John Fletcher


Mr. Hill intimates that the apostles were imperfectionistsSt. Peter and St. James, far from pleading for a death purgatory, stand up for Christian perfection.
WHEN Mr. Hill has so unadvisedly brought the Church of England against us, it is not surprising to see him press four apostles, "Peter, Paul, James, and John," into the field to "cut up," (as he calls it,) "root and branch, my favourite doctrine of perfection." Never were these holy men set upon a more unholy piece of work. Methinks I hear them say, Let Mr. Hill rank us with the Gibeonites: let him make us "hewers of wood" to the congregation for ever: but let him not set us upon cutting up, root and branch, the lovely and fruitful tree of Christian perfection. Happily for that rare tree, Mr. Hill only produces the names of the apostolic woodmen, while we produce their axe, and show that they lay it at the root of Antinomianism; a deadly tree this, which is, to our favourite tree, what the fatal tree in paradise was to the tree of life. Mr. Hill appeals first to Peter; let then Peter first answer for himself.

1. Where does that apostle plead for Christian imperfection, and a death purgatory? Is it where he says, "As He who has called you is holy: so be ye HOLY IN ALL manner of conversation. Seeing you have purified your souls, &c, love one another with a PURE HEART FERVENTLY. Christ left us an example, that ye should follow his steps; who did no sinwho bare our sins, that we, being DEAD TO SIN, should live to righteousness: forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh, hath ceased from sin. The God of all grace, &c, after that ye have suffered awhile, make you PERFECT." Had Peter been against our doctrine, is it probable that he would thus have excited believers to attain perfection; wishing it them, as we wish our flocks "the peace of God which passes all understanding?"

If that apostle pleads not for the necessary indwelling of sin in his first epistle, doth he do it in the second? Is it where he says, that "exceeding great and precious promises are given us, that by these we might be partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the pollution that is in the world through lust?" Is there indwelling sin in the Divine nature? And can those people, whose hearts are still full of sin and indwelling corruption, be said to "have escaped the pollution that is in the world through lust?" Might not a man, whose lungs are still full of dangerous ulcers, be said with as much propriety to have escaped the misery that is in the world through consumptions? Is it where St. Peter describes Christian perfection, and exhorts believers to attain it, or to rise higher in it, by adding with "all diligence to faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity," the key of the arch, and the bond of perfection? Is it where he states the difference between fallen believers, weak believers, and perfect Christians; hinting that the first "LACK these things," i.e. Christian graces; that "these things ARE in" the second: and that they "ABOUND" in the third? Or is it where he bids "us be diligent that we may be found of God in peace, without spot and blameless?" For my part I do not see here the shadow of a plea for the root of every evil in the hearts of believers till they die, any more than for the fruit of adultery, murder, and incest in their lives till they go hence.

But what principally strikes us in Mr. Hill's appeal to St. Peter is, that although Peter was naturally led by his subject to speak of the necessary indwelling of sin in our hearts during the term of life, if that doctrine had been true, yet he does not so much as drop one hint about it. The design of his first epistle was, undoubtedly, to confirm believers, under the fiery trials which their faith meets with. "You are kept," says he, "by the power of God, through [obedient] faith unto salvation wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season (if need be) ye are in heaviness, through manifold temptations." What a fair opportunity had Peter to say here, without an if need be, "You MUST be in heaviness, not only through manifold temptations, but also through the remaining corruptions of your hearts: the Canaanites and wild beasts must still dwell in the land, to be goads in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, or you would grow proud and careless; your heart leprosy must cleave to you, as Gehazi's leprosy cleaved to him. Death radically cured him and nothing but death can radically cure you. Till then, your heads must remain full of imputed righteousness, and your hearts full of indwelling sin." But, happily for the honour of Christianity, this Antinomian, this impure gospel has not the least countenance from St. Peter and he cuts up the very roots of it where he says, "Who shall harm you, if you be followers of that which is good? Commit the keeping of your souls unto God in well doing. [The very reverse of sinning.] You are his daughters, [the daughters of him to whom God said, Walk before me, and be thou perfect,] so long as ye DO WELL, and are not AFRAID with any amazement," that is, so long as your conduct and tempers become the Gospel. And every body knows that a man's tempers are always as his heart; and that, if his heart be "full of evil," his tempers cannot be "full of goodness," Rom. xv, 14.

II. If St. Peter, the first of Mr. Hill's witnesses, does not say one word to countenance Antinomianism, and to recommend Christian imperfection; let us see if St. James pleads for Baal in the hearts, any more than for Baal in the lives of perfect believers. Turn to his epistle. O ye that thirst after holiness! To your comfort you will find, that in the first chapter he shows himself a bold asserter of Christian perfection. "Let patience," says he, "have her PERFECT WORK, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." He speaks the same language in other places: "Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and CONTINUETH THEREIN, he, being a doer of the work, shall be blessed in his deed." And again: "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man." Nor is it difficult to demonstrate from his second chapter, that established believers, or perfect Christians, "keep the royal, perfect law of liberty;" and that those who "break it in one point are" in a deplorable case.

If Mr. Wesley had written an epistle to Antinomian believers, to make them go on to Christian perfection, could he have expressed himself in a stronger manner than St. James does in the following passages?"Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned, [or damned,] James v, 9. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that judgeth his brother, judgeth the law. But if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy" [those believers who keep or break his royal law,] James iv, 11, 12. Again: "If ye FULFIL THE ROYAL LAW, according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye DO WELL: but [if ye do not fulfil it] if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend [i.e. commit sin] in one point, he is guilty of all, &c. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty," James ii, 8, &c.

