John Fletcher


An address to perfect Christian Pharisees.

I ADDRESS you first, ye perfect Christian Pharisees, because ye are most ready to profess Christian perfection, though, alas! ye stand at the greatest distance from perfect humility, the grace which is most essential to the perfect Christian's character; and because the enemies of our doctrine make use of you first, when they endeavour to root it up from the earth.

That ye may know whom I mean by perfect Christian Pharisees, give me leave to show you your own picture, in the glass of a plain description. Ye have, professedly, entered into the fold where Christ's sheep, which are perfected in love, rest all at each other's feet, and at the feet of the Lamb of God. But how have ye entered? By "Christ the door," or at the door of presumption? Not by Christ the door: for Christ is meekness and lowliness manifested in the flesh; but ye are still ungentle and fond of praise. When he pours out his soul as a Divine Prophet, he says, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; take my yoke upon you, and ye shall find rest unto your souls." But ye overlook this humble door. Your proud, gigantic minds are above stooping low enough to follow Him, who "made himself of no reputation" that he might raise us to heavenly honours; and who, to pour just contempt upon human pride, had his first night's lodging in a stable, and spent his last night partly on the cold ground, in a storm of Divine wrath, and partly in an ignominious confinement, exposed to the greatest indignities, which Jews and Gentiles could pour upon him. He rested his infant head upon hay, his dying head upon thorns. A manger was his cradle, and a cross his death bed. Thirty years he travelled from the sordid stable to the accursed tree, unnoticed by his own peculiar people. In the brightest of his days, poor fishermen, some Galilean women, and a company of shouting children, formed all his retinue. Shepherds were his first attendants, and malefactors his last companions.

His first beatitude was, "Blessed are the poor in spirit;" and the last, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake." His first doctrine was, "Repent:" nor was the last unlike to it: "If I have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another's feet, for I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you. He that will be first among you, let him be the least of all." Now, far from practising with godly sincerity this last lesson of our humble Lord, you do not so much as truly relish the first. Ye do not delight in, nay, ye abhor penitential poverty of spirit. Your humility is not cordial, and wrought into your nature by grace; but complimental, and woven into your carriage by art. Ye are humble in looks, in gestures, in voice, in dress, in behaviour; so far as external humility helps you to secure the reputation of perfect Christians, at which ye aspire from a motive of Pharisaic ambition: but ye continue strangers to the childlike simplicity, and unaffected lowliness of Christ's perfect disciples. Ye are the very reverse of those "Israelites in whom there is no guile," Ye resemble the artful Gibeonites, who, for a time, imposed upon Joshua's artless simplicity. Your feigned profession of special grace deceives those of God's children, who have more of the simplicity of the dove than of the serpent's wisdom. Ye choose the lowest place, but ye do not love it. If ye cheerfully take it, it is not among your equals, but among your inferiors: because you think that such a condescending step may raise the credit of your humility, without endangering your superiority. If ye stoop, and go down, it is not because ye see yourselves unworthy of the seat of honour; but because ye hope that people will by and by say to you, Come up higher. Your Pharisaic cunning rams at wearing at once the coronet of genuine humility, and the crown of self-exalting pride. Ye love to be esteemed of men for your goodness and devotion: ye want to be admired for your exactness, zeal, and gracious attainments. The pride of the Jewish Pharisees was coarse in comparison of yours. They wore the rough garment, and you wear the silks of spiritual vanity; and even when ye dye them in the blood of the Lamb, which you extol in word, it is to draw the confidence of humble Christians by your Christian appearance and language, more than to follow the propensity of a new nature, which loves to be clothed with humility, and feels itself in its own centre when it rests in deep poverty of spirit, and sees that God is "all in all."

