John Fletcher


Mr. Hill objects, that the doctrine of Christian perfection is popish; and the author shows that it is truly evangelical, and stands inseparably connected with the cordial obedience required by the mediatorial law of Moses and Christ, insomuch that there is absolutely no medium between the doctrine of an evangelically sinless perfection and lawless AntinomianismThis section contains a recapitulation of the Scripture proofs of the doctrine maintained in these sheets; and therefore the careful perusal of it is humbly recommended to the reader.
HAVING taken my leave of the ingenious author of The Christian's peculiar Conflict, I return to Mr. Hill, who by this time meets me with his "Review" in his hand, and, with that theological sling, casts at our doctrine a stone which has indeed frighted thousands of weak souls, but has never done any execution among the judicious. Your doctrine, says he, "is a popish doctrine;" and he might have added, with as much reason, that it is a Pelagian doctrine too: for, bold as Pelagius and some popes have been in coining new doctrines, they never came to such a pitch of boldness as to say that they were the authors of the doctrine of evangelical obedience, and of those commandments which bind us to love God,our covenant God, with all our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves: precious Gospel commandments these, upon which the doctrine of perfection securely rests!

What pope was ever silly enough to pretend that he wrote the book of Deuteronomy, where we find this sweet, evangelical law, "Hear, O Israel: thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart," [to do them, I suppose, and not to ridicule them under the names of perfection and popery?] Deut. vi, 5, 6. Now, by what argument will Mr. Hill prove that the pope is the inventor of this blessed doctrine?

Should that gentleman reply, that when God gave his ancient people this gracious law of perfection, he did not give it with an intention that they should personally keep it as an evangelical law; but only with an intention to drive them to the promised Messiah, who was to keep it for them, and to give eternal indulgences to all the believers who break it; we demand a proof: and till Mr. Hill produce it, we show his mistake by the following arguments:1. Although the Jewish dispensation revealed a "gracious God, abundant in goodness, mercy, and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin," to returning sinners, who penitentially laid hold on his Jewish covenant; yet, if I remember right, it never promised to accept of an obedience performed by another. Hence it is that God never commanded that Jewish females should be circumcised, but confined his ordinance to the males, who alone could personally obey it. We frequently read of vicarious sufferings in the Jewish Gospel, but not of vicarious obedience and vicarious love. For although the obedience of godly parents engaged God to bestow many blessings upon their children, yet the children were to obey for themselves, or to be cut off in the end. The Jews were undone by a conceit of the contrary doctrine, and by wild notions about the obedience of Abraham, and the holiness of the temple, which they fancied was imputed to them in the Calvinian way: and a similar mistake, it is to be feared, still undoes multitudes of Christians, who fatally mistake the nature of Christian obedience, absurdly put on robes of self-imputed righteousness, and rashly bespatter the roses of personal and evangelically perfect obedience, which God requires of every one of us.

2. The mistake I oppose would never have been made by our opponents, if they had not used themselves to tear the evangelically legal part of the Scriptures from the context, in order to give it a sense contrary to that of the sacred writers; it being certain, that, when you have torn a man's tongue out of his mouth; you may afterward force it down his throat, and leave it there with the root against his teeth, and the tip toward his stomach. To show that the precept of perfect love, which I have quoted from Deut. vi, is treated in this manner as often as our opponents insinuate God did not intend that Jewish believers should personally observe it as a term of final acceptance, but only that they should be driven thereby to the Mediator, who should perfectly love God for them: to show, I say, the absurdity, of this notion, we need only do Moses the justice to hear him out. Let any unprejudiced person read the whole chapter, and he will, I am persuaded, side against the Calvinian imputation of a Jewish perfection to Jewish believers. Moses begins by saying, "Now these are the commandments, which the Lord your God [yours, through an evangelical covenant] commanded to teach you, that ye might do them, [and not that your Mediator might do them for you,] Deut. vi, 1. Two verses after, he adds, "Hear, O Israel, and observe and do, [not, Hear, O Israel, and another shall observe and do for thee,] that it may be well with thee." Then comes our capital doctrine and precept of perfect love, which, a few verses below, Moses continues to enforce thus: "Ye shall not tempt the Lord your [covenant] God. You shall diligently keep the [evangelical] commands of the Lord your [covenant] God; and his [Gospel] testimonies, which he has commanded thee. And thou shalt do that which is right and good in the sight of the Lord thy God, that it may be well with thee. And when thy son asketh thee, saying, What do mean these statutes, [of perfect love, &c,] then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh's bondmen in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out." And, lest Antinomian hands should draw the golden nail of this perfect obedience for want of proper clenching, this precious chapter, which our Church has properly selected for a Sunday lesson, ends with these words, which must raise a blush on the face, or strike conviction into the breast, of all who trample under foot the robes of our own evangelical perfection: "And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, that he might preserve us alive: and it shall be our righteousness [our Gospel perfection] if we observe to do all these commandments, before the Lord our [covenant] God, as he has commanded us," Deut. vi, 1-25.

