John Fletcher


Why the privileges of believers under the Gospel of Christ cannot be justly measured by the experience of believers under the law of MosesA review of the passages upon which the enemies of Christian perfection found their hopes that Solomon, Isaiah, and Job, were strong imperfectionists.
IF Mr. Hill had quoted Solomon, instead of St. John; and Jewish, instead of Christian saints, he might have attacked the glorious Christian liberty of God's children with more success: for "the heir, as long as he is a child, [in Jewish nonage,] differeth nothing from a servant, but is under tutors [and school masters] until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons, and stand in the [peculiar] liberty, wherewith Christ has made us [Christians] free," Gal. iii, 1; iv, 1. But this very passage, which shows that Jews are, comparatively speaking, in bondage, shows also that the Christian dispensation and its high privileges cannot be measured by the inferior privileges of the Jewish dispensation, under which Solomon lived: for the "law made nothing perfect," in the Christian sense of the word. And "what the law could not do, God, sending his only Son, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us [Christian believers] who walk after the Spirit;" being endued with that large measure of it, which began to be poured out on believers on the day of pentecost: for that measure of the Spirit was not given before, "because Jesus was not yet glorified," John vii, 39. But after "he had ascended on high, and had obtained the gift of the indwelling Comforter" for believers; they received, says St. Peter, "the end of their faith, even the Christian salvation of their souls:" a salvation which St. Paul justly calls so great salvation, when he compares it with Jewish privileges, Heb. ii, 3. "Of which [Christian] salvation," proceeds St. Peter, "the prophets have inquired, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you [Christians,] searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them [according to their dispensation] did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory [the glorious dispensation] that should follow [his return to heaven, and accompany the outpouring of the Spirit.] Unto whom [the Jewish prophets] it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us [Christians] they did minister the things which are now preached unto you, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven," 1 Pet. i, 9, &c. And, among those things, the Scriptures reckon the coming of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, with power into the hearts of believers, and the baptism of fire, or the perfect love, which "burns up the chaff" of sin, "thoroughly purges God's floor," and makes the hearts of perfect believers "a habitation of God through the Spirit, and not a nest for indwelling sin." As this doctrine may appear new to Mr. Hill, I beg leave to confirm it by the testimony of two as eminent divines as England has lately produced. The one is Mr. Baxter, who, in his comment upon these words, "A testament is of force after men are dead," &c, Heb. ix, 17, very justly observes, that "his (Christ's) covenant has the nature of a testament, which supposeth the death of the testator, and is not of efficacy till then, to give full right of what he bequeatheth. Note: that the eminent, evangelical kingdom of the Mediator, in its last, full edition, called the kingdom of Christ and of heaven, distinct from the obscure state of promise before Christ's incarnation, began at Christ's resurrection, ascension, and sending of the eminent gift of the Holy Ghost, and was but as an embryo before." My other witness is the Rev. Mr. Whitefield, who proposes and answers the following question: "Why was not the Holy Ghost given till Jesus Christ was glorified? Because till then he was himself on the earth, and had not taken on him the kingly office, nor pleaded the merits of his death before his heavenly Father, by which he purchased that invaluable blessing for us." (See his Works, vol. iv, p. 362.) Hence I conclude, that as the full measure of the Spirit, which perfects Christian believers, was not given before our Lord's ascension, it is as absurd to judge of Christian perfection by the experiences of those who died before that remarkable event, as to measure the powers of a sucking child by those of an embryo.

This might suffice to unnerve all the arguments which our opponents produce from the Old Testament against Christian perfection. However, we are willing to consider a moment those passages by which they plead for the necessary indwelling of sin, in all Christian believers, and defend the walls of the Jericho within, that accursed city of refuge for spiritual Canaanites and Diabolonians.

