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Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Job, and Daniel, and Paul, and John, and James, we hear confessing, and often bewailing and lamenting their sins. In short, we read of no sinlessly perfect man in the Bible, with the single exception of the man Christ Jesus. But if patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles-those holy men of old, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, were not perfect; where are we to look for perfection on this side the grave? Who will have the arrogance to pretend that he is more perfect than they?
3. In proof of the same point, I may refer to the example of some of the holiest men, who have lived between the days of the apostles and the present time.-Of the ancient christian church, the celebrated Augustine of Hippo may justly be regarded as the great luminary. And he was distinguished, beyond all his contemporaries, by the deep and humbling sense which he habitually entertained of his own sinfulness. Of this, his published Confessions will stand as a monument, to the end of time.*
John Bunyan, a man distinguished for piety and deep christian experience, wrote a memoir of himself, entitled "Grace abounding to the chief of sinners." This was the light in which Bunyan, like Paul, was constrained to view himself, the chief of sinners.
When we look into the lives of such men as Brainerd, and Cowper, and John Newton, and Fuller, and Martyn, and Payson, and Porter, and Mills, we find that they were not more distinguished for their piety, and zeal, and usefulness in the church of God, than they were for their deep, and often painful, and ever abiding convictions of sin.
The immortal Edwards, whose spiritual attainments have not, probably, been exceeded upon earth, since the days of the apostle Paul, thus expresses the views which he entertained of himself, years after his conversion. "My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination, like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite."
The experience of the church upon this subject has been remarkably uniform. Wherever we find an eminently holy
The Confessions of Augustine are in thirteen books, the first ten of which relate chiefly to his religious experience. They may be found in the first Tome of his Works, Benedictine Edition.
person, we are sure to find one who is not doting or dreaming of his perfection-but humbly abasing himself before God, and confessing and lamenting his great sinfulness.
4. That Christians do not attain to perfection here, is evident, since this life is to them a state of warfare. So it is represented in the Scriptures. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." "The good that I would I do not, but the evil that I would not, that I do." This account of the christian life, drawn by the unerring hand of inspiration, has been verified in the experience of all the children of God. They have all been conscious of this war in the members of this struggle, this conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. They have all felt the necessity of girding on the gospel armor, and of contending against the enemies of their peace. But the very existence of this warfare a warfare which terminates only with the Christian's life-is conclusive against the idea of perfection here below. If Christians were delivered from all sin, they would, of course, have no sin to contend with, and no warfare to maintain.
5. If we compare the claims of the divine law with the measure of Christian attainment in the present life, we shall perceive, at once, that there is no perfection here.-What, then, are the claims of the divine law? "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself." "Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Such, in substance, is the divine law a law which the Psalmist has well represented as "exceeding broad."
What now would be the state and character of an individual, internal and external, who should perfectly obey this holy law?
In the first place, his understanding, in all its departments, would be completely rectified. I do not mean that it would be infallible, but it would be delivered from everything calculated to mislead or pervert it. His thoughts, his conceptions, his imaginations, his recollections, his judgments-all would be under the most happy influence, and would be regulated in the most perfect manner.
Next, the whole range of the sensibilities would be reduced. to exact order, and be held under the most wise control. The evil propensities would all be extirpated. The baser passions
of the soul would be thoroughly subdued; while the nobler sensibilities, such as the feeling of gratitude, the sense of moral obligation, the power of conscience, would be raised to their proper standard, and would exert a sovereign control.
Then the love of God would fill the whole heart, and soul, and mind. It would be exercised continually, and with the utmost strength. Our fellow creature, too, would be loved, as we love ourselves, and we should feel the same regard for his interest, as for our own. This love to God and our neighbor, dwelling, reigning constantly in the heart, would of course displace every evil affection. We should feel no longer the motions of pride, or envy, or discontent, or of selfishness in any form. We should no more be slothful, or indolent, or remiss, or neglectful, in the performance of that which God required. Our heart would be ever warm, and our hand ever engaged, in appropriate duty. Our duties to ourselves, whether relating to body or soul, to time or eternity, would be promptly and perfectly performed. Our duties to our neighbor, whether public or private, relative or social, moral or religious, would be performed in the same manner. And so also would be our duties to God. We should walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, neither rising above, nor sinking below-passing over, nor falling short of, the full measure of the divine requirements.