If our opponents say that this is a transcript of Adam's anti-mediatorial law of paradisiacal perfection; and not a copy of Moses' mediatorial law of Jewish perfection: or if they assert, that Moses Calvinistically hints that the Jews were to keep this law by proxy, they may say that light is darkness. And if they grant that Moses was no Antinomian shuffler; but really meant what he spoke and wrote, it unavoidably follows, (1.) That God really required of every Jew an evangelical and personal perfection of love, according to the degree of light and power imparted under the Jewish dispensation. (2.) That this evangelical, Jewish perfection of love was attainable by every sincere Jew; because, whatever God requires of us in a covenant of grace, he graciously engages himself to help us to perform, if we believingly and obediently embrace his promised assistance. And, (3.) That if an evangelical perfection of love was attainable under the Jewish Gospel, (for "the Gospel was preached to the Jews as well as to us," although not so clearly, Heb. iv, 2,) it is absurd to deny that the Gospel of Christ requires less perfection, or makes less provision, that Christians may attain what their dispensation calls them to.

If Mr. Hill thinks that this inference is not just, I refer him to our Lord's declaration: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil:" first, by perfectly obeying myself the two great moral precepts of Moses and the prophets: and, next, by teaching and helping all my faithful disciples to do the same, Matt. v, 17. Should that gentleman object to the latter part of this little comment, because it leaves no room for the Calvinian imputation of Christ's mediatorial perfection to fallen believers, who sleep in impenitency, under the guilt of adultery, covered by murder: we reply, that this part of our exposition, far from being forced, is highly agreeable to the text, when it is taken in connection with the scope of our Lord's sermon and with the context. For,

(1.) All Christ's sermons, and especially that upon the mount, inculcate the doctrine of personal perfection, and not the doctrine of imputed perfection. (2.) The very chapter out of which this text is taken, ends with these words: "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." And Mr. Hill, prejudiced as he is against our doctrine, is too candid to assert that our Lord meant, "Be ye therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect: now, he is perfect only by the Calvinian imputation of my righteousness: it is merely by imputation that he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good. And he sendeth only a Calvinistically imputed rain upon the just and upon the unjust. Be ye therefore perfect only by the imputation of my perfect righteousness."

Mr. Hill's mistake has not only no countenance from the distant part of the context, but it is flatly contrary to the words which immediately follow the controverted text. "For verily I say unto you, [that, far from being come to destroy the law and the prophets, that is, the spirituality and strictness of the moral part of the Jewish Gospel,] till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law [which Pharisaic glosses have unnerved] till all be fulfilled." And lest you should think that I speak of your fulfilling this law by proxy and imputation, I add, "Whosoever shall break one of these commandments, [which I am going to enforce upon you, as my own mediatorial law; though hitherto you have considered them only as Moses' mediatorial law;] whosoever, I say, shall break one of these least commandments, and [by precept and example] teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; [if he have any place among my people in my spiritual kingdom, it shall be only among my carnal babes, who are the least of my subjects.] But whosoever shall do and teach them, [the commandments whose spirituality I am going to assert,] the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven," [he shall be an adult, perfect Christian in the kingdom of my grace here; and he shall receive a proportionable crown of righteousness in the kingdom of my glory hereafter,] Matt. v, 18, 19.

