LAST CHECK TO ANTINOMIANISM.
The author shows that the distinction between sins, and (evangelically speaking) innocent infirmities, is truly Scriptural, and that judicious Calvinists and the Church of England hold itHe draws the line between sins and innocent infirmitiesA view of the extremes into which rigid, Pelagian perfectionists, and rigid, Calvinian imperfectionists, have run east and west, from the Gospel line of an evangelical perfectionAn answer to Mr. Henry's grand argument for the continuance of indwelling sinConclusion of the argumentative part of this essay. WE have proved, in the preceding section, that the doctrine of an evangelically sinless perfection is truly Scriptural, being inseparably connected with the greatest and most excellent precepts of the Old and New Testament, and with the most evangelical and awful sanctions of Moses and Jesus Christ. This might suffice to show that our doctrine of perfection cannot be called popish or Pelagian, with any more candour than the doctrine of the trinity can be branded with those epithets, because Pelagius and the pope embrace it. If, in order to be good Protestants, we were obliged to renounce all that the Jews, Turks, and infidels hold; we should renounce the Old Testament, because the Jews revere it; we should renounce the unity of God, because the Mohammedans contend for it; nay, we should renounce common humanity, because all infidels approve of it. I beg leave, however, to dwell a moment longer upon Mr. Hill's objection, that the pope holds our doctrine.
When this gentleman was at Rome, he may remember that his Cicerone showed him, in the ancient Church of St. Paul without the gate, (if I remember the name,) the picture of all the popes from St. Peter, Linus, Cletus, and Clement, down to the pope who then filled what is called "St. Peter's chair." According to this view of papacy, Mr. Hill is certainly in the right; for if he turn back to sec. v, he will see that Peter, the first pope, so called, was a complete perfectionist, and if Clemens, or St. Clement, Paul's fellow labourer, was really the fourth pope, it is certain that he also held our doctrine as well as Peter and Christ; for he wrote to the Corinthians, "By love were all the elect of God made perfect. Those who were made perfect in love are in the region of the just, and shall appear in glory. Happy then are we if we fulfil the commandments of God in the unity of love. Following the commandments of God they sin not." (St. Clem. Ep. to the Cor.) This glorious testimony, which St. Clement bears to the doctrine of perfection, might be supported by many correspondent quotations from the other fathers. But as this would too much swell this essay, I shall only produce one, which is so much the more remarkable, as it is taken from St. Jerome's third Dialogue against Pelagius, the rigid, overdoing perfectist: Hoc et nos dicimus, posse hominem non peccare, si velit, pro tempore, pro loco, pro imbecillitate corporea, quamdiu intentus est animus, quamdiu chorda nullo vitio laxatur in cithara. That is, "We [who oppose Pelagius' notion about Adamic perfection] maintain also that, considering our time, place, and bodily weakness, we can avoid sin if we will, as long as our mind is bent upon it, and the string of our harp [i.e. of our Christian resolution] is not slackened by any wilful fault.
When I read these blessed testimonies in favour of the truth which we vindicate, my pleased mind flies to Rome, and I am ready to say, Hail! ye holy popes and fathers, ye perfect servants of my perfect Lord! I am ambitious to share with you the names of "Arminian, Pelagian, Papist, temporary monster, and Atheist in masquerade." I publish to the world my steady resolution to follow you, and any of your successors, who have done and taught Christ's commandments. And I enter my protest against the mistakes of the ministers who teach that Christ's law is impracticable, that sin must dwell in our hearts as long as we live, and that we must continue to break the Lord's precepts in our inward parts unto death.
I shall close my answer to this argument of Mr. Hill by a quotation from Mr. Wesley's Remarks upon the Review:"It [our doctrine of Christian perfection] has been condemned by the pope and his whole conclave, even in this present century. In the famous bull Unigenitus, they utterly condemn the uninterrupted act [of faith and love which some men talked of, of continually rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks] as dreadful heresy." If we have Peter and Clement on our side, we are willing to let Mr. Hill screen his doctrine behind the pope who issued out the bull Unigenitus, and, if he pleases, behind the present pope too.
