. By this, the power, wisdom, goodness, truth and faithfulness of the Redeemer, are, in a peculiar manner, exercised and displayed, as they could not be, in any other way. This gives occasion and opportunity, for the most apparent and glorious manifestation of these; by which he glorifies himself, and the happiness of the redeemed is greatly advanced. Therefore it is, on the whole, most wise and best, that the work of sanctification should be gradual, and not perfected at once; and that the saints should be sanctified but in part, while in this world, and attended with much imperfection and sin to the end of life.

The exceeding greatness of the power of God is exerted and displayed in renewing the depraved heart of man, and forming it to true holiness.266266   Eph. i. 19. It is a power which subdues the obstinacy, and all possible opposition of the human heart; and which overcomes and casts out Satan, and all his host of combined enemies to God and man. Therefore, this is a greater exertion of power, than that by which the natural world was made; for that was formed out of nothing: Therefore, there could be no opposition and resistance to creating power, in that instance. And the power displayed in creating holiness appears as much greater and more excellent, than that which is exerted in creating the natural world, as the former effect is greater, more important and excellent than the latter.

But this power is made more conspicuous and sensible, in preserving and maintaining a small degree of holiness in the heart of a christian, in the midst of the opposition, with which he is surrounded and assaulted, by the strength of evil propensities within him, by the world, and by Satan, than it would be, in forming him to perfect holiness at once. In this way, the weak 175christian, in the midst of strong temptations, and potent enemies, constantly seeking, and exerting all their power and cunning to devour and destroy him, is preserved and upheld, through a course of trial, by the mighty, omnipotent hand of the Redeemer; and the little spark of holiness, implanted in the believer’s heart, is continued alive and burning; while there is so much, both within and without, tending to extinguish it; which is really more of a constant miracle and manifestation of the power of Christ, than it would be to preserve a little spark of fire, for a course of years, in the midst of the sea, while the mighty waves are fiercely dashing against it, and upon it, attempting to overwhelm and extinguish it. The christian is, by this situation and his experience, made more and more sensible of this, and learns that he lives by the power of Christ, and repairs to this, that he may be “Strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,” or his mighty power, that he may be able to stand, and persevere in the midst of enemies.267267   Eph. vi. 10. Out of weakness, he is made strong and becomes valiant in the spiritual combat.268268   Heb. xi. 34. And Christ, by these babes and sucklings, ordains and displays strength, and perfects praise. To this the apostle Paul attests. “My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”269269   2 Cor. xii. 9.

The wisdom of the Redeemer is also employed and manifested, in carrying all believers, and the church militant in general, through this life, and to the end of the world, safe to a state of perfection in glory. He conducts all things, external and internal, with respect to every christian; and so orders the degree, manner and time of his influence and assistance, as to keep them from falling totally and finally; and carries on the work of sanctification in the wisest manner, and so as to defeat satan in all his wiles and cunning devices, by which he attempts to seduce and destroy them. It requires infinite skill and wisdom, to sanctify a corrupt heart, and to order every thing so, with respect to each individual, at all times, and every moment, as effectually to prevent his falling away, though he walks upon the verge of ruin, 176and has such strong enemies within him, and without: And so adjust every circumstance, that even those things and events, which seem to be calculated for his ruin, shall promote his holiness and salvation. Were there no such persons, weak, and very imperfect and sinful, to live in a world full of enemies, and to be conducted on through all dangers, in the midst of cunning enemies, having great skill and success in destroying men, and carried safe to heaven at last, there would be no opportunity for such exercise and display of infinite, unsearchable wisdom as this gives. Were not the Redeemer as wise as he is powerful, no christian could be saved; but on his wisdom they may and do rely with confidence, comfort and joy. In his hands they and the whole church are safe, and all adverse things shall work for good, and issue in their perfection in holiness, and eternal salvation. And well may they with admiration exclaim with the apostle Paul: “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”270270   Rom. xi. 33. And in heaven they will ascribe wisdom to the Redeemer forever.271271   Rev. v. 12.