If I am not mistaken, it evidently follows from these plain words of Christ, (1.) That he taught a personal perfection, and an evangelically sinless perfection too. (2.) That this perfection consists in not breaking, by wilful commission, the least of the commandments which our Lord rescued both from the false glosses of Antinomian Pharisees, who rested on the imputed righteousness of Abraham, saying, "We have Abraham for our father: we are the children of Abraham: we are perfect in Abraham: all our perfection is in Abraham:" and from the no less false glosses of those absurdly legal Pharisees, who paid the tithe of anise, mint, and cummin, with the greatest scrupulosity, while they secretly neglected mercy, truth, and the love of God. And, (3.) That the perfection which Christ enforced upon his disciples, was not merely of the negative kind, but of the positive also; since it consisted both in doing and teaching the least, as well as the greatest of God's commandments.

If you ask what are the greatest of these commandments, which Christ says his disciples must "do and teach," if they will be great or perfect in his kingdom and dispensation, St. Matthew answers, "One of the Pharisees, who was a lawyer, asked him a question, saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law, [the name then given to the Jewish Gospel which Moses preached;] Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind: that is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it [in nature and importance:] Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets," Matt. xxii, 35. That is, whatever Moses and the other prophets taught and promised, hangs on the nail of perfect love. All came from, all tended to perfect love under the Jewish dispensation: nor is my dispensation less holy and gracious. On the contrary, "What the law could not do," in a manner sufficiently perfect for my dispensation, (for Jewish perfection is not the highest perfection at which man may arrive on earth,) "God sending me into the world for the atonement and destruction of sin, has hereby abundantly condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the mediatorial law," which enjoins perfect love, "might be abundantly fulfilled in the hearts of them that walk after the Spirit" of my Gospel: a brighter Gospel this, which transmits more direct and warmer beams from the Sun of righteousness, and can raise the exquisitely delicious fruit of perfect love to a greater perfection than the Gospel which Moses preached. (Compare Rom. viii, 3, with Heb. iv, 2. See also an account of the superiority of Christ's Gospel in the Scripture Scales, sec. vi.)

Agreeably to this doctrine of perfection, our Lord said to the rich young man, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments; if thou wilt be perfect, follow me" in the way of my commandments. "Love God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself; for blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may enter through the gates into the city, and have right to the tree of life which is in the street of that city, on either side of the pure river of the water of life. This do and thou shalt live" eternally in heaven. "Bring forth fruit unto perfection," according to the talents of grace and power which thou art entrusted with, and thou shalt "inherit eternal life; thou shalt receive the reward of the inheritance; thou shalt receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love him," with the love which keepeth the commandments, and fulfilleth the royal law. Compare Matt. xix, 17; Luke x, 28; Rev. xxii, 2, 14; James i, 12, and Luke viii, 14.

On these, and the above-mentioned scriptures, we rest the truth and importance of the doctrine of perfection. Jewish perfection principally stands or falls with Deut. vi, and Matt. xxii; and Christian perfection with Matt. v, and xix, to which you may add the joint testimony of St. Paul and St. James. The former, whom our opponents absurdly make the captain of their imperfection, says to the Judaizing Galatians, "Bear ye one another's burdens, [a rare instance of perfect love!] and so fulfil the [mediatorial] law of Christ," Gal. vi, 2. Nor let Mr. Hill say that the apostle means we should fulfil it by proxy; for St. Paul adds, in the next verse but one, "Let every man prove his own work, and then [with respect to that work] he shall have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another, for [with regard to personal, evangelical obedience] every man shall bear his own burden:" a proverbial expression, which answers to this Gospel axiom, Every man shall be judged according to his own works.

