John Fletcher


Why the following tract is called "The Last Check to Antinomianism," and "A Polemical Essay"Mr. Hill's creed for perfectionistsA short account of the manner in which souls are purged from the remains of sin, according to the doctrine of the heathens, the Romanists, and CalvinistsThe purgatory recommended by the Church of England, and vindicated in this book, is Christ's blood, and a soul-purifying faith.
I CALL the following essay The Last Check to Antinomianism, because it properly continues and closes the preceding Checks. When a late fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, attacked the doctrine of sincere obedience, which I defend in the Checks, he said, with great truth, "Sincere obedience, as a condition, will lead you unavoidably up to perfect obedience." What he urged as an argument against our views of the Gospel, is one of the reasons by which we defend them, and perhaps the strongest of all: for our doctrine leads us as naturally to holiness and perfect obedience, as that of our opponent does to sin and imperfections. If the streams of Mr. Hill's doctrine never stop, till they have carried men into a sea of indwelling sin, where he leaves them to struggle with waves of immorality, or with billows of corruption, all the days of their life; it is evident that our doctrine, which is the very reverse of his, must take us to a sea of indwelling holiness, where we calmly outride all the storms which Satan raised to destroy Job's perfection; and where all our pursuing corruptions are as much destroyed as the Egyptians were in the Red Sea.

Truth, like Moses' rod, is all of a piece; and so is the serpent, which truth devours. Look at the tail of the error which we attack, and you will see the venomous mortal sting of indwelling sin. Consider the but-end of the rod, with which we defend ourselves against that smooth, yet biting error, and you will find the pearl of great price, the invaluable diamond of Christian perfection. In the very nature of things, therefore, our long controversial warfare must end in a close engagement for the preservation of the sting, or for the recovery of the jewel. If our adversaries can save indwelling sin, the deadly sting, Antinomianism has won the day: but if we can rescue Christian perfection, the precious jewel, then will perfect Christianity again dare to show herself, without being attacked as a dangerous monster; or scoffed at as the base offspring of self ignorance and Pharisaic pride. This remark on the Antinomianism of our opponents is founded upon the following arguments:

1. All those who represent Christian believers as lawless, first, by denying that Christ's law is a rule of judgment, which absolutely requires our own personal obedience; secondly, by representing this law as a mere rule of life; and, thirdly, by insinuating that this rule of life is, after all, absolutely impracticable; that a personal fulfilment of it is not expected from any believer; that there never was a Christian who lived one day without breaking it; and that believers shall be eternally saved, merely because Christ kept it for them: all those, I say, who hold this Solifidian doctrine concerning Christ's law, are Christian Antinomians with a witness; that is, they are lawless Christians in principle, if not in practice. Now, all those who attack the doctrine of constant obedience, and Christian perfection, which we maintain, are under this threefold error concerning Christ's law; and therefore they are all Antinomians, that is, Christless, lawless in principle, though many of them, we are persuaded, are not so in practice; the fear of God causing in them a happy inconsistency, between their legal conduct, and their lawless tenets.

2. If those who plead for the breaking of Christ's law, by the necessary indwelling of a revengeful thought, only for one week, or for one day, are bare-faced Antinomians; what shall we say of the men who, on various pretences, plead for the necessary indwelling of all manner of corruption, during the term of life? Can it be said, with any propriety, that these men are free from the plague of Antinomianism?

3. And lastly, when the reader comes to section xvi, wherein I produce and answer the arguments by which the ministers of the imperfect gospel defend the continuance of indwelling sin in all believers till death, he will find that their strongest reasons for this continuance are the very same which the most lawless apostates, and the most dating renegadoes daily produce, when they plead for their continuing in drunkenness, lying, fornication, and adultery: and if these immoral gospellers deserve the name of gross Antinomians, why should not the moral men, who hold their loose principles, and publicly recommend them as "doctrines of grace," deserve the name of refined Antinomians? May not a silk weaver, who softly works a piece of taffeta, be as justly called a weaver, as the man who weaves the coarsest sackcloth?

Through the force of these observations, after weighing my subject in the balances of meditation and prayer for some months, I am come to these alarming conclusions: (1.) There is no medium between pleading for the continuance of indwelling sin, and pleading for the continuance of heart Antinomianism. And, (2.) All who attack the doctrine of an evangelically sinless perfection, deserve, when they do it, (which I would hope is not often,) the name of advocates for sin, better than the name of Gospel ministers and preachers of righteousness. I am conscious that this twofold conclusion wounds, in the tenderest part, several of my dear, mistaken brethren in the ministry, whom, on various accounts, I highly honour in the Lord. Nevertheless, I am obliged in conscience to publish it, lest any of my readers, or any of those whom they may warn, should be misled into Antinomianism, through the mistakes of those popular preachers: for the interests of truth, the honour of Christ's holy religion, and the welfare of precious souls are, and ought to be to me, and to every Christian, far dearer that the credit of some good, injudicious men, who inadvertently undermine the cause of godliness; thinking to do God service by stretching forth a Solifidian hand to uphold the ark of Gospel truth. Thus much for the reasons which have engaged me to call this essay The Last Check to Antinomianism.

If the reader desire to know why I call it also A Polemical Essay, he is informed, that Richard Hill, Esq., (at the end of a pamphlet entitled, "Three Letters written to the Rev. J. Fletcher, Vicar of Madeley,") has published "A Creed for Arminians and Perfectionists." The ten first articles of this creed, Which respect the Arminians, I have already answered in The Fictitious and Genuine Creed; and the following sheets contain my reply to the last article, which entirely refers to the perfectionists.

