John Fletcher


Containing a variety of arguments to prove the mischievousness of the doctrines of Christian imperfection.
THE arguments of the preceding section are produced to show the ABSURDITY of Mr. Hill's doctrine of Christian imperfection; those which follow are intended to prove the MISCHIEVOUSNESS of that modish tenet.

I. It strikes at the doctrine of salvation by faith. "By grace are ye saved through faith," not only from the guilt and outward acts of sin, but also from its root and secret buds. "Not of 14 works," says the apostle, "lest any man should [Pharisaically] boast;" and may we not add, Not of DEATH, lest he that had the power of death, that is, the devil, should [absurdly] boast? Does not what strikes at the doctrine of faith, and abridges the salvation which we obtain by it, equally strike at Christ's power and glory? Is it not the business of faith to receive Christ's saving word, to apprehend the power of his sanctifying Spirit, and to inherit all the great promises by which he saves his penitent, believing people from their sins? Is it not evident that if no believers can be saved from indwelling sin through faith, we must correct the apostle's doctrine, and say, "By grace are ye saved from the remains of sin, through death?" And can unprejudiced Protestants admit so Christ-debasing, death-exalting a tenet, without giving a dangerous blow to the genuine doctrines of the reformation?

II. It dishonours Christ as a Prophet: for, as such, he came to teach us to be now "meek and lowly in heart:" but the imperfect gospel of the day teaches that we must necessarily continue passionate and proud in heart till death; for pride and immoderate anger are, I apprehend, two main branches of indwelling sin. Again: my motto demonstrates that he publicly taught the multitudes the doctrine of perfection, and Mr. Hill insinuates that this doctrine is "shocking," not to say "blasphemous."

III. It disgraces Christ as the Captain of our salvation: for St. Paul says, that our Captain furnishes us with "weapons mighty through God to the pulling down of Satan's strong holds, and to the bringing of every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." But our opponents represent the devil's strong hold as absolutely inpregnable. No weapons of our warfare can pull down Apollyon's throne. Inbred sin shall maintain its place in man's heart till death strike the victorious blow. Christ may indeed fight against the Jericho within, as "Joab fought against Rabbah of the children of Ammon:" but then he must send for death, as Joab sent for David, saying, "I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters: now, therefore, gather the rest of the people together, encamp against the city, and take it, lest I take the city, and it be called after my name," 2 Sam. xii, 27, 28.

IV. It pours contempt upon him as the Surety of the new covenant, in which God has engaged himself to deliver obedient believers "from their enemies, that they may serve him without [tormenting] fear, all the days of their lives." For how does he execute his office in this respect, if he never sees that such believers be delivered from their most oppressive and inveterate enemy, indwelling, sin? Or if that deliverance take place only at death, how can they, in consequence of their death freedom, "serve God without fear all the days of their lives?"

V. It affronts Christ as a King, when it represents the believer's heart, which is Christ's spiritual throne, as being necessarily full of indwelling sin,a spiritual rebel, who, notwithstanding the joint efforts of Christ and the believer, maintains his power against them both during the term of life. Again: does not a good king deliver his loyal subjects from oppression, and avenge them of a tyrannical adversary, when they cry to him in their distress? But does our Lord show himself such a king, if he never avenge them, nor turn the usurper, the murderer, sin, out of their breasts? Once more: if our deliverance from sin depend upon the stroke of death, and not upon a stroke of Christ's grace, might we not call upon the king of terrors, as well as upon the King of saints, for deliverance from the remains of sin? But where is the difference between saying "O death, help us!" and crying, "O Baal, save us?"

VI. It injures Christ as a Restorer of pure, spiritual worship in God's spiritual temple, the heart of man. For it indirectly represents him as a Pharisaic Saviour, who made much ado about driving, with a whip, harmless sheep and oxen out of his Father's material temple; but who gives full leave to Satan, not only to bring sheep and doves into the believer's heart, but also to harbour and breed there during the term of life, the swelling toad, pride; and the hissing viper, envy; to say nothing of the greedy dog, avarice, and the filthy swine, impurity; under pretence of "exercising the patience, and engaging the industry" of the worshippers, if we may believe the Calvin of the day. (See the argument against Christian perfection at the end of this section.)

VII. It insults Christ as a Priest; for our Melchisedec shed his all-cleansing blood upon the cross, and now pours his all-availing prayer before the throne; asking, that, upon evangelical terms, we may now be "cleansed from all unrighteousness, and perfected in one." But if we assert that believers, let them be ever so faithful, can never be thus cleansed and perfected in one till death comes to the Saviour's assistance, do we not place our Lord's cleansing blood, and powerful intercession, and of consequence his priesthood, in an unscriptural and contemptible light?