However, says Mr. Hill, "The distinction between sins and innocent infirmities is derived from the Romish Church."
Answer. 1. We rejoice if the Church of Rome was never so unreasonable and so deluded by Antinomian popes as to confound an involuntary, wandering thought, an undesigned mistake, and a lamented fit of drowsiness at prayer, with adultery, murder, and incest; in order to represent Christ's mediatorial law as absolutely impracticable, and to insinuate that fallen believers, who actually commit the above-mentioned crimes, are God's dear children, as well as the obedient believers, who labour under the above-described infirmities.
2. We apprehend that Mr. Hill and the divines who have espoused Dr. Crisp's errors, are some of the last persons in the world by whom we may with decency be charged to hold "licentious" doctrines. And we are truly sorry that any Protestants should make it their business to corrupt that part of the Gospel which, if we believe Mr. Hill, the pope himself has modestly spared.
3. Mr. Hill might, with much more propriety, have objected that our distinction is derived from the Jewish Church; for "the old rogue," as some Solifidians have rashly called Moses, evidently made a distinction between sin and infirmities; he punished a daring Sabbath breaker and an audacious rebel with death, with present death, with the most terrible kind of death. The language of his burning zeal seemed to be that of David, "Be not merciful to them that offend of malicious wickedness," Psa. lix, 5. But upon such as accidentally contracted some involuntary pollution, he inflicted no other punishment than that of a separation from the congregation till evening. If Mr. Hill consider the difference of these two punishments, he must either give place to perverseness, or confess that wilful sins and involuntary infirmities were not Calvinistically confounded by the mediator of the old covenant; and that Moses himself made a rational and evangelical distinction between "the spot of God's children," and that "of the perverse and crooked generation," Deut. xxxii, 4.
4. That Christ, the equitable and gracious Mediator of the new covenant, was not less merciful than stern Moses, with respect to the distinction we contend for, appears to us evident from his making a wide difference between the almost involuntary drowsiness of the eleven disciples in Gethsemane, and the malicious watchfulness of the traitor Judas. Concerning the offence of the former, he said, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak;" and with respect to the crime of the latter, he declared, "It would be good for that man if he had never been born."
5. David and Paul exactly followed herein the doctrine of Moses and Christ. The psalmist says, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins: let them not have the dominion over me; then shall I be upright, [or rather, as the word literally means in the original, I shall be perfect,] and innocent from the great transgression," Psalm xix, 13. Hence it is evident that some transgressions are incompatible with the perfection which David prayed for; and that some errors, or some secret [unnoticed, involuntary] faults, are not.
6. This, we apprehend, is evident from his own words: "Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile," though there may be some improprieties in his words and actions, Psalm xxxii, 2. David's meaning may be illustrated by the well-known case of Nathanael. Philip said unto him, "We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the law: [a clear proof this, by the by, that the law frequently means the Jewish Gospel, which testifies of Christ to come:] it is Jesus of Nazareth. And Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Here was an involuntary fault, an improper quoting of a proverbial expression: and, nevertheless, as he quoted it with a good intention, and to make way for a commendable inquiry into the report which he heard, his error was consistent with that degree of perfection which implies "innocence from the great [wilful] transgression." This I prove, (1.)By his conduct: "Philip saith unto him, Come and see;" and he instantly went, without betraying the least degree of the self-conceited stiffness, surly pride, and morose resistance, which always accompany the unloving prejudice by which the law of Christ is broken. And, (2.) By our Lord's testimony:"Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!" Our Lord's word for guile, in the original, is doloV, the very word, which being also Connected with a negative, forms the epithet adoloV, whereby St. Peter denotes the unadulterated purity of God's word, which he compares to sincere or perfectly pure milk, 1 Pet. ii, 2. Hence I conclude that, Christ himself being witness, (evangelically speaking,) there was no more indwelling insincerity in Nathanael than there is in the pure word of God; and that this is the happy case of all those who fully deserve the glorious title of "Israelite indeed," which our Lord publicly bestowed upon Nathanael. To return:
