John Fletcher


Containing a variety of arguments, to prove the absurdity of the twin doctrines of Christian imperfection and a death purgatory.
I HAVE hitherto stood chiefly upon the defensive, by showing that Mr. Hill has no ground for insinuating that our Church, and Peter, Paul, James, and John, are defenders of the twin doctrines of Christian imperfection and a death purgatory: I shall now attack these doctrines by a variety of arguments, which, I hope, will recommend themselves to the candid reader's conscience and reason.

If I wanted to encounter Mr. Hill with a broken reed, and not with the weapons of a Protestant, REASON and SCRIPTURE, I would retort here the grand argument by which he attempts to cut down our doctrines of free agency and cordial obedience:"The generality of the carnal clergy are for you, therefore your doctrines are false." If this argument be good, is not that which follows better still? "The generality of bad men are for your doctrine of Christian imperfection; therefore that doctrine is false: for if it were true, wicked people would not so readily embrace it." But as I see no solidity in that argument, by which I could disprove the very being of a God, (for the generality of wicked men believe there is a Supreme Being,) I discard it, and begin with one, which I hope is not unworthy the reader's attention.

I. Does not St. Paul insinuate that no soul goes to heaven without perfection, where he calls the blessed souls that wait for a happy resurrection, pneumata dikaiwn teteleiwmenwn, "the spirits of just men made perfect," and not teteleiwmena pneumata dikaiwn, the perfected spirits of just men? Hebrews xii, 23. Does not this mode of expression denote a perfection which they attained while they were men, and before they commenced separate spirits; that is, before death? Can any one go to a holy and just God, without first being made just and holy? Does not the apostle say, that "the unrighteous, or unjust, shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" and that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord?" Must not this holiness, of whatsoever degree it is, be free from every mixture of unrighteousness? If a man have at death the least degree of any unrighteousness and defiling mixture in his soul, must he not go to some purgatory, or to hell? Can he go to heaven, if "nothing that defileth shall enter the New Jerusalem?" And if at death his righteous disposition is free from every unrighteous and immoral mixture, is he not "a just man perfected on earth," according to the dispensation he is under?

II. If Christ takes away the outward pollution of believers, while he absolutely leaves their hearts full of indwelling sin in this life, why did he find fault with the Pharisees for cleansing the "outside of the cup and platter, while they left the inside full of all corruption?" If God says, "My son, give me thy heart;" if he requires "truth in the inward parts;" and complains that the "Jews drew near to him with their lips, when their hearts were far from him;" is it not strange he should be willing that the hearts of his most peculiar people, the hearts of Christians, should necessarily remain unclean during the term of life? Beside, is there any other Gospel way of fully cleansing the lips and hands, but by thoroughly cleansing the heart? And is not a cleansing so far Pharisaical as it is heartless? Once more: if Christ has assured us that "blessed are the pure in heart," and that "if the Son shall make us free, we shall be free indeed," does it not behoove our opponents to prove that a believer has a pure heart, who is full of indwelling corruption; and that a man is free indeed, who is still sold under inbred sin?

III. When our Lord has bound the indwelling "man of sin, the strong man armed, can he not cast him out?" When he "cast out devils, and unclean spirits with a word," did he call death to his assistance? Did he not radically perform the wonderful cure, to show his readiness and ability radically to cure those whose hearts are possessed by indwelling iniquity, that cursed sin, whose name is LEGION? When the legion of expelled fiends "entered into the swine," the poor brutes were delivered from their infernal guests by being "choked in the sea." Death therefore cured them, not Christ. And can we have no cure but that of the swine? No deliverance from indwelling sin, but in the arms of death. If this is the case, go, drown your plaguing corruptions in the first pond which you will meet with, O ye poor mourners, who are more weary of your life, because of indwelling sin, than Rebecca was because of the daughters of Heth.

IV. How does the notion of sin necessarily dwelling in the hearts of the most advanced Christians agree with the full tenor of the new covenant, which runs thus? "I will put my laws in their minds, and write them in their hearts. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus shall make them free from the law of sin and death." If the law of perfect love to God and man be fully put into the heart of a believer, according to the full tenor of Christ's Gospel, what room remains for the hellish statutes of Satan? Does not the Lord cleanse the believer's heart, as he writes the law of love there? And when that law is wholly written by the Spirit, "the finger of God," which applies the all-cleansing blood, is not the heart wholly cleansed? When God completely gives "the heart of flesh," does he not completely take away "the heart of stone?" Is not the heart of stone the very rock in which the serpent, indwelling sin, lurks? And will God take away that cursed rock, and spare the venomous viper that breeds in its clefts?