St. Paul urges the same evangelical and lawful doctrine upon the Romans:"Love one another; for he that loveth another, hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love is the fulfilling of the law," Rom. xiii, 8, &c. And that St. Paul spake this of the mediatorial law of liberty and Christian perfection, and not of the Christless law of innocence and paradisiacal perfection, is evident from his calling it "the law of Christ," that is, our Redeemer's law, in opposition to our Creator's law, which was given without an atoning sacrifice and a mediating priest, and therefore made no allowance for infirmities, and admitted neither of repentance nor of renovated obedience. Beside, St. Paul was not such a novice as not to know that the Galatians and the Romans, who had all sinned, as he observes, Rom. iii, 23, could never be exhorted by any man in his senses, to fulfil the paradisiacal law of innocence, by now loving one another. He therefore indubitably spake of the gracious law of our gentle Melchisedec; the law of Him who said, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another," John xiii, 34. A precious commandment this, which our Lord calls new, not because the Jewish mediator had not given it to the Israelites, but because the Christian Mediator enforced it by new motives, gave new, unparalleled instances of obedience to it, annexed new rewards to the keeping of it, and required it to be fulfilled with a new perfection. And that Christians shall be eternally saved or damned, according to their keeping or breaking this mediatorial law of Christian perfection, this "law of Christ, this royal law of Jesus, the King of the Jews," we prove by Matt. xviii, 35; vii, 26; xxv, 45; and Luke vi, 46, &c.

If Mr. Hill's prejudices are not removed by what St. Paul says in Rom. xiii, concerning our fulfilling the Gospel law of perfection, we entreat him to ponder the glorious testimony which the apostle, in Rom. ii, bears to this law, which he does not scruple to call "his Gospel." With regard to this gracious rule of judgment, says he, "There is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without a [Mediator's written] law, shall also perish with a [Mediator's written] law. And as many as have sinned in [or under a Mediator's written] law, shall be judged by the [Mediator's written] law. For not the hearers of the [Mediator's] law are just before God, but the doers of the [Mediator's] law shall be justified. [Nor are the heathens totally destitute of this law:] for when the Gentiles, which have not the [Mediator's written] law, do by nature, [by natural conscience, which is the echo of the Mediator's voice, and the reflection of the light which enlightens every man that cometh into the world,] when the Gentiles, I say, do [by these means] the things contained in the law, they, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; their conscience also beating witness; and their thoughts [in consequence of the witness borne] accusing, or else excusing one another; in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel," [that is, according to the Gospel law which I preach,] Rom. ii, 11, &c. For, while some "lay up treasures in heaven, others treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath and of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who, by patient continuance in well doing, [or in keeping the Mediator's law according to their dispensation,] seek for glory [he will render] eternal life, [like a righteous Judge, and gracious Rewarder of them that diligently seek him.] But unto them that do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [he will render] indignation and wrath," [in just proportion to the more or less bright discoveries of the truth, which shall have been made to them,] Rom. ii, 5, &c. "For that servant, who knew his Lord's will, [by a written law, delivered through the hands of a Mediator,] and prepared not himself, [that he might have boldness in the day of judgment,] neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes [in the hell of unbelieving Jews and disobedient Christians.] But he that knew not, [his Master's will, by an outwardly written law,] and did [break the law of nature, disobey the voice of his conscience, and] commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required," Luke xii, 47, 48. An indubitable proof this, that as something is required of all, something, even a talent of grace, a measure of the spiritual light which enlightens every man, is given to all to improve with, and bring forth fruit to perfection; some thirty fold, some sixty fold, and others a hundred fold, according to their respective dispensations.

From these quotations it appears to us indubitable, that the Gospel of St. Paul, and, of consequence, the Gospel of Christ, is not a wanton, lawless Gospel; but a holy, lawful Gospel, in which evangelical promises are properly guarded by evangelical rules of judgment; and the doctrines of grace, wisely connected with the doctrines of justice. If this be a glaring truth, what a dangerous game do many good men play, when they emasculate St. Paul's Gospel, and with Antinomian rashness cut off, and cast away that morally legal part of it, which distinguishes it both from the ceremonial gospel which the Galatians foolishly embraced, and from the lawless gospel which Solifidian gospellers contend for under the perverted name of "free grace!" And how seriously should we all consider these awful words of St. Paul!"There are some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ; but though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you [whether it be a more severe, Judaizing gospel, or a less strict, Solifidianizing gospel] than that which we, have preached unto you, [which stands at an equal distance from burthensome, Jewish ceremonies, and from lawless, Solifidian tenets,] let him be accursed," Gal. i, 7, 8.