7. If to make a distinction between sins and infirmities constitutes a man half a Papist, it is evident that St. Paul was not less tinctured with popery (so called) than David, Moses, and Jesus Christ: for he writes to Timothy, "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others may also fear," 1 Tim. v, 20. And yet he writes to the Romans, "We that are strong should bear with the infirmities of the weak," Rom. xv, 1. Here are two plain commands; the first, not to bear with sins; and the second to bear with infirmities: a demonstration this, that there is an essential difference between sins and infirmities, and that this difference is discoverable to others, and much more to ourselves. Nay, in most cases, it is so discernible to those who have their spiritual senses properly disposed, that they can as easily distinguish between sins (properly so called) and infirmities, as a wise judge can distinguish between accidental death and wilful murder; or between unknowingly passing a false guinea with a kind intention to relieve the poor, and treasonably coining it with a roguish design to defraud the public. The difference between the sun and the moon is not more striking in the natural world, than the difference between sins and infirmities in the moral world. Nevertheless, blind prejudice will probably confound them still, to darken counsel, and to raise a cloud of logical dust, that Antinomianism (the Diana of the imperfectionists) may make her escape, and save indwelling sin, which is the claw of the hellish lion, the tooth of the old dragon, the fishing hook of Satan, and the deadly sting of the king of terrors.
8. Judicious Calvinists have seen the propriety of the distinction, for which we are represented as unsound Protestants. Of many whom I could mention, I shall only quote one, who for his piety, wisdom, and moderation, is an honour to Calvinism,I mean the Rev. Mr. Newton, minister of Olney. In his Letters on Religious Subjects, p. 199, he makes this ingenuous confession:"The experience of past years has taught me [and I hope that, some day or other, it will also teach our other opponents] to distinguish between ignorance and disobedience. The Lord is gracious to the weakness of his people; many involuntary mistakes will not interrupt their communion with him. He pities their infirmity, and teaches them to do better. But if they dispute his known will, and act against the dictates of conscience, they will surely suffer for it. Wilful sin sadly perplexes and retards our progress." Here is, if I mistake not, a clear distinction made, by a true Protestant, between disobedience or wilful sin, and weakness, involuntary mistakes, or infirmity.
9. If Mr. Hill will not regard Mr. Newton's authority, I beg he would show some respect for the authority of our Church, and the import of his own prayers. If there be absolutely no difference between wilful sins, involuntary negligences, and unavoidable ignorances; why does our Church distinguish them, when she directs us to pray in the liturgy, "that it may please God to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances?' If these three words have but one meaning, should not Mr. Hill leave out the two last as ridiculous tautology? Or, at least, to remove from our Church the suspicion of popery, should he not pray every Sunday that God would forgive us all our sins, sins, and sins!
From the nine preceding remarks, and the quotations made therein, it appears, if I mistake not, that our important distinction between wilful sin and infirmities, or involuntary offences, recommends itself to reason and conscience: that it is supported by the law of Moses, and the Gospel of Christ; by the Psalms of David, and the epistles of St. Paul; by the writings of judicious Calvinists, and the liturgy of our Church; and therefore it is as absurd to call it a popish distinction, because the Papists are not injudicious enough to reject it, as it is absurd to call the doctrine of Christ's divinity "a doctrine of devils," because devils acknowledged him to be the Son of God, and their omnipotent Controller.
Should Mr. Hill reply, that if this distinction cannot properly be called popish, it deserves to be called "Antinomian," and "licentious;" because it countenances all the men who give to their grossest sins the soft names of "innocent infirmities;" we can answer: (1.) It has been proved that Moses and Jesus Christ held this distinction; and therefore to call it Antinomian and licentious, is to call not only Christ, the holy one of God, but even "legal" Moses, an Antinomian, and an advocate for licentiousness. See what these Calvinian refinements come to! (2.) The men who abuse the doctrine of the distinction between sins and infirmities, abuse as much the doctrine of God's mercy, and the important distinction between working days and the Lord's day: but is this a proof that the doctrines of God's mercy, and the distinction between the Lord's day and other days, are "licentious tenets, against which all that wish well to the interest of Protestantism should protest in a body?"