V. Cannot the "little leaven of sincerity and truth leaven the whole" heart? But can this be done without "purging out entirely the old leaven of malice and wickedness?" May not a father in Christ be as "free from sin," as one who is totally given up to a reprobate mind is "free from righteousness?" Is not the glorious liberty of God's children the very reverse of the total and constant slavery to sin, in which the strongest sons of Belial live and die? If a full admittance of Satan's temptation could radically destroy original righteousness in the hearts of our first parents, why cannot a full admittance of Christ's Gospel radically destroy original unrighteousness in the hearts of believers? Does not the Gospel promise us that "where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound?" And did not sin so abound once as entirely to sweep away inward holiness before death? But how does grace abound much more than sin, if it never can entirely sweep away inward sin without the help of death?

VI. Is there not a present, cleansing power, as well as a present, atoning efficacy, in the Redeemer's blood? Have we not already taken notice that the same passage of Scripture which informs us that "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins," declares also, that, upon the same gracious terms, "he is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness?" Now, if the faithful and just God is ready to forgive to-day a poor mourner who sincerely confesses his guilt; and if it would be doing Divine faithfulness and justice great dishonour to say that God will not forgive a weeping penitent before the article of death; is it doing those Divine perfections honour to assert that God will not cleanse before death a believer, who humbly confesses and deeply laments the remains of sin? Why should not God display his faithfulness and justice in cleansing us now from inbred sin, as well as in forgiving us now our actual iniquities, if we now comply with the gracious terms, to the performance of which this double blessing is annexed in the Gospel charter?

VII. If our opponents allow that faith and love may be made perfect two or three minutes before death, they give up the point. Death is no longer absolutely necessary to the destruction of unbelief and sin: for if the "evil heart of unbelief departing from the living God" may be taken away, and the completely "honest and good heart" given two or three minutes before death, we desire to know why this change may not take place two or three hours, two or three weeks, two or three years before that awful moment?

VIII. It is, I think, allowed on all sides that "we are saved," that is, sanctified as well as justified, "by faith." Now, that particular height of sanctification, that full "circumcision of the heart," which centrally purifies the soul, springs from a peculiar degree of saving faith, and from a particular operation of the "Spirit of burning:" a quick operation this, which is compared to a baptism of fire, and proves sometimes so sharp and searching, that it is as much as a healthy, strong man can do to bear up under it. It seems, therefore, absurd to suppose that God's infinite wisdom has tied this powerful operation to the article of death, that is, to a time when people, through delirium or excessive weakness, are frequently unable to think, or to bear the feeble operation of a little wine and water.

IX. When our Lord says, "Make the tree good and its fruit good: a good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things," does he suppose that the hearts of his faithful people must always remain fraught with indwelling sin? Is indwelling sin a good treasure? Or does Christ any where plead for the necessary indwelling of a bad treasure in a good man? When "the spouse is all glorious within; when her eye is single, and her whole body full of light,"how can she still be full of darkness, and inbred iniquity? And when St. Paul observes that established Christians are "full of goodness," Rom. xv, 14, who can think he means that they are full of heart corruption, and (what is worse still) that they must continue so to their dying day?

X. If Christian perfection be nothing but the depth of evangelical repentance, the full assurance of faith, and the pure love of God and man, shed abroad in a faithful believer's heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him, to cleanse him, and to keep him clean "from all the filthiness of the flesh and spirit," and to enable him to "fulfil the law of Christ," according to the talents he is entrusted with, and the circumstances in which he is placed in this world: if this, I say, is Christian perfection, nothing can be more absurd than to put off the attaining of it till we die and go to heaven. This is evident from the descriptions of it which we find in the New Testament. The first is in our Lord's account of the beatitudes. For how can holy mourning be perfected in heaven, where there will be nothing but perfect joy? Will not the loving disposition of peace makers ripen too late for the Church, if it ripen only in heaven, where there will be no peace breakers; or in the article of death, when people lose their senses, and are utterly disabled from acting a reconciler's part? Ye that are "persecuted for righteousness' sake," will ye stay till ye are among the blessed, to "rejoice in tribulation?" Will the blessed "revile you, and say all manner of evil of you falsely," to give you an opportunity of being "exceeding glad," when you are counted worthy to suffer for Christ's name? And ye, double-minded Christians, will ye tarry for the "blessedness of the pure in heart," till ye come to heaven? Have you forgot that heaven is no purgatory, but a glorious reward for those who "are pure in heart?" for those who have "purified themselves even as God is pure?"