This recapitulation of the principal Scripture proofs of our doctrine would be exceedingly deficient, if I did not once more remind the reader of the glorious testimony which St. James bears to the law of liberty:-"If ye [believers, says he] fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well, [ye quit yourselves like perfect Christians.] But if ye have [uncharitably] respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors, [that is, ye are condemned by the Mediator's law, under which ye are.] For whosoever shall keep the whole law, [of the Mediator,] and yet [uncharitably] offend in one point, he is guilty of all, &c. So speak ye, therefore, and so do, as people that shall be judged by the law of liberty [the Mediator's law.] For he [the imperfect, uncharitable, fallen believer] shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no [charity or] mercy," James ii, 8.

We rest our doctrine of Jewish and Christian perfection on these consentaneous testimonies of St. James and St. Paul; of Moses, the great lawgiver of the Jews, and of Christ, the great Lawgiver of the Christians: the doctrine of perfection, or of perfectly cordial obedience, being inseparably connected with the mediatorial laws of Moses and of Christ. The moment you destroy these laws, by turning them into "rules of life," through the personal observance of which no believer shall ever be justified or condemned, you destroy the ground of Jewish and Christian perfection, and you impose upon us the lawless, unscriptural tenet of an obedience performed by proxy, and of an imputed perfection, which will do us as little good in life, death, and judgment, as imputed health, opposed to inherent health, will do to a poor, sickly, dying criminal. Thus, after leading my reader round a large circle of proofs, I return to the very point whence I started: (see the beginning of the preface:) and I conclude that a gospel without a mediatorial law, without an evangelical law, without the conditional promise of a crown of heavenly glory to the obedient, and without the conditional threatening of infernal stripes to the disobedient;I conclude, I say, that such a gospel will always lead us to the centre of Antinomianism; to the Diana and Hecate of the Calvinists; to lawless free grace and everlasting free wrath; or, if you please, finished salvation and finished damnation. On the other hand, the moment you admit what the Jewish and Christian Gospel covenants are so express about, I mean an evangelical law, or a practicable rule of judgment, as well as of conduct, eternal salvation and eternal damnation become conditional: they are suspended upon the evangelical perfection or imperfection of our obedience; and the Rev. Mr. Berridge hits on the head of the golden nail, on which "hang all the law and the prophets," all the four Gospels and the epistles, when he says, "Sincere obedience, as a condition, will lead you unavoidably up to a perfect obedience."

And now, reader, choose which thou wilt follow, Mr. Hill's lawless Antinomian Gospel, or St. Paul's and St. James' Gospel, including the evangelical law of Christian liberty and perfection, by which law thou shalt be conditionally justified or condemned, "when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to the Gospel," Rom. ii, 16. If thou choose imputed righteousness and imputed perfection without any condition, it will "unavoidably" lead thee down into a death purgatory, through the chamber of indwelling sin, if thou art an elect person, in the Calvinian sense of the word; or to eternal damnation through the chambers of necessary sin, if thou art one of those whom our opponents call reprobates. But if thou cordially choose the sincere, voluntary, evangelical obedience of faith, which we preach both as a condition and as a privilege, it will (Mr. Hill's second being judge) "unavoidably lead thee up to perfect obedience." There is absolutely no medium between these two Gospels. Thou must either be a Crispian, lawless imperfectionist, or an evangelical, lawful perfectionist; unless thou choose to be a Gallioone who cares for none of these things. Thou must wrap thyself up in unscriptural notions of imputed righteousness, imputed holiness, and imputed obedience, which make up the ideal garment of Calvinistically imputed perfection; or thou must perfectly "wash in the blood of the Lamb thy robes" of inherent, though derived righteousness, holiness, and obedience, which (when they are thus washed) are the rich wedding garment of evangelical perfection.

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