If Mr. Hill try to embarrass us by saying, "Where will you draw the line between wilful sins and [evangelically speaking] innocent infirmities?" We reply, without the least degree of embarrassment, Where Moses and the prophets have drawn it in the Old Testament; where Christ and the apostles have drawn it in the New; and where we draw it after them in these pages. And, retorting the question to show its frivolousness, we ask, Where will Mr. Hill draw the line between the free, evangelical observing of the Lord's day, and the superstitious, pharisaic keeping of the Sabbath; or between weak, saving faith, and wilful unbelief? Nay, upon his principles, where will he draw it even between a good and a bad work; if all our good works are really dung, dross, and filthy rags?
However, as the question is important, I shall give it a more particular answer. An infirmity is a breach of Adam's law of paradisiacal perfection, which our covenant God does not require of us now: and (evangelically speaking) a sin for Christians is a breach of Christ's evangelical law of Christian perfection; a perfection this, which God requires of all Christian believers. An infirmity (considering it with the error which it occasions) is consistent with pure love to God and man: but a sin is inconsistent with that love. An infirmity is free from guile; and has its root in our animal frame: but a sin is attended with guile, and has its root in our moral frame, springing either from the habitual corruption of our hearts, or from the momentary perversion of our tempers. An infirmity unavoidably results from our unhappy circumstances, and from the necessary infelicities of our present state: but a sin flows from the avoidable and perverse choice of our own will. All infirmity has its foundation in an involuntary want of power: and a sin in a wilful abuse of the present light and power we have. The one arises from involuntary ignorance and weakness, and is always attended with a good meaning; a meaning unmixed with any bad design, or wicked prejudice: but the other has its source in voluntary perverseness and presumption, and is always attended with a meaning altogether bad; or, at best, with a good meaning, founded on wicked prejudices. If to this line the candid reader add the line which we have drawn (section vi) between the perfection of a Gentile, that of a Jew, and that of a Christian, he will not easily mistake in passing a judgment between the wilful sins, which are inconsistent with an evangelically sinless perfection, and the innocent infirmities which are consistent with such a perfection.
Confounding what God has divided, and dividing what the God of truth has joined, are the two capital stratagems of the god of error. The first he has chiefly used to eclipse or darken the doctrine of Christian perfection. By means of his instruments he has perpetually confounded the Christless law of perfect innocence, given to Adam before the fall; and the mediatorial, evangelical law of penitential faith, under which our first parents were put, when God promised them the seed of the woman, the mild Lawgiver, the Prince of Peace, the gentle King of the Jews; who "breaks not the bruised reed, nor quenches the smoking flax," but compassionately tempers the doctrines of justice by the doctrines of grace; and instead of the law of innocence, which he has kept and made honourable for us, has substituted his own evangelical law of repentance, faith, and Gospel obedience, which law is actually kept, according to one or another of its various editions, by all "just men, made perfect;" that is, by all the wise virgins, who are ready for the midnight cry, and the marriage of the Lamb.
Hence it appears that Pelagius and Augustine were both right in some things, and wrong in a capital point. Pelagius, the father of the rigid perfectionists and rigid free willers, asserted that Christ's law could be kept, and that the keeping of that law was all the perfection which that law requires. So far was Pelagius right; having reason, conscience, and Scripture on his side. But he was grossly mistaken if he confounded Christ's mediatorial law with the law of paradisiacal perfection. This was his capital error, which led him to deny original sin, and to extol human powers so excessively as to intimate that by a faithful and diligent use of them, man may be as innocent, and as perfect as Adam was before the fall.