XI. From the beatitudes our Lord passes to precepts descriptive of Christian perfection reduced to practice. "If thy brother hath aught against thee, go thy way, and be reconciled to him. Agree quickly with thine adversary. Resist not evil. Turn thy left cheek to him that smites thee on the right. Give alms so as not to let thy left hand know what thy right hand does. Fast evangelically. Lay not up treasures upon earth. Take no [anxious] thoughts what ye shall eat. Bless them that curse you. Do good to them that hate you, that ye may be the children of your Father, who is in heaven; for he maketh the sun to shine on the just and on the unjust. Be ye perfect as your Father who is in heaven is perfect." What attentive reader does not see that none of these branches of a Christian's practical profession can grow in the article of death; and that to suppose they can flourish in heaven, is to suppose that Christ says, "Be thus and thus perfect, when it will be impossible for you to be thus and thus perfect? Love your enemies, when all will be your friends: do good to them that hate you, when all will flame with love toward you? Turn your cheek to the smiters, when the cold hand of death will disable you to move a finger; or when God shall have fixed 'a great gulf' between the smiters and you?"

XII. The same observation holds with respect to that important branch of Christian perfection which we call perfect self denial. "If thine eye offend thee," says our Lord, "pluck it out. If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off," &c. Now can any thing be more absurd than to put off the perfect performance of these severe duties till we die, and totally lose our power over our eyes and hands? Or, till we arrive at heaven, where nothing that offendeth can possibly be admitted?

XIII. St. Luke gives us, in the Acts of the Apostles, a sketch of the perfection of Christians living in community. "The multitude of them that believed," says he, "were of one heart and one soul. They continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine, and in prayer. They had all things common: parting their possessions to all, as every man had need; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own: and continuing daily in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their meat with gladness, and singleness of heart, praising God!" When I read this description of the practical perfection of a Christian Church, I am tempted to smile at the mistake of our opponents, and to ask them, if we can "eat our meat with gladness" in the article of death, or "sell our possessions" for the relief of our brethren upon earth, when we are gone to heaven?

XIV. Consider we some of St. Paul's exhortations for the display of the perfection which we contend for, and we shall see in a still stronger light the absurdity that I point out. He says to the Romans, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice; and be not conformed to this present world, that ye may prove what is that perfect will of God. Having different gifts," use them all for God; "exhorting with diligence, giving with simplicity, showing mercy with cheerfulness, not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, communicating to the necessities of the saints, given to hospitality, weeping with them that weep, being of the same mind, condescending to men of low estate, providing things honest in the sight of all men, heaping coals of fire [coals of burning love and melting kindness] on the head of your enemy, by giving him meat, if he be hungry; or drink, if he be thirsty; overcoming thus evil with good." Again: exhorting the Corinthians to Christian perfection, he says, "Brethren, the time is short. I would have you without carefulness. It remaineth that those who have wiles, be as though they had none; they that weep, as if they wept not; they that rejoice, as if they rejoiced not; they that buy, as if they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it," &c. Once more: stirring up the Philippians to the perfection of humble love, he writes, "Fulfil ye my joy, that ye think the same thing, have the same love; being of one soul, of one mind. Do nothing through vain glory, but in lowliness of mind esteem each the others better than themselves. Look not every one on his own things, but every one also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who humbled himself, and became obedient unto death." Now all these descriptions of the practical part of Christian perfection, in the very nature of things, cannot be confined to the article of death, much less to our arrival at heaven. For when we are dying, or dead, we cannot "present our bodies a living sacrifice;" we cannot "use this world as not abusing it;" nor can we "look at the things of others" as well as at our own.