Should Mr. Hill attempt to retort this argument by saying, "that it is our doctrine, not his, which derogates from the honour of Christ's priesthood, because we should no longer need our High Priest's blood, if we were cleansed from all sin:" I reply:

(1.) Perfect Christians need as much the virtue of Christ's blood, to prevent the guilt and pollution of sin from returning, as imperfect Christians want it to drive that guilt and pollution away. It is not enough that the blood of the true paschal Lamb has been sprinkled upon our souls to keep off the destroyer; it must still remain there to hinder his coming back "with seven other spirits more wicked than himself." (2.) Mr. Hill is in the dark; he calls for a light; and when it is brought, he observes, The darkness of the room is now totally removed. "Is it so, sir?" replies his footman; "then you need these candles no more; if they have totally removed the darkness of your apartment, you have no more need of them." Mr. Hill smiles at the absurdity of his servant's argument; and yet it is well if he does not admire the wisdom of my opponent's objection. (3.) The hearts of perfect Christians are cleansed, and kept clean by faith; and Christian perfection means the perfection of Christian faith, whose property it is to endear Christ and his blood more and more; nothing then can be less reasonable than to say that, upon our principles, perfect believers have done with the atoning blood. (4.) Such believers continually "overcome the accuser of the brethren through the blood of the Lamb; there is no moment, therefore, in which they can spare it: they are feeble believers who can yet dispense with its constant application; and hence it is that they continue feeble. None make so much use of Christ's blood as perfect Christians. Once it was only their medicine, which they took now and then, when a fit of fear, or a pang of guilt, obliged them to it; but now it is the Divine preservative, which keeps off the infection of sin. Now it is the reviving cordial, which they take to prevent their "growing weary, or faint in their minds." Now it is their daily drink; now it is what they sprinkle their every thought, word, and work with. In a word, it is that blood which constantly speaks before God and in their consciences "better things than the blood of Abel," and actually procures for them all the blessings which they enjoy or expect. To say, therefore, that the doctrine of Christian perfection supersedes the need of Christ's blood, is not less absurd than to assert that the perfection of navigation renders the great deep a useless reservoir of water. Lastly: are not the saints before the throne perfectly sinless? And who are more ready than they to extol the blood and sing the song of the Lamb: "To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his blood, be glory," &c? If an angel preached to them the modern Gospel, and desired them to plead for the remains of sin, lest they should lose their peculiar value for the atoning blood; would not they all suspect him to be an angel of darkness, transforming himself into an angel of light? And shall we be the dupes of the tempter, who deceives good men, that they may deceive us by a similar argument?

VIII. It discredits Christ as the Fulfiller of the Father's promise, and as the Sender of the indwelling, abiding Comforter, in order that our joy may be full. For the Spirit never takes his constant abode as a Comforter in a heart full of indwelling sin. If he visit such a heart with his consolations, it is only "as a guest that tarrieth but a day." When he enters a soul fraught with inbred corruption, he rather acts as a Reprover than as a Comforter; throwing down the tables of the spiritual money changers; hindering the vessels, which are not holiness unto the Lord, from being carried through God's spiritual temple, and expelling, according to the degree of our faith, whatsoever would make God's house "a den of thieves."

But, instead of this, Mr. Hill's doctrine considers the heart of a believer as a "den of lions;" and represents Christ's Spirit, not as the destroyer, but as the keeper of the wild beasts, and evil tempers which dwell therein. This I conclude from these words of the Rev. Mr. Toplady:"They," indwelling sin and unholy tempers, "do not quite expire, till the renewed soul is taken up from earth to heaven. In the meantime these heated remains of depravity will, too often, like prisoners in a dungeon, crawl toward the window, though in chains, and show themselves through the grate. Nay, I do not know whether the strivings of inherent corruption for mastery be not, frequently, more violent in a regenerate person, than even in one who is dead in trespasses; as wild beasts are sometimes the more rampant and furious for being wounded." (See Caveat against Unsound Doctrines, p. 65.) When I read this Gospel, I cannot but throw in a Caveat against Mr. Toplady's Caveat. For if his be not unsound, every body must allow it to be uncomfortable and unsafe. Who would not think it dreadfully dangerous to dwell with one wild beast that cannot be killed, unless we are first killed ourselves? But how much more dangerous is it to be condemned to dwell for life with a number of them which are not only immortal, so long as we are alive, but "are sometimes the more rampant and furious for being wounded!" The Saviour preached by Mr. Toplady only wounds the Egyptian dragon, the inward Pharaoh, and makes him rage, but our Jesus drowns him in the sea of his own blood, barely by stretching out the rod of his power, when we stretch out to him our arms of faith. Mr. Hill's Redeemer only takes Agag prisoner, as double-minded Saul did; but our Redeemer "hews him in pieces" as upright Samuel. The Christ of the Calvinists says, "Confine the enemy; though he may possibly be fiercer than before." But ours "thrusts out the enemy before us, and says, Destroy," Deut. xxxiii, 27. O, ye preachers of finished salvation, we leave it to your candour to decide which of these doctrines brings most glory to the saving name of Jesus.