On the other hand, Augustine, the father of the rigid imperfectionists and rigid bound willers, maintained that our natural powers, being greatly weakened and depraved by the fall, we cannot, by all the helps which the Gospel affords, keep the law of innocence; that is, always think, speak, and act, with that exactness and propriety which became immortal man, when God pronounced him very good in paradise: he asserted that every impropriety of thought, language, or behaviour, is a breach of the law of perfection, under which God placed innocent man in the garden of Eden; and he proved that every breach of this law is sin: and that of consequence there can be no Adamic, paradisiacal perfection in this life. So far Augustine was very right: so far reason and Scripture support his doctrine: and so far the Church is obliged to him for having made a stand against Pelagius. But he was very much mistaken when he abolished the essential difference which there is between our Creator's law of strict justice, and our Redeemer's mediatorial law of justice, tempered with grace and mercy. Hence he concluded that there is absolutely no keeping the law, and consequently no performing any perfect obedience in this life; and that we must sin as long as we continue in the body. Thus, while Pelagiius made adult Christians as perfectly sinless as Adam was in paradise, Augustine made them so completely sinful as to make it necessary for every one of them to go into a death purgatory, crying, "There is a law in my members, which brings me into captivity to the law of sin. Sin dwelleth in me. With my flesh I serve the law of sin. I am carnal, sold under sin. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?"
The Scripture doctrine, which we vindicate, stands at an equal distance from these extremes of Pelagius and Augustine. It rejects, with Augustine, the Adamic perfection which Pelagius absurdly pleaded for; and it explodes, with Pelagius, the necessary continuance of indwelling sin and carnal bondage, which Augustine no less absurdly maintained. Thus adult believers are still sinners, still imperfect according to the righteous law of paradisiacal innocence and perfection: and yet they are really saints, and perfect according to the gracious law of evangelical justification and perfection: a law this, which considers as upright and perfect, all the godly heathens, Jews, and Christians, who are "without guile" in their respective folds, or under their various dispensations. Thus by still vindicating the various editions of Christ's mediatorial law, which has been at times almost buried under heaps of Pharisaic and Antinomian mistakes, we still defend practical religion. And, as in the Scripture Scales, by proving the evangelical marriage of free grace and free will, we have reconciled Zelotes and Honestus with respect to faith and works; so in this essay, by proving the evangelical union of the doctrines of grace and justice in the mild and righteous law of our Redeemer, we reconcile Augustine and Pelagius, and force them to give up reason and Scripture, or to renounce the monstrous errors which keep them asunder: I mean the deep, Antinomian errors of Augustine with respect to indwelling sin and a death purgatory; and the high-flown, Pharisaic errors of Pelagius, with regard to Adamic perfection, and a complete freedom from original degeneracy.
The method we have used to bring about this reconciliation is quite plain and uniform. We have kept our Scripture Scales even, and used every weight of the sanctuary without prejudice; especially those weights which the moralists throw aside as Calvinistic and Antinomian; and those which the Solifidians cast away as Mosaic and legal. Thus, by evenly balancing the two Gospel axioms, we have reunited the doctrines of grace and of justice, which heated Augustine and heated Pelagius have separated; and we have distinguished our Redeemer's evangelical law, from our Creator's paradisiacal law; two distinct laws these, which our illustrious antagonists have confounded; and we flatter ourselves that, by this artless mean, another step is taken toward bringing the two partial gospels of the day to the old standard of the one complete Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have done unfolding our reconciling plan: but the disciples of Augustine, rallied by Calvin, have not done attacking it. I hope that I have answered the objections of Mr. Hill, Mr. Toplady, and Mr. Martin, against the evangelical perfection which we defend; but another noted divine of their persuasion comes up to their assistance. It is the Rev. Mr. Matthew Henry, who has deservedly got a great name among the Calvinists, by his valuable "Exposition of the Bible," in five folio volumes. This huge piece of ordnance carries a heavy ball, which threatens the very heart of our sinless Gospel. It is too late to attempt an abrupt and silent flight. Let then Mr. Henry fire away. If our doctrine of an evangelically sinless perfection is founded upon a rock, it will stand; the ponderous ball, which seems likely to demolish it, will rebound against the doctrine of indwelling sin; and the standard of Christian liberty which we waive, will be more respected than ever.
