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tences to perfection which are sometimes made. end of what they call perfection here below." such perfection here.
"I've seen an
There is no
Nor are these pretences to perfection a harmless delusion. Their influence on the heart and character is uniformly hurtful.
The man who thinks himself already perfect will, almost of necessity, be led to lower down the standard of duty. He may not intend to do it, but he will.* The law of God will not appear to him, as it did to David, to Paul, and to President Edwards. It will receive such modifications in his hands, that he can easily bring himself up to what he conceives to be the measure of its requisitions.
He will also be a self-confident, self-righteous man. He will be strong in his own strength, and will look down with pity, perhaps with scorn, on those whose attainments he deems inferior to his own. He will be disposed to find fault with other Christians; to judge of them censoriously; and to withhold from them the hand of christian fellowship.
A connection has commonly been observed between a fancied perfection, and wild enthusiastic notions. After Mr. Wesley began to preach the doctrine of perfection, and a considerable number of his followers in London had attained to that state, he complains that, in spite of him, "enthusiasm broke in. Two or three began to take their own imaginations for impressions from God, and thence to suppose that they should never die. The same persons, with a few more, ran into other extravagancies, fancying that they could not be tempted-that they should feel no more pain-that they had the gift of prophecy, and of discerning of spirits. At my return among them," adds Mr. Wesley," some stood reproved; but others had got above instruction."+
Persons who fall under the delusion of which we speak are usually led to undervalue christian ordinances, and religious means. The Sabbath, the house of God, sacraments, and set times of prayer, may be needful for those who are struggling under the bonds of sin; but what necessity have the perfect
Mr. Wesley did not intend, perhaps, to depress the standard of duty; but he held to the repeal of "the Adamic law," and thought it very consistent with perfection that persons should fall into great errors and faulls. See his Plain Account, pp. 93, 54.
Plain Account, p. 76.
for any of those things? Every day is to them a Sabbath, and every place a temple, and every breath as the incense of heaFor persons in this state, ordinances are low and carnal
In short, I have no hesitation in saying, that those who think themselves perfect in the present life, are the subjects of a miserable, hurtful delusion. Instead of perfection, they too often manifest to all around them, in their tempers and their lives, that they are exceedingly imperfect-far gone in error and in sin*—and have need to have their eyes opened, and their hearts humbled, and to come back, in penitence and sorrow, upon the ground of salvation, as offered in the gospel.
I must not be understood, in anything I have here written, as excusing or palliating the imperfections of Christians. For their imperfections admit of no good excuse. They feel this; they are sensible of it; and this is that which humbles them in the sight of God.
Nor must I be understood as discouraging the desires, and prayers, and endeavors of Christians to get forward in the divine life, and press toward the mark of sinless perfection. For such desires, and prayers, and efforts, are an essential element of the christian character. No person, who is not conscious of them, can have any real evidence that he is a child of God.
* In illustration of what is here said, I cannot forbear quoting a few sentences from Mr. Wesley's " Plain Account" of some of his perfect followers in London. "Some," says he, "are wanting in gentleness. They resist evil, instead of turning the other cheek. If they are reproved or contradicted, though mildly, they do not take it well. They behave with more distance and reserve than they did before. If they are reproved or contradicted harshly, they answer it with harshness; with a loud voice, or with an angry tone, or in a sharp or surly manner. They speak sharply or roughly, when they reprove others, and behave roughly to their inferiors.
"Some are wanting in goodness. They are not kind, mild, sweet, amiable, soft, and loving at all times, in their spirit, in their words, in their looks and air, in the whole tenor of their behavior. They do not study to make all about them happy. They can see them uneasyperhaps make them so; and then wipe their mouths and say, It is their own fault.
"Some are wanting in fidelity, or a nice regard to truth, simplicity, and godly sincerity." "Some are wanting in meekness, composure, evenness of temper." "Some are wanting in temperance," etc. pp. 113, 114.
But I would discourage Christians from vainly pretending that they have arrived at the point of sinless perfection, when this is not the case. I would discourage them from thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think; — from flattering themselves that they are rich, and increased in goods, and in need of nothing, when they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
If Christians would be safe in this respect, let them study faithfully and prayerfully the law of God. They must carry it always with them. They must keep it ever before them, in all its extent, its spirituality, its strictness, its purity. Let them keep up the standard high, where God has set it; and labor to bring themselves up to the standard, instead of laboring to bring the standard down to them. In this way, while they are ever active, and growing, and fervent; they will be ever humble, penitent, and contrite. While they are gaining new conquests over the world and sin, and advancing nearer and nearer to the standard, the standard may seem to recede faster than they approach, and they may think themselves further from it than ever. In the measureless distance which lies before them, they will think little of the way over which they have already travelled. In their zeal to get forward, they will forget the things which are behind. And thus will they go on, from strength to strength, and from attainment to attainment, to the end of their mortal conflict-till they lay down their bodies in the dust of death; and then will the last remains of sin be overcome, and their triumphing souls will be set at liberty. Then will they lay aside their armor, and cease from all their toils and sufferings, and enter into glorious rest.