IX. The doctrine of our necessary continuance in indwelling sin to our last moments, makes us naturally overlook or despise the "exceeding great and precious promises given unto us, that by these we might be partakers of the Divine nature," that is, of God's perfect holiness, "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust," 2 Pet. i, 4; and thus it naturally defeats the full effect of evangelical truths and ministerial labours; an effect this, which is thus described by St. Paul; "teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus," that is, perfect according to the richest dispensation of Divine grace, which is, "the Gospel of Christ Jesus," Col. i, 28. Again: "The Scripture is profitable for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works," 2 Tim. iii, 16. Now we apprehend that the perfection which thoroughly furnishes believers unto all good works, is a perfection productive of all the "good works" evangelically as well as providentially "prepared that we should walk in them" before death: because, (whatever Mr. Hill may insinuate to the contrary in England, and father Walsh at Paris,) the Scriptures say, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work nor device" in death, that is, "in the grave whither thou goest." For as the tree falls, so it lies: if it falls full of rottenness with a brood of vipers, and a never-dying worm in its hollow centre; it will continue in that very condition; and wo to the man who trusts that the pangs of death will kill the worm, or that a purgative fire will spare the rotten wood and consume the vipers!

X. It defeats in part the end of the Gospel precepts, to the fulfilling of which Gospel promises are but means. "All the law, the prophets," and the apostolic writings, "hang on these two commandments:Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself," through penitential faith in the light of thy dispensation; that is, in two words, thou shalt be evangelically perfect. Now, if we believe that it is absolutely impossible to be thus perfect by keeping these two blessed commandments in faith, we cannot but believe also that God, who requires us to keep them, is defective in wisdom, equity, and goodness, by requiring us to do what is absolutely impossible; and we represent our Church as a wicked step mother who betrays her children into the wanton commission of perjury, by requiring of every one of them, in the sacrament of baptism, a most solemn vow, by which they bind themselves, in the presence of God and of the congregation, that "they will keep God's holy will and commandments," that is, that they will keep God's evangelical law, "and walk in the same all the days of their life."

XI. It has a necessary tendency to unnerve our deepest prayers. How can we pray in faith that God would help us to "do his will on earth as it is done in heaven," or that he would "cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, that we may perfectly love him and worthily magnify his holy name:" how can we, I say, ask this in faith, if we disbelieve the very possibility of having these petitions answered? And what poor encouragement has Epaphras, upon the scheme which we oppose, "always to labour fervently for the Colossians in prayer, that they might stand perfect and complete in the will of God;" or St. Paul to wish that "the very God of peace would sanctify the Thessalonians wholly, and that their whole spirit, and soul, and body, might be preserved blameless," if these requests could not be granted before death, and were unavoidably to be granted to them and to all believers in the article thereof?

XII. It soothes lukewarm, unholy professors, and encourages them to sit quietly under the vine of Sodom, and under their own barren fig tree: I mean under the baneful influence of their unbelief and indwelling sin; nothing being more pleasing to the carnal mind than this syren song:"It is absolutely impossible that the thoughts of your hearts should be cleansed in this life. God himself does not expect that you should be purified from all iniquity on this side the grave. It is proper that sin should dwell in your hearts by unbelief, to endear Christ to you, and so to work together for your good." The preachers of mere morality insinuate that God does not forgive sins before death. This dangerous, uncomfortable doctrine damps the faith of penitents, who think it absurd to expect before death what they are taught they can only receive at death. And as it is with the pardon of sins, so it is also with "cleansing from all unrighteousness." The preachers of Christian imperfection tell their hearers that nobody can be cleansed from heart sin before death. This new doctrine makes them secretly trust in a death purgatory, and hinders them from pleading in faith the promises of full sanctification before death stares them in the face; while others, like spared Agag, madly venture upon the spear of the king of terrors with their hearts full of indwelling sin. The dead tell no tales now; but it will be well if, in the day of resurrection, those who plead for the necessary indwelling of sin during the term of life, do not meet in the great day with some deluded souls, who will give them no thanks for betraying them, to their last moments, into the hands of indwelling sin, by insinuating that there can be no deliverance from our evil tempers before we are ready to exchange a death bed for a coffin.

