LAST CHECK TO ANTINOMIANISM.
St. Paul, instead of owning himself a "carnal man," still "sold under sin," presents us with a striking picture of the perfect Christian, by occasionally describing his own spirituality and heavenly mindedness and therefore his genuine experiences are so many proofs that Christian perfection is attainable, and has actually been attained in this lifeWhat St. Augustine and the Rev. Mr. Whitefield once thought of Rom. viiAnd how near this last divine, and the Rev. Mr. Romaine, sometimes come to the doctrine of Christian perfection. MR. HILL'S mistake, with respect to St. Paul's supposed carnality, is so much the more astonishing, as the apostle's professed spirituality not only clears him, but demonstrates the truth of our doctrine. Having therefore rescued his character from under the feet of those who tread his honour in the dust, and sell his person under sin at an Antinomian market, I shall retort the argument of our opponents; and appealing to St. Paul's genuine and undoubted experiences, when he taught wisdom "among the perfect," I shall present the reader with a picture of the perfect Christian, drawn at full length. Nor need I inform Mr. Hill that the misrepresented apostle sits for his own picture before the glass of evangelical sincerity; and that, turning spiritual self painter, with the pencil of a good conscience, and with colours mixed by the Spirit of truth, the draws this admirable portrait from the life
"Be followers of me. This one thing I do; leaving the things that are behind, I press toward the mark for the prize of the heavenly calling [a crown of glory.] Charity is the bond of perfection. Love is the fulfilling of the law. If I have not charity, I am nothing." And what charity or love St. Paul had, appears from Christ's words and from his own. "Greater [i.e. more perfect] love hath no man than this," says our Lord, "that he lay down his life for his friends." Now, this very love Paul had for Christ, for souls, yea, for the souls of his fiercest adversaries, the Jews. Hear him:"The love of Christ constraineth us. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. I long to depart and to be with Christ. I count not my life dear unto myself, that I may finish my course with joy. I am ready not to be bound only, but to die also for the name of the Lord Jesus. If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all." And in the next chapter but one to that in which the apostle is supposed to profess himself actually "sold under sin," he professes perfect love to his sworn enemies; even that love by which "the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in them who walk after the Spirit." Hear him:"I say the truth in Christ, I lie not; my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I, &c, could wish that myself were accursed, i.e. made a curse (apo Cristou) after the example of Christ, for my kinsmen according to the flesh;" meaning his inexorable, bloody persecutors, the Jews.
Nor was this love of St. Paul like a land flood: it constantly flowed like a river. This living water sprang up constantly in his soul: witness these words:"Remember, that, by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. Of many I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they mind earthly things: for our conversation is in heaven. Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world. I know nothing [i.e. no evil] by [or of] myself. We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. Whether we are beside [i.e. carried out beyond] ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, [i.e. calm,] it is for your cause: [i.e. the love of God and man is the only source of all my tempers.] Giving no offence in any thing, but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, by pureness, by kindness, by love unfeigned; being filled with comfort, and exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. I will gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved: [a rare instance this, of the most perfect love!] We speak before God in Christ, we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, [see here the destruction of sinful self!] but Christ liveth in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God. As always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death: we worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Mark them who walk so, as ye have us for an example. I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content; every where and in all things I am instructed, both to abound and to suffer need: I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me. Teaching every man in all wisdom, that I may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus; whereunto also I labour, striving according to his working which worketh in me mightily."
This description of the perfect Christian, and of St. Paul, is so exceedingly glorious, and it appears to me such a refutation of the Calvinian mistake which I oppose, that I cannot deny myself the pleasure, and my readers the edification of seeing the misrepresented apostle give his own lovely picture a few more finishing strokes:"We speak not as pleasing men," says he, "but as pleasing God, who trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, &c, God is witness; nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children. Being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted to you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls; labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable to any of you. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblamably we behaved ourselves among you. The Lord make you abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you. Thou hast fully known my manner of life, purpose, faith; long suffering, charity, patience: I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give in that day."
When I read this wonderful experience of St. Paul, written by himself, and see his doctrine of Christian perfection so gloriously exemplified in his own tempers and conduct, I am surprised that good men should still confound Saul the Jew with PAUL THE CHRISTIAN: and should take the son of "the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children," for the son of "the Jerusalem from above, which is free, and is the mother of us all, who stand in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free." But, upon second thoughts, I wonder no more: for if those who engross to themselves the title of Catholics, can believe that Christ took his own body into his own fingers, broke it through the middle, when he took bread, broke it, and said, "This is my body which is broken for you;" why cannot those who monopolize the name of orthodox among us, believe also that St. Paul spoke with a figure when he said, "'I am carnal, and sold under sin, and brought into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Brethren, I beseech you be as I am: those things which ye have heard and seen in me, do, and the God of peace shall be with you.' Now you have heard and seen, 'that the evil which I would not, that I do; and that with my flesh I serve the law of sin.' In short, you have heard and seen that 'I am carnal and sold under sin.'"