XV. The same thing maybe said of St. Paul's fine description of Christian perfection under the name of charity. "Charity suffereth long;" but at death all our sufferings are cut short. "Charity is not provoked: it thinketh no evil: it covereth all things: it rejoiceth not in iniquity: it hopeth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things," &c. The bare reading of this description shows that it does not respect the article of death, when we cease to endure any thing; much less does it respect heaven, where we shall have absolutely nothing to endure.

XVI. If a pefect fulfilling of our relative duties be a most important part of Christian perfection, how ungenerous, how foolish is it to promise the simple that they shall be perfect Christians at death, or in heaven? Does not this assertion include all the following absurdities? Ye shall perfectly love your husbands and wives in the article of death, when you shall not be able to distinguish your husbands and wives from other men and women: or in heaven, where "ye shall be like the angels of God," and have neither husbands nor wives. Ye shall assist your parents, and instruct your children with perfect tenderness, when ye shall be past instructing or assisting them at all; when they shall be in heaven or in hell; past needing, or past admitting your assistance or instructions. Ye shall inspect your servants in perfect love, or serve your master with perfect faithfulness, when the relations of master and servant will exist no more. Ye shall perfectly bear with the infirmities of your weak brethren, when ye shall leave all your weak brethren behind, and go where all your brethren will be free from every degree of trying weakness. Ye shall entertain strangers, attend the sick, and visit the prisoners, with perfect love, when ye shall give up the ghost, or when ye shall be in paradise, where these duties have no more place than lazar houses, sick beds, prisons, &c.

XVII. Death, far from introducing imperfect Christians into the state of Christian perfection, will take them out of the very possibility of ever attaining it. This will appear indubitable, if we remember that Christian perfection consists in perfect repentance, perfect faith, perfect hope, perfect love of an invisible God, perfect charity for visible enemies, perfect patience in pain, and perfect resignation under losses; in a constant bridling of our bodily appetites, in an assiduous keeping of our senses, in a cheerful taking up of our cross, in a resolute "following of Christ without the camp," and in a deliberate choice to "suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." Now so certain as there can be no perfect repentance in the grave; no Christian faith where all is sight; no perfect hope where all is enjoyment; no perfect love of an invisible God, or of visible enemies, where God is visible, and enemies are invisible; no bearing pain with perfect patience when pain is no more; and suffering affliction with the people of God, where no shadow of affliction lights upon the people of God, &c. So certain, I say, as death incapacitates us for all these Christian duties, it incapacitates us also for every branch of Christian perfection. Mr. Hill might then as well persuade the simple that they shall become perfect surgeons and perfect midwives, perfect masons and perfect gardeners in the grave, or beyond it, as persuade them that they shall become perfect penitents and perfect believers in the article of death, or in the New Jerusalem.

XVIII. From the preceding argument it follows, that the graces of repentance, faith, hope, and Christian charity, or love for an invisible God, for trying friends, and for visible enemies, must be perfected here or never. If Mr. Hill grant that these graces are, or may be perfected here, he allows all that we contend for. And if he assert that they shall never be perfected, because there is "no perfection here," and because the perfection of repentance, &c, can have no more place in heaven than sinning and mourning, I ask, What becomes then of the scriptures which Mr. Hill is so ready to produce when he defends Calvinian perseverance? "As for God, his work is perfect: being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you (who have always obeyed, Phil. ii, 12) will perform, or epitelesi will perfect it," if you continue to obey. "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me. Praying exceedingly that we as workers together with God might perfect that which is lacking in your faith. Looking unto Jesus, the author, and (teleiwthn) the perfecter of our faith; for he is faithful that promised." How can the Lord be faithful, and yet never perfect the repentance and faith of his obedient people? Will he sow such a blessed seed as that of faith, hope, and love to our enemies, and never let a grain of it either miscarry or bring forth fruit to perfection? Is not this a flat contradiction? How can a pregnant woman never miscarry, and yet never bring forth the fruit of her womb to any perfection? Such, however, is the inconsistency which Mr. Hill obtrudes upon us as Gospel. If his doctrine of Calvinian perseverance be true, no believer can miscarry; no grain of true faith can fail of producing fruit to perfection: and if his doctrine of Christian perfection be true, no believer can be perfect; no grain of faith, repentance, hope, and love for our husbands and wives, can possibly grow to perfection. How different is this doctrine from that of our Lord, who, in the parable of the sower, represents all those who do not "bear fruit unto perfection," as miscarrying professors!

