« AnteriorContinuar »
added remarkable purity of character and a fervent spirituality, scarcely excelled by the saintliest of any age, entitling him, in the estimation of even many opponents, to the appellation of a perfect Christian, if it could rightfully belong to any. Of the other two authors, Watson has for a long time been regarded as the leading theologian in the Methodist denomination, while Dr. Peck, though not a brilliant writer, is regarded as one of the soundest exponents of Wesleyan views on this side of the Atlantic. The latter gives a succinct and careful historical summary of the doctrine, the objections to it, the arguments in its favor, and its relation to other theories on the same subject. From these sources we propose to draw out, and, without criticism or much discussion, to set forth as clearly as possible, the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian Perfection.
In order to arrive at a comprehensive view of the subject, it will be requisite to keep in mind the doctrines entertained by the early Methodists concerning other parts of the Christian life. On this we need only remark, that they adopted the general Augustinian notion of man's natural sinfulness; a vicarious atonement; the necessity of repentance and of faith in Christ, as the conditions on which any man finds acceptance with God; justification as the result of this faith; and, concomitant with it, regeneration, or the awakening of a new religious life by the agency of the Holy Spirit. With these writers, however, justification differs from that which goes by this name in the Calvinistic standards. The former regard it as nearly synonymous with remission of sins, while the latter claim for it a larger scope, and apply it not merely to the past, but to the future of its subject. Regeneration with our authors is not, strictly speaking, a state, though sometimes loosely used thus by some of them, but an event, the entrance into the state of sanctification, the latter indicating a progressive experience, "going on unto perfection."
This state of sanctification, though confessedly imperfect in its earlier stages, Wesley estimates distinctly otherwise than many, perhaps most, orthodox writers, both previous and subsequent to his time. With the latter there is no entire cessation from sin, even in the most devoted. Guilt is incurred in
the veriest acts of piety. They interpret with the most literal exactness, and in its largest application, the Old Testament declaration that "there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not." Wesley, on the other hand, insists that the subject of even an imperfect sanctification does not commit sin.
"Even babes in Christ are in such a sense perfect, or born of God, (an expression taken also in divers senses,) as, first, not to commit sin. If any doubt of this privilege of the sons of God, the question is not to be decided by abstract reasonings, which may be drawn out into endless length, and leave the point just as it was before. Neither is it to be determined by the experience of this or that particular person. Many may suppose they do not commit sin when they do; but this proves nothing either way. To the law and the testimony we appeal. Let God be true, but every man a liar.'. .
"Now, the Word of God plainly declares, that even those who are only justified, who are born again in the lowest sense, do not continue in sin; that they cannot live any longer therein (Rom. vi. 1, 2), that they are planted together in the likeness of the death of Christ' (verse 5). That their old man is crucified with him, the body of sin being destroyed, so that henceforth they do not serve sin: that being dead with Christ, they are freed from sin' (ver. 6, 7). That they are dead unto sin and alive unto God (ver. 11). That 'sin hath no more dominion over them,' who are not under the law, but under grace'; but that these, 'being free from sin, are become the servants of righteousness' (ver. 14, 15).
"But most express are the well-known words of St. John, in his 1st Epistle, chap. iii. 8, etc.: He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.' 'For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 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."" - Sermons, No. 35.
He explains at much length the Scripture statements whose literal sense is in obvious contradiction with those above quoted, and meets the objections to his doctrine, showing that even the partially sanctified man does not commit sin, with no small cogency.