The goodness, tender love, and wonderful condescension of the Saviour, are also manifest, and acted out in his constant and kind attendance on believers, though they be so imperfect and sinful, and offend in so many things; and are constantly guilty of that, which would be sufficient to provoke him to give them up to sin and ruin, were he not infinitely good and kind: There is much more opportunity to exercise and discover this goodness and condescending grace, forbearance and long suffering, than if they were perfectly innocent and holy, from the time of their conversion. This remark is illustrated by the character and conduct of the true disciples of Christ, when he was on earth, in the human nature; and his goodness, condescension and forbearance towards them. They had, and discovered much selfishness and pride, worldliness, ingratitude, stupidity and unbelief. They were slow of heart to believe, to learn and get understanding, under the teaching of Christ, and in his school, while he was so abundant in 177 his labours with them. They were honest and true friends to their master, but did not improve the advantages which they had, as they ought to have done; and in many instances grossly abused them: Yet Christ did not leave off his kindness to them; but bore with them in all their dullness and wickedness, and loved them unto the end; and took effectual methods to cure all of them, of their great moral disorders, and prepare them to enter into a state of perfect holiness at death; except Judas the traitor, who never was a true disciple. Had they been perfectly holy, from the time they commenced his disciples, or at any time while he was with them, there would not have been such occasion and opportunity for Christ to exercise and discover such condescending grace, and long suffering towards them.

Thus he treats all his true disciples, while in this life. Their imperfections and sins, and froward dispositions, by which they abuse him, in all his goodness to them, call for infinite condescension, grace and forbearance, in the continuance of his loving kindness to them. They are, in some measure, sensible of this, while in this world, and lament their sinful defects, and great wickedness, and admire the goodness and patience of the Redeemer, in bearing with them, and not casting them into hell: but still continue very far from what they know they ought to be. But in heaven, they will see this in a more clear light, and forever remember and with the most sensible gratitude, admire and adore the condescension, and wonderful grace, which the Saviour exercised towards them, while they were so stupid, perverse and abusive. This could not take place, were real christians perfectly holy in this life.

The truth and faithfulness of the Redeemer are also by this, tried and made conspicuous. He promises, that he will never leave nor forsake, or cast out them, who come to him, and enter into covenant with him. And he fulfils his word, and is faithful to them, though they are in such an awful and provoking degree, perverse and abusive. Though they fall, they shall not be utterly cast down; for the Redeemer upholdeth them with his hand.272272   Psal. xxxvii. 24. When they transgress, he often visits their 178sin with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes. He chastiseth them for their profit, that they may be partakers of his holiness; yet he will not utterly take away his loving kindness from them, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail.273273   Psal. lxxxix. 30-33.

Thus the wisdom and goodness of God appear, in ordering it so, that no man, even the greatest saint, shall be perfectly holy in this life; but all the redeemed shall, in this world, be very imperfect and sinful, from the reasons which have been mentioned, and the ends which are answered hereby. More might be thought of and mentioned; and there is no reason to think, that the one half are discerned by us now. A clear and full view of the wisdom and goodness of God, in this, is reserved to the future state, when the redeemed will review all the dispensations of heaven, and the wise counsel and works of him, who is “Wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working,” towards themselves, and the church, with wonder, gratitude, and everlasting joy, “Saying, with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto Lamb, forever and ever.”274274   Rev. v. 12, 13.

But though the wisdom and goodness of God appear, in ordering it so, that no man in this life shall attain to sinless perfection; and that the church on earth should by passing through a state of discipline, trial and temptation, be trained up for a perfectly holy and happy state in heaven; and that this shall be the common lot of christians: yet for equally wise reasons, there are some exceptions, with respect to the latter: Some are taken out of the world immediately, or soon after their conversion, and are made perfectly holy, without passing through a scene of trial, temptation, and sinful imperfection. The thief, who was converted on the cross, is an instance of this: And how many are converted on their death bed, and just before they pass into the invisible world, cannot be certainly determined by us, while 179in this state. And all the infants who are saved, are instances of this.

It has been a question with some, Whether christians ought to pray that they may be perfectly holy, in this life? Some have thought this question must be answered in the affirmative, and that believers may, and ought to pray for perfect holiness, while in this world; since it is their duty to be perfectly holy, and it is desirable, and therefore ought to be desired: And consequently, they may and ought to pray for it.