I am not at all surprised that carnal and injudicious professors should contend for this contradictory doctrine, this flesh-pleasing standard of Calvinian inconsistency and Christian imperfection. But that good, and in other respects judicious men, should so zealously contend for it, appears to me astonishing. They can never design to confound carnal bondage with evangelical liberty, and St. Paul's Christian experience with that of Medea, and "Mr. Fulsome," in order to countenance gross Antinomianism: nor can they take any pleasure in misrepresenting the holy apostle. Why do they then patronize so great a mistake? I answer still, By the same reason which makes pious Papists believe that consecrated bread is the real flesh of Christ. Their priests and the pope say so: some figurative expressions of our Lord seem to countenance their saying. We Protestants, whom the Papists call carnal reasoners and heretics, are of a different sentiment: and should they believe as we do, their humility and orthodoxy would be in danger. Apply this to the present case. Calvinian divines and St. Augustine affirm that St. Paul humbly spake his present experience when he said, I am carnal, &c. We, who are called "Arminians and perfectionists," think the contrary; and our pious opponents suppose that if they thought as we do, they should lose their humility and orthodoxy. Their error therefore springs chiefly from mistaken fears, and not from wilful opposition to truth.
Nor is St. Augustine fully for our opponents: we have our part in the bishop of Hippo as well as they. If he was for them when his controversy with Pelagius had heated him; he was for us when he yet stood upon the Scriptural line of moderation. Then he fairly owned that the man whom the apostle personates in Romans vii, is homo sub lege positus ante gratiam; "a man under the [condemning, irritating] power of the law, who is yet a stranger to the liberty and power of Christ's Gospel." Therefore, if Mr. Hill claim St. Augustine, the prejudiced controvertist, we claim St. Augustine, the unprejudiced father of the Church; or rather, setting aside his dubious authority, we continue our appeal to unprejudiced reason and plain Scripture.
What I say of St. Augustine may be said of the Rev. Mr. Whitefield. Before he had embraced St. Augustine's mistakes, which are known among us by the name of "Calvinism," he believed, as well as that father, that the disconsolate man who groans, Who shall deliver me? is not a possessor but a seeker of Christian liberty. To prove it, I need only transcribe the latter part of his sermon, entitled, The Marks of the New Birth:
"Thirdly," says he, "I address myself to those who are under the drawings of the Father, and are going through the Spirit of bondage; but, not finding the marks [of the new birth] before mentioned, are ever crying out, [as the carnal penitent, Rom. vii,] Who shall deliver us from the body of this death? Despair not: for, notwithstanding your present trouble, it may be the Divine pleasure to give you the kingdom." Hence it appears that Mr. Whitefield did not look upon such mourners as Christian believers; but only as persons who might become such if they earnestly sought. He therefore most judiciously exhorts them to seek till they find. "The grace of God, through Jesus Christ," adds he, "is able to deliver you, and give you what you want; even you may receive the Spirit of adoption, the promise of the Father. All things are possible with him; persevere, therefore, in seeking, and determine to find no rest in your spirit, till you know and feel that you are thus born again from above, and God's Spirit witnesses with your spirits that you are the children of God."
What immediately follows is a demonstration that, at that time, Mr. Whitefield was no enemy to Christian perfection, and thought that some had actually attained it; or else nothing would have been more trifling than his concluding address to perfect Christians. Take his own words, and remember that when he preached them, by the ardour of his zeal, and the devotedness of his heart, he showed himself a young man in Christ, able to trample under foot the most alluring baits of the flesh and of the world.