"Corruption," saith that illustrious commentator, "is left remaining in the hearts of good Christians, that they may learn war, may keep on the whole armour of God, and stand continually upon their guard." "Thus corruption is driven out of the hearts of believers by little and little. The work of sanctification is carried on gradually: but that judgment will at length be brought forth into a complete victory:" namely, when death shall come to the assistance of the atoning blood, and of the Spirit's power. That this is Mr. Henry's doctrine, is evident from his comment on Gal. v, 17: "In a renewed man, where there is something of a good principle, there is a struggle between, &c, the remainders of sin, and the beginnings of grace; and this, Christians must expect, will be their exercise as long as they continue in this world;" or, to speak more intelligibly, till they go into the death purgatory.
Not to mention here again, Gal. v, 17, &c, Mr. Henry builds this uncomfortable doctrine upon the following text: "The Lord thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little; thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee," Deut. vii, 22. And he gives us to understand that "pride and security, and other sins," are "the enemies more dangerous than the beasts of the field, that would be apt to increase" upon us, if God delivered us from indwelling sin, i.e. from the remains of pride and carnal security, and other sins. This exposition is backed by an appeal to the following text:"Now these are the nations which the Lord left to prove Israel by themto know whether they [the Israelites] would hearken to the commandments of the Lord," Judges iii, 1, 4. (See Mr. Henry's exposition on these passages.)
To this we answer:1. That it is absurd to build the mighty doctrine of a death purgatory upon a historical allusion. If such allusions were proofs, we could easily multiply our arguments. We could say, that sin is to be utterly destroyed, because Moses says, "The Lord delivered into our hands Og and all his people, and we smote him until none was left unto him remaining," Deut. iii, 3. Because "Joshua smote Horam, king of Gezer, and his people, until he had left him none remaining, Deut. iii, 33. Because Saul was commanded "utterly to destroy the sinners, the Amalekites," and lost his crown for sparing their king: because, when God "overthrew Pharaoh and all his host, there remained not so much as one of them," Exod. xiv, 28. Because, when God rained fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah, "he overthrew all their [wicked] inhabitants;" and because Moses says, "I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust, and cast the dust thereof into the brook," Deut. ix, 21. But we should blush to build the doctrine of Christian perfection upon so absurd and slender a foundation. And yet such a foundation would be far more solid, than that on which Mr. Henry builds the doctrine of Christian imperfection, and of the necessary indwelling of sin in the most holy believers; for,
2. Before God permitted the Canaanites to remain in the land, he had said, "When ye are passed over Jordan, then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you, and destroy all their pictures; for I have given you the land to possess it. But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein you dwell. And moreover I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them," Num. xxxiii, 51, &c. Hence it appears, that the sparing of the Canaanites was a punishment inflicted upon the Israelites, as well as a favour shown to the Canaanites, some of whom, like Rahab and the Gibeonites, probably turned to the Lord, and as "God's creatures," enjoyed his saving mercy in the land of promise. But is indwelling sin one of "God's creatures," that God should show it any favour, and should refuse his assistance to the faithful believers, who are determined to give it no quarter? Can indwelling sin be converted to God, as the indwelling Canaanites might, and as some of them undoubtedly were?
3. But the capital flaws of Mr. Henry's argument are, I apprehend, two suppositions, the absurdity of which is glaring:"Corruption," says he, "is left remaining in the hearts of good Christians, that they may learn war, may keep on the whole armour of God, and stand continually upon their guard." Just as if Christ had not "learned war, kept on the breastplate of righteousness, and stood continually upon his guard," without the help of indwelling sin! Just as if the world, the devil, the weakness of the flesh, and death, our last enemy, with which our Lord so severely conflicted, were not adversaries powerful enough to prove us, to engage us to learn war, and to make us "keep on and use the whole armour of God" to the end of our life! The other absurd supposition is, that "pride, and security, and other sins," which are supposed to be typified by "the wild beasts" mentioned in Deut. vii, 22, will increase upon us by the destruction of indwelling sin. But is it not as ridiculous to suppose this, as to say, Pride will increase upon us by the destruction of pride; and carnal security will gather strength by the extirpation of carnal security, and by the implanting of constant watchfulness, which is a branch of the Christian perfection which we contend for?