Answer. It is, in itself considered, desirable to be perfectly holy; and this must appear desirable to all christians, viewed in and by itself. But as God has determined and declared this shall not be, that any man shall be without sin, in this life; and therefore it is known, that it is not, on the whole, best that any man should be perfectly holy, in this world: in this view of it, it is not desirable; nor ought any to pray for it. An event which is contrary to the known will of God, that it should take place, is not desirable, in this view of it, and no one ought to pray that it may take place: for such a desire and prayer is opposition to the declared will of God, and carries in it real rebellion against him. No man ought to pray for any thing without an entire resignation to the will of God; therefore, he ought not to pray for any thing, but on supposition that it is agreeable to the will of God. But no such supposition can be made, when God has already declared it is not agreeable to his will to grant it. It has been proved, that God has revealed that it is not his will that any man shall be perfectly holy in this life; therefore, no man can, in this view of it, pray for perfect holiness, while in this life, with resignation to the will of God: and therefore ought not to pray for it. This would be praying for that, which is known not to be desirable, and not wisest and best, that it should take place, and is opposition to the known will of God, which is opposition to God.

Therefore, it is not to be supposed, that a christian does ever pray that he may be perfectly holy in this life, while he has a full conviction in his mind, that it is contrary to the revealed will of God, that this should ever take place in any instance. But a christian may not 180have attended to the evidence there is from the Bible, that no man is to be perfectly holy in this life; or through some prejudice, not be convinced that this is there revealed; and consequently may pray that he may be perfectly holy, while in this world, and not know or believe, that he asks for that which is contrary to the will of God to grant.—In this case his sin consists in not properly attending to what God has revealed concerning this, or in not believing it, though the evidence be clearly set before him.

And as the christian is not omniscient, and sees not every truth at once, or with equal clearness and constancy, of which he has been convinced in theory and speculation; and one thing has a vastly greater impression on his mind, than another; and at different times the same truth may have much more of his attention, than at another, and make a more sensible impression: It is therefore possible, that he should have such a clear view, and great and sensible impression of his own sinfulness; of the evil of sin, and the hatefulness of it; and of the desirableness of deliverance from it, and of being perfectly holy, and conformed to Christ, as earnestly to pray, that, if it be consistent with the will of God, he may be freed from all sin, and live a perfectly holy life, for time to come; not at that time reflecting, that God has revealed that no man shall be so, in this life, or thinking any more of it, than if it were not true: And yet he cannot be said to disbelieve it; for as soon as it comes into his view, and he reflects upon it, he believes it, and withdraws his petition. This is doubtless possible, and may have taken place in many instances; and perhaps is not sinful.275275   Perhaps the prayer of the Redeemer may well be accounted for in this way, when he said in the garden, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Matt. xxvi. 39. The human mind of Christ had such a view and sense of the sufferings which were before him, that it was in a degree overborne and swallowed up with the dreadfulness of them, and the impossibility of his going through them, without more divine assistance than he then experienced. And it was so ordered by God, that the absolute necessity of his suffering thus, should not then be in view, his mind being wholly arrested by the view and sense of his sufferings, and the dreadfulness of the cup which was then set before him; and the human nature did, in a sense, shrink back at the view of it. And in this situation of mind, he prayed as above. It was wise and important that the human nature of the Redeemer, should be placed In such a situation at this time, for two reasons. First, That he might have the best opportunity to discover his disposition, and how he would act under this severe trial, when his sufferings were set before him, in all the greatness and dreadfulness of them. The dreadful cup was set before him, that he might have the clearest sight of it; and, in this situation, discover what he chose, and whether he was willing to drink it, if necessary for the glory of God, and the salvation of the elect; and make the choice in the sight of all worlds, that he might be, and appear to be, perfectly voluntary, and take this suffering upon himself, when he was in a situation to have the clearest view, and greatest sense possible, of the evil to be suffered; of the dreadful ingredients of the bitter cup. In this most trying situation, he voluntarily gave himself up to this dreadful suffering, if this were necessary, and the will of his Father: The latter not being present, and so impressed on his mind as the former, as a certain reality: And so was in a measure out of view, and did not demand his particular attention; in consequence of a particular divine influence on his mind, at that time. Secondly, By this, the necessity of the Redeemer’s suffering as he did, in order to the pardon and salvation of sinners, and the impossibility of their being saved in any other way, but by his making atonement for their sin by his own blood, and being made a curse in their stead, was set in a most clear and striking light Since the infinitely worthy Redeemer, the only begotten, well beloved Son of God, did not consent to suffer, on any other supposition; and earnestly prayed that he might not suffer, if it were possible for him to be released from it, consistent with the glory of God, and the salvation of sinners; his petition would have been granted, if it were possible, that he should not suffer, and yet these ends be answered.