THE WRITINGS OF JOHN FOSTER.
By Rev. Daniel Butler, Dorchester, Ms.
AMONG the theological writings of the present age, few have obtained a wider circulation, or gained for their author a more lasting fame, than the volumes of John Foster. I grant, indeed,
that if we estimate this writer merely by the number and size of his works, he will be lightly esteemed in comparison with many of his contemporaries. While their huge octavos, in shining array, occupy the lower shelves of every respectable library, his three or four small duodecimos are thrust away on the upper shelf, content to stand beside Annuals, Almanacs, and books simplified, or made extremely simple, for children. But if, on the other hand, we regard the truth he has given us, the just views he has taken of many important subjects, the valuable ideas he has suggested, the new fields of thought he has opened to view, and the tone of piety which pervades all his writings, we are bound to assign him a high eminence among those whose productions have blessed the world.
One of Foster's most prominent characteristics is his originality. This is displayed even in the selection of his topics for discussion. Several of them are new altogether, and of a nature which would seem, at first sight, to repay but poorly the labor of investigation.
But the originality of the selection is not more conspicuous 'than that displayed in the treatment of his subjects. He follows no leader. He does not content himself with dressing up anew shapes borrowed from preceding writers. As the subjects are his, so the treatment is eminently all his own. He seems a spark struck out from the seventeenth century, that antiquated period, when men were content to think their own thoughts.
It is another excellence of this writer, that he displays a mastery of his subject. If he has chosen themes seldom considered, he has not done so without a full understanding of their nature. His mind is deeply imbued with them, and displays its fulness in every line. Successive views are taken, and the great question appears to be, not what shall be said, but what omitted. Like the successful adventurer to distant lands, who, on his return, unable to bring all his wealth, casts his eye doubtfully along the glittering heaps, uncertain which to leave; so he, from his rich stores of thought, seems laboring to select, where all is too valuable for omission.
As a consequence of this fulness, he is all the time making progress in his subject. He does not grasp, in conscious poverty, every idea presented to his mind, and hold it up again and again, under different aspects. Like the sun in its progress round the world, no sooner has he poured light upon one part, than he hurries forward to illuminate regions yet in darkness. You feel,
as you pass from sentence to sentence, that you are really advancing-gaining views of what is already past, and discovering what has hitherto been hid in the distance. Like the aspiring conqueror, instead of sitting down to enjoy the fair fields already won, each point gained becomes the signal for new conquests. And when the theme is dropped, an impression of completeness is left upon the mind, as though it had obtained a full and symmetrical view of the subject discussed.
The correctness of many of this author's conclusions, is easily admitted, from the fact that they are founded upon operations of the mind of which all are conscious. This remark is especially applicable to his Essay on Decision of Character. No one can read this, without the conviction that the writer possessed an intimate knowledge of the workings of the human mind; and yet in so happy a manner does he introduce his metaphysics, that they lose their offensive features, and become interesting to all classes of readers, who are but willing to think. In the masterly description which he gives of Indecision of Character, one cannot but feel that he is speaking from his own experience; and it is probably from this circumstance the report has arisen that the author is distinguished for this very Indecision. Certain it is,
that he has described it far better than the opposite quality. Another characteristic of our author's writings is, that they are eminently suggestive. Many writers possess the power of amusing and instructing us by what they actually say, and that is all; they leave nothing to be done by the reader. A person perusing their productions, like the traveller on the banks of the Nile, sees much that is beautiful immediately around him; but his heart sickens as he beholds, at a little distance on either hand, the prospect bounded by a hopeless desert. With the writer before us, the case is far different. If he says much, he suggests more. He excites the mind to vigorous action by the glimpses of truth, no less than by what he actually reveals. He conducts us along a high road, where many attractive objects present themselves, while ever and anon our path is intersected by others, which, stretching far away over hill and dale, disclose to our hasty glance views dim yet beautiful, and each inviting the labor of a separate journey. He gives us the materials of thought, no less than the thoughts themselves. surrounds us with the fairest fruit, but the toil of collecting it is our own. With admirable skill he points out the position of the ore, but leaves to us the labor of removing it from its bed