What follows demonstrates that fallen believers, if they do not repent and rise to the state of Christian perfection, will be condemned for one sin. St. James properly instances in the sin of uncharitableness, because it is directly contrary to our Lord's new commandment of loving one another as he has loved us, and because charity is the fulfilling of "the royal law, and the bond of perfection." "Can faith save him" [the uncharitable believer?] says St. James. "If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you [believers] say, Be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit? Even so, faith, if it hath not works, [and of consequence, the fallen believer, if he has sin unrepented of,] is dead." Such a one "is of the devil, for he committeth sin, and sin is the transgression of the law of liberty, by which he shall be judged, yea, by which he shall have judgment without mercy, that has (thus) showed no mercy;" whether he sinned negatively by not relieving his poor brother in deed, though he gave him good words; or whether he did it positively, by "having respect to persons, or by grudging against his brother:" compare James ii, 13, &c, with 1 John iii, 4, &c, to the end of both chapters, which are two strong batteries raised on purpose to defend the doctrine of Christian perfection, and to demolish the doctrine of Christian imperfection, which is all one with Antinomianism.

Should it be objected, that, "at this rate, no Christian believer is safe, till he has obtained Christian perfection:" we reply, that all Christian believers are safe, who either stand in it, or press after it. And if they do neither, we are ready to prove that they rank among fallen believers, and are in as imminent danger of being "spued out of Christ's mouth," as the Laodiceans were. Let Mr. Hill candidly read the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Second Epistle of St. Peter, and the First of St. John, and let him doubt of it if he can.

Should Mr. Hill object that "St. James himself says, In many things we offend all; and that this one saying abundantly proves that he was a strong imperfectionist;" I beg leave to involve my honoured opponent in the following dilemma:Are the offences, of which St. James speaks, involuntary? Or are they voluntary? If Mr. Hill says, "They are involuntary, I answer, Then they are not proper breaches of "the law of liberty," which St. James preaches; because that law curses us for no involuntary offences; and therefore such offences, (like St. Paul's reproving of the high priest more sharply than he would have done, had he known what high dignity his unjust judge was invested with,) such offences, I say, are not sins according to the royal and evangelical law of our Melchisedec: and therefore they do not prove that all believers remain full of indwelling sin till death. If Mr. Hill reply, that "the many offences, of which St. James speaks, are voluntary offences, and therefore real breaches of the law of liberty;" I answer, that this genuine sense of the words, taken in connection with the context, confirms our doctrine of Christian perfection, and our opposition to Antinomianism; and I prove it thus:

The text and context run thus:"My brethren, be not many masters; [i.e. lord it not over one another;] knowing that we [who do so] shall receive the greater condemnation" if we do not learn humility. "I say we, because I would not have you think that God our Judge is a respecter of persons, and will spare an apostle, who breaks the law of liberty and does not repent, any more than he would spare you. For if I represented God as a partial Judge, Judas' greater condemnation would prove me mistaken. And I insist the more upon this awful doctrine, because 'in many things we offend all,' especially in word, till we are made perfect in love, that 'love which is the fulfilling of the law,' and enables us to 'keep our tongue as it were with a bridle' all the day long." If Mr. Hill ask, by what means I can show that this is really St. James' meaning; I reply, By that plain rule of divinity and criticism, which bids us take the beginning of a verse in connection with the end. And if we do this here, we find the doctrine of Christian perfection in this very text, thus:"We shall receive the greater damnation" if we do not repent and cease to "be many masters; for in many things we from time to time offend all," especially by our words, till we are perfected in love. "If any man offend not in word, the same is, what each of us should be, a perfect man, and able also to bridle his whole body," James iii, 1, 2. So certain, therefore, as there are men able to bridle their tongue, and their whole bodies, there are men perfect in the body, perfect before death, according to the doctrine contained in this controverted passage of St. James.

"But St. James says also, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy, James iv, 5."

I reply, 1. It is usual for modest teachers to rank themselves with the persons, of whom they say something disagreeable: and this they do to take away the harshness of their doctrine, and to make way for the severity of their charges. Thus Peter writes: "The time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries;" though it is evident that Peter, a poor, industrious, godly Jew, never "walked in abominable idolatries, working the will of the Gentiles." Now the same delicacy of charity, which made St. Peter rank himself with heathens, who walked in drunkenness, whoredom, and gross idolatry, makes St. James rank himself with the carnal Christians, who are possessed by an envious spirit.

2. Nay, St. James himself, using the same figure of speech, says, "The tongue is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison, &c; therewith curse we men, who are made after the similitude of God." But would it be reasonable to infer from these words that his tongue was still "full of deadly poison," and that he therewith continued to curse his neighbour? Therefore all that is implied in his words about envy, is that, till we are made perfect in the "charity which envieth not, and is not puffed up, the spirit that is in us lusteth to envy" and pride. And that we, who have not yet attained Christian perfection, need not be always envious and proud, is evident from the very next words, "But he giveth more grace, wherefore he says, God resisteth the proud, envious man, but giveth grace to the humble: resist the devil and he will flee from you: purify your hearts, ye double minded: be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness." So severe was St. James to those adulterers and adulteresses, those genteel believers, who stopped short of Christian perfection, loved the world, and envied one another! Therefore, to press him into the service of Solifidianism, is as rash an attempt as to call his epistle an epistle of straw, worthy of being committed to the flames: and (if the preceding remarks are just) Mr. Hill is as much mistaken, when he appeals to St. James, as when he quotes St. Peter, in defence of Christian imperfection.

Next Section . . .
Previous Section . . .
Table of Contents . . .