Yet, for all this, he teaches that in the regenerated man sin may and does exist for a longer or shorter period. This
appears quite inconsistent at first glance with the assertions above made; indeed, it must be confessed that Wesley's statements concerning sin are somewhat confused, and his meaning difficult to ascertain, except by careful collation of different parts of his writings. Sometimes, as above, he seems to restrict it to its narrowest sense, and then again to give it so wide a scope that he hesitates to call even the highest experience for which he pleads a sinless perfection. He speaks of "sin properly so called," and "sin improperly so called "; of which the former is a voluntary transgression of a known law, and the latter an involuntary transgression; and he admits "there is no such perfection in this life as excludes these involuntary transgressions." Of this more hereafter. From his general use of the terms we infer that he intends to make the following distinctions:-(a.) Sin in an improper sense; embracing such acts as proceed from ignorance or other infirmities, unintentional violations of the law. (b.) Sin in the proper sense; comprising both outward and inward sins; the former being actual and wilful violations of God's law; the latter, those evil desires, tendencies, and dispositions which exist in the partially sanctified soul, and are by it restrained, but which being indulged become outward acts of disobedience; "such as pride, self-will, love of the world in any kind or degree; such as lust, anger, peevishness; any disposition contrary to the mind which was in Christ." Thus, while he insists that the true believer, however weak his faith, does not commit sin, he just as stoutly maintains that these bad impulses and evil tendencies are "of the nature of sin," and are to be called by that name. But he, and those who agree with him on the doctrine under consideration, believe that these "inward sins" may be wholly purged away, and that it is the privilege of a true child of God to live in this world free from all disturbance by them. It is the suppression and destruction of these "inward sins" which constitute a principal part of the work of sanctification, and the final extirpation of them marks the fulness of that work in the soul. "Sanctification in its earlier stages implies the subjugation of the body of sin; and complete sanctification implies its entire destruction."
The positive features of the doctrine of Christian perfection
may now be exhibited with considerable brevity. It has a twofold character. It implies, first, an entire destruction of sin, both outward and inward. There must be not only a resistance to every outward solicitation, and a suppression of every inward desire, impulse, or tendency to that which is wrong, till resistance and suppression of evil become a habit of the soul, but these desires, impulses, and tendencies must themselves cease to exist. They constitute "the old man," and "the old man must be crucified, with his affections and lusts." Secondly, there must be a constructive, as well as a destructive operation. "The new man" must be built up. There is to be an increase and a perfecting of all the Christian graces, chief of which is love to God, an affection first awakened in the heart by the act of regeneration. Not only must God be the supreme object of affection, so far as that, among a variety of objects, he shall be loved more than any or all of them; but he must in such sort be the sole object of affection that all other love shall be subservient to this, all other objects being loved in him, he being recognized as the author of whatever is lovely in them, thus "filling all in all." Thus there shall be no longer any conflict of the affections, desires, and tastes, and no longer any painful feeling of sacrifice in abstaining from objects or actions, however pleasurable, in which sin is discovered as an ingredient, but such a distaste and loathing as makes the soul revolt from them, such delight in God as leads to a free, glad, ungrudging obedience to the Divine will. "The works of the flesh" are to be annihilated; "the fruit of the spirit" is to be cultivated; and this consists of "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law." "Suppose," says Wesley, "all these things to be knit together in one, to be united together in the soul of a believer, this is Christian perfection." He more fully describes it thus:
"What is, then, the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, Son, give me thy heart.' It is the 'loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.' This is the sum of Christian perfection; it is all comprised in that one word, love. The first branch of it is the love of God; and as he that loves
God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.' These contain the whole of Christian perfection.
"Another view of this is given us in those words of the great Apostle, 'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.' For, although this immediately and directly refers to the humility of our Lord, yet it may be taken in a far more extensive sense, so as to include the whole disposition of his mind, all his affections, all his tempers, both towards God and man. Now it is certain that, as there was no evil affection in him, so no good affection or temper was wanting. So that whatsoever things are holy, whatsoever things are lovely, are all included in the mind that was in Christ Jesus."· Sermon 68.
Fletcher presents the following in his definition:
"We give the name of Christian perfection' to that maturity of grace and holiness which established adult believers attain to under the Christian dispensation; and thus we distinguish that maturity of grace, both from the ripeness of grace which belongs to the dispensation of the Jews below us, and from the ripeness of glory which belongs to
departed saints above us. Hence it appears that by 'Christian perfec
tion' we mean nothing but the cluster and maturity of the graces which compose the Christian character in the Church Militant.
"In other words, Christian perfection is a spiritual constellation, made up of those gracious stars, perfect repentance, perfect faith, perfect humility, perfect meekness, perfect self-denial, perfect resignation, perfect hope, perfect charity for our visible enemies, as well as for our earthly relations; and, above all, perfect love for our invisible God, through the explicit knowledge of our Mediator, Jesus Christ." - Last Check, p. 492.
Adam Clark, as quoted by Dr. Peck, discourses on the subject thus:
"The word 'perfection,' in reference to anything, signifies that such person or thing is complete or finished; that it has nothing redundant, and is in nothing defective. And hence that observation of a learned civilian is at once both correct and illustrative, namely, 'We count those things perfect which want nothing requisite for the end whereto they were instituted.' And to be perfect often signifies to be blame