I. 1 Kings viii, 46, &c. Solomon prays and says, "If they [the Jews] sin against thee (for there is no man 13 that sinneth not) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captiveyet, if they bethink themselves and repent, and make supplication unto thee, and return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, then hear thou their prayer." No unprejudiced person, who, in reading this passage, takes the parenthesis ("for there is no man that sinneth not") in connection with the context, can, I think, help seeing that the Rev. Mr. Toplady, who, if I remember right, quotes this text against us, mistakes Solomon, as much as Mr. Hill does St. John. The meaning is evidently, there is no man who is not liable to sin; and that a man actually sins, when he actually departs from God. Now, peccability, or a liableness to sin, is not indwelling sin; for angels, Adam and Eve, were all liable to sin, in their sinless state. And that there are some men who do not actually sin is indubitable, (1.)From the hypothetical phrase in the context, "if any man sin," which shows that their sinning is not unavoidable. (2.) From God's anger against those that sin, which is immediately mentioned. Hence it appears, that so certain as God is not angry with all his people, some of them do not sin in the sense of the wise man. And, (3.) From Solomon's intimating that these very men who have sinned, or have actually departed from God, may "bethink themselves, repent and turn to God with all their heart, and with all their soul," that is, may attain the perfection of their dispensation; the two poles not being more opposed to each other than sinning is to repenting; and departing from God, to returning to him with all our heart and with all our soul. Take therefore the whole passage together, and you have a demonstration that "where sin hath abounded, there grace may much more abound." And what is this but a demonstration that our doctrine is not chimerical? For if Jews (Solomon himself being judge) instead of sinning and departing from God, can "repent, and turn to him with all their heart," how much more Christians, whose privileges are so much greater!

II. "But Solomon says also, There is not a just man upon earth, that does good and sinneth not," Eccles. vii, 20.

(1.) We are not sure that Solomon. says it: for he may introduce here the very same man who, four verses before, says, "Be not righteous overmuch," &c, and Mr. Toplady may mistake the interlocutor's meaning in one text, as Dr. Trap had done in the other. But, (2.)Supposing Solomon speaks, may not he in general assert what St. Paul does, Rom. iii, 23? "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," the just not excepted: is not this the very sense which Canne, Calvinist as he was, gives to the wise man's words, when he refers the reader to this assertion of the apostle? And did we ever speak against this true doctrine? (3.) If you take the original word to sin, in the lowest sense which it bears' if it mean in Eccles. vii, 20, what it does in Judges xx, 16, namely, to miss a mark, we shall not differ; for we maintain, that, according to the standard of paradisiacal perfection, "there is not a just man upon earth, that does good and misses not" the mark of that perfection, i.e. that does not lessen the good he does, by some involuntary, and therefore (evangelically speaking) sinless defect. (4.) It is bold to pretend to overthrow the glorious liberty of God's children, which is asserted in a hundred plain passages of the New Testament, by producing so vague a text as Eccles. vii, 20. And to measure the spiritual attainments of all believers, in all ages, by this obscure standard, appears to us as ridiculous as to affirm, that of a thousand believing men, nine hundred and ninety-nine are indubitably villains; and that of a thousand Christian women, there is not one but is a strumpet; because Solomon says a few lines below, "One man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found," Eccles. vii, 28.

III. If it be objected that "Solomon asks, 'Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" Prov. xx, 9:" we answer:

1. Does not Solomon's father ask, "Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" Does a question of that nature always imply an absurdity, or an impossibility? Might not Solomon's query be evangelically answered thus? "The man in whom thy father David's prayer is answered, Create in me a clean heart, O God: the man who has regarded St. James' direction to the primitive Solifidians, Cleanse your hearts, ye double minded: the man who has obeyed God's awful command, O Jerusalem, wash thy heart from iniquity, that thou mayest be saved: or the man who is interested in the sixth beatitude, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God: that man, I say, can testify to the honour of the blood which cleanseth from all sin, that he has made his heart clean."

2. However, if Solomon, as is most probable, reproves in this passage the conceit of a perfect, boasting Pharisee, the answer is obvious: no man of that stamp can say with any truth, "I have made my heart clean;" for the law of faith excludes all proud boasting, and if we say, with the temper of the Pharisee, "that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;" for we have pride, and Pharisaic pride too, which, in the sight of God, is perhaps the greatest of all sins. If our opponents take the wise man's question in either of the preceding Scriptural senses, they will find that it perfectly agrees with the doctrine of Jewish and Christian perfection.