That gentleman introduces the whole of his fictitious creed by these lines:"The following confession of faith, however shocking, not to say blasphemous, it may appear to the humble Christian, must inevitably be adopted, if not in express words, yet in substance, by every Arminian and perfectionist whatsoever; though the last article of it chiefly concerns such as are ordained ministers of the Church of England." The last article, which is the Creed I answer here, runs thus:

"Though I have solemnly subscribed to the thirty-nine articles of the Church of England, and have affirmed that I believe them from my heart, yet I think our reformers were profoundly ignorant of true Christianity, when they declared, in the ninth article, that 'the infection of nature does remain in them which are regenerate;' and in the fifteenth that 'all we the rest (Christ only excepted) although baptized and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things, and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.' This I totally deny, because it cuts up, root and branch, my favourite doctrine of perfection: and therefore let Peter, Paul, James, and John, say what they will, and let the reformers and martyrs join their syren song, their eyes were at best but half opened, (for want of a little Foundry eye salve,) therefore I cannot look upon them as adult believers in Jesus Christ.
"J. F."
"J. W."
"W. S."
These initial letters probably stand for John Fletcher, John Wesley, and Walter Sellon. As Mr. Hill seems to level his witty creed at me first, I shall first make my observations upon it. The van, without the main body and the rear, may perhaps make a proper stand against that gentleman's mistake: a dangerous mistake this, which is inseparably connected with the doctrine of a purgatory little better than that of the Papists; it being evident that if we cannot be purged from the remains of sin in this life, we must be purged from them in death, or after death; or we must be banished from God's presence; for reason and Scripture jointly depose that "nothing unholy or unclean shall enter into the heavenly Jerusalem."

If we understand by purgatory, the manner in which souls, still polluted with the remains of sin, are, or may be purged from these remains, that they may see a holy God, and dwell with him for ever; the question, Which is the true purgatory? is by no means frivolous: for it is the grand inquiry, How shall I be eternally saved? proposed in different expressions.

There are four opinions concerning purgatory, or the purgation of souls from the remains of sin. The wildest is that of the heathens, who supposed "that the souls, who depart this life with some moral filth cleaving to them, are purified by being hanged out to sharp, cutting winds; by being plunged into a deep, impetuous whirlpool; or being thrown into a refining fire in some Tartarean region;" witness these lines of Virgil:

Ali panduntur inanes
Suspens ad ventos: aliis sub gurgite vasto
Infectum eluitur scelus, aut exuritur igni.

The second opinion is that of the Romanists, who teach that such souls are completely sanctified by the virtue of Christ's blood, and the sharp operation of a penal, temporary fire in the suburbs of hell. The third opinion is that of the Calvinists, who think that the stroke of death must absolutely be joined with Christ's blood and Spirit, and with our faith, to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, and to kill the inbred man of sin.

The last sentiment is that of the Church of England, which teaches that there is no other purgatory but "Christ's blood,""steadfast, perfect faith;" and "the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, cleansing the thoughts of our hearts, that we may perfectly love him, and worthily magnify his holy name." "The only purgatory, wherein we must trust to be saved," says she, "is the death and blood of Christ, which, if we apprehend with a true and steadfast faith, [called soon after 'a perfect faith,'] it purgeth and cleanseth us from all our sins. 'The blood of Christ,' says St. John, 'hath cleansed us from all sin.' 'The blood of Christ,' says St. Paul, 'hath purged our consciences from dead works to serve the living God,' &c. This then is the purgatory wherein all Christian men put their trust and confidence." (Homily on Prayer, part iii.)

Nor is this doctrine of purgatory peculiar to the Church of England; for the unprejudiced Puritans themselves maintained it in the last century. Mr. R. Alleine, in his excellent treatise on Godly Fear, printed in London, 1674, says, page 161, "The Lord Christ is sometimes resembled to a refining fire, &c. 'He is a refiner's fire, and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.' He shall purify, 'he shall save his people from their sins,' yet so as by fire. God has his purgatory as well as his hell; though not according to that popish dream, a purgatory after this life." And I beg leave to add,though not according to that Calvinian dream, a purgatory when we leave this life,a purgatory in the article of death.

The Scriptural doctrine of purgatory is vindicated, and the newfangled doctrine of a death purgatory is exploded in the following pages: wherein I endeavour both to defend "the glorious liberty of the children of God," and to attack the false liberty of those "who, while they promise liberty to others in Christ, are themselves [doctrinally at least] the servants of corruption;" pleading hard for the indwelling of sin in our hearts so long as we live; and thinking it almost "blasphemous" to assert that Christ's blood, fully applied by the Spirit, through a steadfast faith, can radically "cleanse us from all sin," without the least assistance from the arrows or sweats of death.

Reader, I plead for the most precious liberty in the world, heart liberty; for liberty from the most galling of all yokes, the yoke of heart corruption. Let not thy prejudices turn a deaf ear to the important plea. If thou candidly, believingly, and practically receive "the truth as it is in Jesus, it shall make thee free, and thou shalt be free indeed." Then, instead of shouting, "Indwelling sin and death purgatory," thou wilt fulfil the law of liberty; shouting, "Christ and Christian liberty for ever!" In the meantime, when thou makest intercession for thy well wishers, remember the author of this essay, and pray that he may plead on his knees against the remains of sin, far more earnestly than he does in these sheets against Mr. Hill's mistakes.

Next Section . . .
Table of Contents . . .