XIII. It greatly discourages willing Israelites, and weakens the hands of the faithful spies who want to lead feeble believers on, and to take by force the kingdom which consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; nothing being more proper to damp their ardour than such a speech as this:"You may strive against your corruptions and evil tempers as long as you please: but you shall never get rid of them; the Jericho within is impregnable: it is fenced up to heaven, and garrisoned by the tall, invincible, immortal sons of Anak: so strong are these adversaries, that the twelve apostles, with the help of Christ and the Holy Ghost, could never turn one of them out of his post. Nay, they so buffeted and overpowered St. Paul, the most zealous of the apostles, that they fairly took him prisoner, 'sold him under sin,' and made him groan to the last, 'O wretched, carnal man that I am, who shall deliver me from the law of my inbred corruptions, which brings me into captivity to the law of sin: I thank God through death. So then with the flesh,' you must, as well as St. Paul, 'serve the law of sin' till you die. Nor need you fret at these tidings; for they are the pure Gospel of Christ, the genuine doctrines of free grace and Christian liberty. In Christ you are free, but in yourselves you must continue to serve the law of sin: and indeed why should you not do it, since the sins of a Christian are for his good; and even the dung of a sheep of Christ is of some use, nay, of the most excellent use, if we believe Mr. Hill; for the most grievous fallsfalls into repeated acts of adultery and deliberate murder, serve to make us know our place, to drive us nearer to Christ, and to make us sing louder the praises of restoring grace." Beside, that gentleman represents those who preach deliverance from indwelling sin before we go into a death purgatory, as "men of a Pharisaic cast; blind men, who never saw their own hearts; proud men, who oppose the righteousness of God; vain men, who aspire at robbing Christ of the glory of being alone without sin: in short, men who hold doctrines which are shocking, not to say blasphemous."

How would this speech damp our desires after salvation from indwelling sin! How would it make us hug the cursed chains of our inbred corruptions, if the cloven foot of the imperfect, unchaste Diana, which it holds out to public view without Gospel sandals, were not sufficient to shock us back from this impure gospel to the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ! And yet (if I am not mistaken) this dangerous speech only unfolds the scope of Mr. Hill's "Creed for Perfectionists."

XIV. To conclude. The modish doctrine of Christian imperfection and death purgatory is so contrived, that carnal men will always prefer the purgatory of the Calvinists to that of the Papists. For the Papists prescribe I know not how many cups of Divine wrath and dire vengeance, which are to be drunk by the souls of the believers who die half purged, or three-parts cleansed. These half-damned, or a quarter-damned creatures, must go through a severe discipline, and fiery salvation, in the very suburbs of hell, before they can be perfectly purified. But our opponents have found out a way to deliver half-hearted believers out of all fear in this respect. Such believers need not "utterly abolish the body of sin" in this world. The inbred man of sin not only may, but he shall live as long as we do. You will possibly ask, "What is to become of this sinful guest? Shall he take us to hell, or shall we take him to heaven? If he cannot die in this world, will Christ destroy him in the next?" No: here Christ is almost left out of the question, by those who pretend to be determined to "know nothing but Christ and him crucified." Our indwelling adversary is not destroyed by the brightness of the Redeemer's spiritual appearing, but by the gloom of the appearance of death. Thus they have found another Jesus; another Saviour from sin. The king of terrors comes to the assistance of Jesus' sanctifying grace, and instantaneously delivers the carnal believer from indwelling pride, unbelief, covetousness, peevishness, uncharitableness, love of the world, and inordinate affection. Thus the clammy sweats, brought on by the greedy monster, kill, it seems, the tree of sin, of which the blood of Christ could only kill the buds! The dying sinner's breath does the capital work of the Spirit of holiness! And by the most astonishing of all miracles, the faint, infectious, last gasp of a sinful believer blows away, in the twinkling of an eye, the great mountain of inward corruption, which all the means of grace, all the faith, prayers, and sacraments of twenty, perhaps of forty years, with all the love in the heart of our Zerubbabel, all the blood in his veins, all the power in his hands, and all the faithfulness in his breast, were never able to remove! If this doctrine be true, how greatly was St. Paul mistaken when he said, "The sting of death is sin, &c. Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through Christ our Lord!"Should he not have said, Death is the cure of sin, instead of saying, "Sin is the sting of death?" And should not his praises flow thus: "Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through DEATH, our great and only deliverer from our greatest and fiercest enemy, indwelling sin?"

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