181

IMPROVEMENT.

I. From the subject of this section, we may be certain, that they are not real christians, who say or think they are arrived, to such a perfect state, as to live without sin. A christian may, through the prejudices of education, ignorance, or otherwise, think that some christians may, and actually do attain to sinless perfection in this life: But he can never think himself to be without sin. His acquaintance with the law of God, in the spirituality and extent of it, and with his own heart, is such, that by keeping these in view, and comparing them with each other, his own sinfulness stares him in the face; and he condemns himself before God as very far from what he ought to be, and exceeding guilty and vile. And the higher he rises in holy exercises, and the more circumspect and watchful he is, the greater light and discerning he has to see the defects and corruptions of his own heart; and the more painful is the view of his own character, and he is disposed to exclaim with 182 the apostle Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!”276276   Rom. vii. 24.

The apostle John decides this point in most express terms. He says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”277277   1 John i. 8. He does not mean, “If we say we never did sin,” because this is contrary to his express words, which are in the present time, If we say we have no sin, now, at this present time. According to this, no man can with truth say, at any time of his life, “I have no sin, or I am without sin, and perfectly holy.” Therefore no real christian will say it, or can think this of himself; none but those who are deceived about themselves, to such a degree, as is inconsistent with their being the children of light and of the day, can say, or even think this of themselves. This apostle, in the next verse but one, speaks of the time past, and says, “If we say, that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” This is a different proposition from the foregoing; it respects what they had been and done. If they had no sin now, and this could be said with truth, they could not say they had never sinned, without contradicting the whole gospel, which declares all men to be sinners; and so making God the Saviour a liar. But the other proposition respects what they were, at that time, or should be in any future time, while in this world; so that none who is not deceived, and has embraced the truth, can ever say or think, while in this life, that he now has no sin. There have been, and now are, those who say they have no sin. By this they declare, they are deceived, and strangers to real christianity, and give greater evidence that they are not true christians, than they could, by only saying in express words, that they are not; for persons may really think, and may say, that they are not christians, when they are really such.

II. From this subject we learn, that persons have no reason to conclude they are no christians, merely because they see much sin in themselves. This sight of sin often arises from their having that discerning, which none but true christians have; who, by reason of this 183discerning, see more sin in themselves than others do, and are more affected with it. And their complaints of themselves, of the amazing corruption and wickedness of their hearts, which they now see more clearly than ever before; and which they mention, as an evidence that they have no grace, are often, in the view of the judicious christian, to whom they are made, an evidence, that they are real christians.

Great degrees of sin are consistent with some degree of true holiness. Therefore, if any thing can be found, that is of the nature of holiness, a sight of great sinfulness is not an evidence against a person, that he is no: a christian, but the contrary. They who have made the greatest proficiency in holiness see most of their own sinfulness.

III. This subject teaches us, not to be forward to censure others, as no christians, because of great imperfections, and many things which are unbecoming and disagreeable. For the best of christians are very imperfect and sinful in this state: And in many things all offend. There too often appears in persons a censorious spirit towards their fellow christians, which is a greater evidence of the want of real religion, than those things for which they censure others, as no christians.

IV. Let none improve this doctrine, as an encouragement to sloth and sin, and a discouragement to watchfulness against sin, and exertions and strivings after greater degrees of holiness. They who are disposed to make this improvement of the imperfections and sinfulness of all christians, and indulge themselves in it, have no reason to think themselves to be christians; for this is directly contrary to the spirit of a christian. If it be rightly improved, it will be a motive to press forward, to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

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