IV. Solomon's pretended testimony against Christian perfection is frequently backed by two of Isaiah's sayings, considered apart from the context, one of which respects the "filthiness of our righteousness;" and the other the uncleanness of our lips. I have already proved, (vol. i, Fourth Check, letter viii,) that the righteousness which Isaiah compares to filthy rags, and St. Paul to dung, is only the anti-evangelical, Pharisaic righteousness of unhumbled professors: a righteousness this, which may be called "the righteousness of impenitent pride," rather than "the righteousness of humble faith;" therefore the excellence of the righteousness of faith cannot, with any propriety, be struck at by that passage.

V. "But Isaiah, undoubtedly speaking of himself, says, Wo is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, Isaiah vi, 5."

True: but give yourself the trouble to read the two following verses, and you will hear him declare that the power of God's Spirit applying the blood of sprinkling (which power was represented by "a live coal taken from off the altar,") touched his lips; so that "his iniquity was taken away and his sin purged." This passage, therefore, when it is considered with the context, instead of disproving the doctrine of Christian perfection, strongly proves the doctrine of Jewish perfection.

If Isaiah is discharged from the service into which he is so unwarrantably pressed, our opponents will bring Job, whom the Lord himself pronounces perfect according to his dispensation, notwithstanding the hard thoughts which his friends entertained of him.

VI. Perfect Job is absurdly set upon demolishing Christian perfection, because he says, "If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me; if I say, [in a self-justifying spirit] I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse," Job ix, 20. But, (1.) What does Job assert here more than Solomon does in the word, to which Canne on this text judiciously refers his readers: "Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips." Though even this rule is not without exception; witness the circumstance which drove St. Paul to what he calls a confidence of boasting. (2.) That professing the perfection of our dispensation in a self-abasing and Christ-exalting spirit is not a proof of perverseness, is evident from the profession which humble Paul made of his being one of the perfect Christians of his time, Phil. iii, 15, and from St. John's declaration, that his "love was made perfect," John iv, 17. For when we have "the witnessing Spirit, whereby we know the things which are freely given to us of God, we may, nay, at proper times we should acknowledge his gifts, to his glory, though not our own. (3.) If God himself had pronounced Job perfect, according to his dispensation, Job's modest fear of pronouncing himself so, does not at all overthrow the Divine testimony; such a timorousness only shows that the more we are advanced in grace, the more we are averse to whatever has the appearance of ostentation; and the more deeply we feel what Job felt, when he said, "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will put my hand upon my mouth," Job xl, 4.

VII. "But Job himself, far from mentioning his perfection, says, Now mine eye seeth thee, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes, Job xlii, 6." And does this disprove our doctrine? Do we not assert that our perfection admits of a continual growth; and that perfect repentance, and perfect humility, are essential parts of it? These words of Job, therefore, far from overthrowing our doctrine, prove that the patient man's perfection grew; and that from the top of the perfection of Gentilism, he saw the day of Christian perfection, and had a taste of what Mr. Wesley prays for, when he sings,

O let me gain perfection's height,
O let me into nothing fall, &c.
Confound, o'erpower me with thy grace;
I would be by myself abhorr'd;
All might, all majesty, all praise,
All glory be to Christ my Lord!

VIII. With respect to the words, "The stars are not purethe heavens are not clean in his sight: his angels he charged with folly," Job xv, 15; v, 18, we must consider them as a proof that absolute perfection belongs to God alone; a truth this, which we inculcate as well as our opponents. Beside, if such passages overthrow the doctrine of perfection, they would principally overthrow the doctrine of angelical perfection, which Mr. Hill holds as well as we. To conclude:

IX. When Job asks, "What is man that he should be clean? How can he be clean that is born of a woman? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" And when he answers, "Not one;" he means not one who falls short of infinite power. If he excluded Emmanuel, God with us, I would directly point at him who said, "I will, be thou clean; and at the believers who declare, "We can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth us," and accordingly "cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, that they may be found of him without spot and blameless." Yea, I would point at the poor leper, who has faith enough to say, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. They tell me that my leprosy must cleave to me till death batter down this tenement of clay; but faith speaks a different language: only say the word, Be thou clean, and I shall be cleansed: purge me with hyssop: sprinkle clean water upon me, and I shall be clean from all my filthiness. If these remarks be just, does it not appear that it is as absurd to stab Christian perfection through the sides of Job, Isaiah, and Solomon, as to set Peter, Paul, James, and John, upon "cutting it up, root and branch?"

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