XIX. If impatience were that bodily disorder which is commonly called the heart burn; if obstinacy were a crick in the neck; pride an imposthume in the breast; raging anger a fit of the toothache; vanity the dropsy; disobedience a bodily lameness; uncharitableness the rheumatism, and despair a broken bone; there would be some sense in the doctrine of Christian imperfection, and reason could subscribe to Mr. Hill's creed: for it is certain that death effectually cures the heart burn, a crick in the neck, the toothache, &c. But what real affinity have moral disorders with bodily death? And why do our opponents think we maintain a "shocking" doctrine, when we assert that death has no more power to cure our pride, than old age to remove our covetousness? Nay, do we not see that the most decrepit old age does not cure men even of the grossest lusts of the carnal mind? When old drunkards and fornicators are as unable to indulge their sensual appetites as if they actually ranked among corpses, do they not betray the same inclinations which they showed when the strong tide of their youthful blood joined with the rapid stream of their vicious habit? Is not this a demonstration that no decay of the body,no, not that complete decay which we call death, has any necessary tendency to alter our moral habits? And do not the ancients set their seal to this observation? Does not Solomon say, that "in the place where the tree faileth, there it shall be?" And has Mr. Hill forgotten those remarkable lines of Virgil?

Quæ cura nitentes
Pascere equos, eadem sequitur tellure repostos?

"Disembodied souls have, in the world of spirits, the very same dispositions and propensities which they had when they dwelt in the body."

XX. If God hath appointed death to make an end of heart pollution, and to be our complete saviour from sin, our opponents might screen their doctrine of a death purgatory behind God's appointment; it being certain that God, who can command iron to swim, and fire to cool, could also command the filthy hands of death to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts. But we do not read in our Bible, either that God ever gave to indwelling sin a lease of any believer's heart for life; or that he ever appointed the king of terrors to deliver us from the deadly seeds of iniquity. And although the Old Testament contains an account of many carnal ordinances adapted to the carnal disposition of the Jews, we do not remember to have read there, "DEATH shall circumcise thy heart, that thou mayest love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, Death shall sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness death will cleanse you. Death will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and (when you are dead) ye shall keep my judgments and do them." And if death was never so far honoured under the Mosaic dispensation, we ask where he has been invested with higher privileges under the Gospel of Christ? Is it where St. Paul says that "Christ hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel?" It appears to us that it is a high degree of rashness in the Calvinists, and in the Romanists, to appoint the pangs of death, and the sorrows of hell, to do the most difficult, and, of consequence, the most glorious work of Christ's Spirit, which is powerfully to "redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, [not full of all inbred unrighteousness, but 'dead to sin, free from sin, pure in heart,' and] zealous of good works." And we shall think ourselves far more guilty of impertinence, if we nominate either death or hell to do the office of the final purifier of our hearts, than if we ordered a sexton to do the office of the prime minister, or an executioner to act as the king's physician. With respect to salvation from the root, as well as from the branches of sin, we will therefore "know nothing," as absolutely necessary, "but Jesus Christ and him crucified," risen again, ascended on high, that he might send the Holy Ghost to perfect us in love, through "a faith that purifies the heart, and through a hope which, if any man hath, he will purify himself, even as God is pure."

XXI. To conclude: if Christian perfection implies the perfect use of "the whole armour of God," what can be more absurd than the thought that we shall be made perfect Christians in heaven or at death? How will Mr. Hill prove that we shall perfectly use the helmet of hope, perfectly wield the shield of faith, and perfectly quench the fiery darts of the devil in heaven, where faith, hope, and the devil's darts shall never enter? Or, how will he demonstrate that a soldier shall perfectly go through his exercise in the article of death, that is, in the very moment he leaves the army, and for ever puts off the harness?

Mr. Baxter wrote, in the last century, a vindication of holiness, which he calls, "A Saint, or a Brute." The title is bold; but all that can be said to defend iniquity cannot make me think it too strong, so many are the arguments by which the Scriptures recommend a holy life. And I own to thee, reader, that when I consider all that can be said in defence of Christian perfection, and all the absurdities which clog the doctrine of Christian imperfection, I am inclined to imitate Mr. Baxter's positiveness, and to call this essay, A Perfect Christian in this World, or a Perfect Dupe in the next.

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