"Fourthly and lastly," says he, "I address myself to those who have received the Holy Ghost in all its sanctifying graces, and are almost ripe for glory. Hail, happy saints! For your heaven is begun upon earth. You have already received the first fruits of the Spirit, and are patiently waiting till that blessed change come, when your harvest shall be complete. I see and admire you, though, alas, at 11 so great a distance from you. Your life, I know, is hid with Christ in God. You have comforts, you have meat to eat, which a sinful, carnal world knows nothing of. Christ's yoke is now become easy to you, and his burden light: you have passed through the pangs of the new birth, and now rejoice that Christ Jesus is formed in your hearts. You know what it is to dwell in Christ, and Christ in you. Like Jacob's ladder, although your bodies are on earth, yet your souls and hearts are in heaven; and by your faith and constant recollection, like the blessed angels, you do always behold the face of your Father, which is in heaven. I need not then exhort you to press forward, &c. Rather I will exhort you in patience to possess your souls: yet a little while, and Jesus Christ will deliver you from the burden of the flesh, and an abundant entrance shall be administered unto you into the eternal joy, &c, of his heavenly kingdom." I have met with few descriptions of the perfect Christian that please me better. I make but one objection to it: Mr. Whitefield thought that the believers who "by constant recollection, like the blessed angels, always behold the face of their Father," are so advanced in grace, that they "need not to be exhorted to press forward." This is carrying the doctrine of perfection higher than Mr. Wesley ever did. For my part, were I to preach to a congregation of such "happy saints," I would not scruple taking this text: "So run that ye may [eternally] obtain:" nor would I forget to set before them the example of the perfect apostle, who said, "This one thing I do, leaving the things that are behind, and reaching forth, I press toward the mark," &c. Had I been in Mr. Whitefield's case, I own I would either have refused to join the imperfectionists, or I would have recanted my address to perfect Christians.
So strong is the Scriptural tide in favour of our doctrine, that it sometimes carried away the Rev. Mr. Romaine himself. Nor can I confirm the wavering reader in his belief of the possibility of obtaining the glorious liberty which we contend for, better than by transcribing a fine exhortation of that great minister, to what we call Christian perfection, and what he calls the walk of faith:
"The new covenant runs thus:'I will put,' says God, 'my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts,' &c. The Lord here engages to take away the stony heart, and to give a heart of flesh, upon which he will write the ten commandments, &c. The love of God will open the contracted heart, enlarge the selfish, warm the cold, and bring liberality out of the covetous. When the Holy Spirit teaches brotherly love, he overcomes all opposition to it, &c. He writes upon their hearts the two great commandments, 'on which hang all the law and the prophets. The love of God,' says the apostle to the Romans, 'is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost;' and to the Thessalonians, 'Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.' Thus he engages the soul to the holy law, and inclines the inner man to love obedience. It ceases to be a yoke and a burden. How easy is it to do what one loves! If you dearly love any person, what a pleasure it is to serve him! What will not love put you upon doing or suffering to oblige him! Let love rule in the heart to God and to man, his law will then become delightful, and obedience to it will be pleasantness. The soul will run; yea, inspired by love, it will mount up with wings as eagles, in the way of God's commandments. Happy are the people that are in such a case." Now, such a case is what we call, the state of Christian perfection; to the obtaining of which, Mr. Romaine excites his own soul by the following excellent exhortation:
"This is the very tenor of the covenant of grace, which the almighty Spirit has undertaken to fulfil, [if we mix faith with the promises, as Mr. Romaine himself will soon intimate,] and he cannot fail in his office. It is his crown and glory to make good his covenant engagements. O trust him then, and put honour upon his faithfulness, [that is, if I mistake not, make good your own covenant engagements.] He has promised to guide thee with his counsel, and to strengthen thee with his might, &c. What is within thee, or without thee, to oppose thy walking in love with him, he will incline thee to resist, and he will enable thee to overcome. O what mayest thou not expect from such a Divine Friend, who is to abide with thee on purpose to keep thine heart right with God! [Query: when the heart is kept full of indwelling sin, is it kept right with God?] What cannot he do? What will he not do for thee? Such as is the love of the Father and of the Son, such is the love of the Holy Ghost: the same free, perfect, everlasting love. Read his promises of it. Meditate on them. Pray to him for increasing faith to mix with them; that he [not sin] dwelling in the temple of thy heart, thou mayest have fellowship there with the Father and with the Son. Whatever in thee is pardoned through the Son's atonement, pray the Holy Spirit to subdue, that it may not interrupt communion with thy God. And whatever grace is to be received out of the fulness of Jesus, in order to keep up and promote that communion, entreat the Holy Spirit to give it thee with growing strength. But pray in faith, nothing wavering. So shall the love of God rule in thy heart. And then thou shalt be like the sun, when it goeth forth in its might, shining clearer and clearer to the perfect day. O may thy course be like his, as free, as regular, and as communicative of good, that thy daily petition may be answered, and that the will of thy Father may be done on earth, as it is in heaven." (Walk of Faith, vol. i, page 227, &c.)
I do not produce this excellent quotation to insinuate that the Rev. Mr. Romaine is a perfectionist, but only to edify the reader, and to show that the good, mistaken men, who are most prejudiced against our doctrine, see it sometimes so true, and so excellent, that, forgetting their pleas for indwelling sin, they intimate that our daily petition may be answered; and that the "will of our Father may be done on earth as it is in heaven;" an expression this, which includes the height and depth of all Christian perfection.