In short, if we obeyed the divine law perfectly, we should be just such persons (according to our measure of knowledge) as was the Lord Jesus Christ. We should perfectly copy his example. We should be just such persons (in proportion to our knowledge) as we shall be when we arrive at heaven.
Now it is certainly desirable-in itself most desirable—that we should all be such persons as I have here described. This state of perfection should be earnestly aspired after, and prayed for. Every Christian, like Paul, should press towards this mark for the prize-this measure of the stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus. But do any attain to it, in the present life? This is the question. Paul tells us expressly, that he had not already attained, neither was he already perfect. John also tells us, in extreme old age, that he had not yet attained. David, and Daniel, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and all the prophets, and all the apostles, who say anything on the subject, tell us the same story. Who then has attained? Where is the already perfect Christian, who perfectly obeys the whole divine
law? Really, when I hear Christians occasionally speaking of their perfection (and it is but occasionally that we hear such things) their testimony, so far from establishing the validity of their claims, serves rather to convince me of one of three or four things; either that the persons in question have no adequate conception of what the law of God is-or that they know not what sin is-or that they know not what their own heart is-or (which is more probable) that they are sadly, grievously blinded and ignorant in regard to all these important matters;so that in place of their alleged perfection, they have need to go back to the very alphabet of religious knowledge, and learn again what be the first principles of the oracles of God.
6. In disproving the claim to sinless perfection, I urge but another consideration, which is, that the nearer Christians arrive to perfection in the present world, the further they seem to themselves to be from it. This may appear paradoxical to some, but both Scripture, and observation, and reason confirm its truth. It was when Job was favored with the clearest manifestations of the divine presence and glory, and his heart was warmed with unwonted measures of divine love, that he began to abhor himself and repent in dust and ashes. He had justified himself before, and protested his innocence; but now he lays his hand upon his mouth, and says, 'Behold I am vile.' It was when Isaiah had that wonderful vision of Jehovah, sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, with his train filling the temple, that he cried out, Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.' And from the days of Isaiah to the present, it has been universally true, that those Christians who have had the clearest views of divine things, and have made the greatest progress in holiness, have uniformly had the deepest sense of their own unworthiness and vileness. The strong language of President Edwards on this subject, I have already quoted. Now President Edwards was led to use this language in regard to himself, not because he was more wicked than others; for he was a pattern, so far as the eye of man could follow him, of all the christian graces and virtues. But the reason of his using such language was, that he was holier than other men. His standard was higher; his affections purer; his attainments in divine knowledge and holiness greater. He saw further into his evil heart than most men, and the evils which he saw there appeared more odious to him. He could not endure the sight of them, but turned away from them with detestation and abhorrence.
In this respect, it is in religion as in other things. In the different branches of learning, to use the language of another, "he who knows nothing, or knows but little, is confident and eager; while he who seriously enters on the pursuit, soon loses his presumption. He acquires, by degrees, a new standard of judging. New views present themselves. The circuit continually widens around him. The point of perfection moves further off. And after years of patient study, he still sees that he has acquired but very little, in comparison with the unbounded field which stretches itself before him."
And thus it is in the pursuit of personal holiness. The worldly man knows nothing of the subject, and of course if he speaks of it, he will betray his ignorance. The young Christian knows but little, and must therefore be an incompetent judge. But the experienced Christian, who has been long in the school of Christ, and has been growing there, uniformly finds his confidence in himself to diminish, in proportion as his spiritual attainments increase. He sees more of the extent and purity of God's law. He feels more deeply the defilement and guilt of sin. He sees more clearly the beauty and excellency of holiness. His spiritual senses become more acute. He daily finds new sources of evil discovering themselves, and new points of duty calling for attention. And thus, while he is improving in all goodness, he seems to himself often to be deteriorating. He seems to remain at a vast and increasing distance from that point of perfection to which his heart aspires. The beautiful language of Pope, on another subject, is so illustrative of this, that I shall be excused for quoting it:
"So pleased, at first, the tow'ring Alps we try,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last.
The growing labors of the lengthen'd way;
The fact here illustrated, viz. that the greater the advances which Christians make in holiness, in this life, and the nearer they approach to the point of sinless perfection, the further they seem to themselves to be from it, is to my own mind indubitable. And if it be so, it stamps as utter delusion all those pre