4. With respect to the inference which Mr. Henry draws from these words, "Thou mayest not consume them at once: the Lord will put them out before thee by little and little;" is it not highly absurd also? Does he give us the shadow of an argument to prove that this verse was spoken of our indwelling corruptions; and suppose it was, would this prove that the doctrine of a death purgatory is true? You say to a greedy person You must eat your dinner "by little and little," you cannot swallow it down at one gulp. A farmer teaches his son to plough, and says, We cannot plough this field at once, but we may plough it "by little and little," i.e. by making one furrow after another, till we end the last furrow. Hence I draw the following inferences:We eat our meals, and plough our fields, "by little and little;" and therefore no dinner can be eaten, and no field ploughed before death. A surgeon says, "that the healing of a wound is carried on gradually:" hence his prejudiced mate runs away with the notion that no wound can be healed so long as a patient is alive. Who does not see the flaw of these conclusions?
5. But the greatest absurdity, I apprehend, is yet behind. Not to observe that we do not remember to have read any command in our Bibles not to consume sin at once; or any declaration that God will put it out only "by little and little;" we ask, What length of time do you suppose God means? You make him say that he will make an end of our indwelling sin "by little and little;" do you think he means four days, four years, or fourscore years? If you say that God cannot or will not wholly cleanse the thoughts of our hearts under fourscore years, you send all who die under that age into hell, or into some purgatory where they must wait till the eighty years of their conflict with indwelling sin are ended. If you say that God can or will do it in four days, but not under, you absurdly suppose that the penitent thief remained at least three days in paradise full of indwelling sin; seeing his sanctification was to be "carried on gradually" in the space of four days at least. If you are obliged to grant that when the words "by little and little" are applied to the destruction of indwelling sin, they may mean four hours, (the time which the penitent thief probably lived after his conversion,) as well as four days; do you not begin to be ashamed of your system? And if you reply, that death alone fully extirpates indwelling sin, does not this favourite tenet of yours overturn Mr. Henry's doctrine about the necessity of the slow, "gradual," destruction of indwelling sin? May not a sinner believe in a moment, when God helps him to believe? And may not a believer (whom you suppose necessarily full of indwelling sin as long as he is in this world) die in a moment? If you answer in the negative, you deny the sudden death of John the Baptist, St. James, and St. Paul, who had their heads cut off in a moment: in a word, you deny that any believer can die suddenly. If you reply in the affirmative, you give up the point, and grant that indwelling sin may be instantaneously destroyed. And now, what becomes of Mr. Henry's argument, which supposes that sanctification can never be complete without a long, gradual process; and that the extirpation of sin cannot take place but "by little and little?"
I have set before thee, reader, the lights and shades of our doctrine: I have produced our arguments, and those of our opponents; and now, say, which of them bear the stamp of imperfection? If thou pronounce that urim and thummim, light and perfection, belong to the arguments of Mr. Hill, Mr. Toplady, Mr. Martin, and Mr. Henry, I must lay by my pen, and deplore the infelicity of our having a reason, which unsays in my breast what it says in thine. But if thou find, after mature deliberation, that our arguments are "light in the Lord," as being more agreeable to the dictates of unprejudiced reason, than those of our antagonists, more conformable to the plain declarations of the sacred writers, fitter to encourage believers in the way of holiness, more suitable to the nature of undefiled religion, and better adapted to the display of the Redeemer's glory; I shall enjoy the double pleasure of embracing the truth, and of embracing her together with thee. In the meantime, closing here the argumentative part of this essay, I just beg the continuance of thy favourable attention, while I practically address perfect Pharisees, prejudiced imperfectionists, imperfect believers, and perfect Christians.