One of the greatest ends of Christ's coming into the world, was to empty us of ourselves, and to fill us with humble love; but ye are still full of yourselves and void of Christ, that is, void of humility incarnate. Ye still aim at some wrong mark; whether it be self glory, self interest, self pleasure, self party, or self applause. In a word, one selfish scheme or another, contrary to the pure love of God and of your neighbour, secretly destroys the root of your profession, and may be compared to the unseen worm that ate the root of Jonah's gourd. Ye have a narrow, contracted spirit: ye do not gladly sacrifice your private satisfaction, your interest, your reputation, your prejudices, to the general interest of truth and love, and to the public good of the whole body of Christ. Ye are in secret bondage to men, places, and things. Ye do not heartily entertain the wisdom from above, which is pure, gentle, easy to be entreated, and full of mercy. Nay, ye are above conviction: gross sinners yield to truth before you. Like Jehu, ye are zealous, and ye pretend that it is for the Lord of hosts: but alas! it is for your opinions, your party, your honour. In a word, ye do not walk in constant, solemn expectation of death and judgment; your will is not broken; your carnal confidence is yet alive; the heavenly dove does not sit in your breast: self, wrapt up in the cloak of humility, is still set up in your hearts, and in secret you serve that cursed idol more than God. Satan, transformed into an angel of light, has artfully led you to the profession of Christian perfection through a circle of external performances, through glorious forms of doctrine in the letter, and through a fair show of zeal for complete holiness: the Lord, to punish your formality, has in part given you up to your delusion; and now ye as much believe yourselves perfect Christians, as the Pharisees, in our Lord's day, believed themselves perfect Jews.

Mr. Wesley, in his Plain Account of Christian Perfection, has borne his faithful testimony against such witnesses of perfect love as ye are. If ye despise this address, regard his remarks: "Others," says he, "who think they have the direct witness of their being renewed in love, are nevertheless manifestly wanting in the fruit. Some are undoubtedly wanting in long suffering, Christian resignation. They do not see the hand of God in whatever occurs, and cheerfully embrace it. They do not 'in every thing give thanks, and rejoice evermore.' They are not happy; at least, not always happy. For sometimes they complain. They say, 'This is hard!' Some are wanting in gentleness. They 'resist evil,' instead of turning the other cheek. They do not receive reproach with gentleness: no, nor even reproof. Nay, they are not able to bear contradiction without the appearance, at least, of resentment. If they are reproved, or contradicted, though mildly, they do not take it well. They behave with more distance and reserve than they did before, &c. Some are wanting in goodness. They are not kind, mild, sweet, amiable, soft, and loving at all times, in their spirit, in their words, in their look, in their air, in the whole tenor of their behaviour; not kind to all, high and low, rich and poor, without respect of person; particularly to them that are out of the way, to opposers, and to those of their own household. They do not long, study, endeavour, by every means, to make all about them happy. Some are wanting in fidelity, a nice regard to truth, simplicity, and godly sincerity. Their love is hardly 'without dissimulation:' something like guile is found in their mouth. To avoid roughness, they lean to the other extreme. They are smooth to an excess, so as scarce to avoid a degree of fawning. Some are wanting in meekness, quietness of spirit, composure, evenness of temper. They are up and down, sometimes high, sometimes low; their mind is not well balanced. Their affections are either not in due proportion; they have too much of the one, too little of the other; or they are not duly mixt and tempered together so as to counterpoise each other. Hence there is often a jar. Their soul is out of tune, and cannot make the true harmony. Some are wanting in temperance. They do not steadily use that kind and degree of food which they know, or might know, would most conduce to the health, strength, and vigour of the body. Or they are not temperate in sleep: they do not rigorously adhere to what is best for body and mind. They use neither fasting nor abstinence," &c.

I have described your delusion: but who can describe its fatal consequences? Who can tell the mischief it has done, and continues to do? The few sincere perfectionists, and the multitude of captious imperfectionists, have equally found you out. The former are grieved for you; and the latter triumph through you.

When the sincere perfectionists consider the inconsistency of your profession, they are ready to give up their faith in Christ's all-cleansing blood, and their hope of getting a clean heart in this life. They are tempted to follow the multitude of professors, who sit down in self-imputed righteousness, or in Solifidian notions of an ideal perfection in Christ. And it is well if some of them have not already yielded to the temptation, and begun to fight against the hopes which they once entertained of loving God with all their hearts. It is well if some, through you, have not been led to say, "I once sweetly enjoyed the thought of doing the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven. Once I hopefully prayed God would 'so cleanse my heart, that I might perfectly love and worthily magnify his holy name' in this world. But now I have renounced my hopes, and I equally abhor the doctrine of evangelical perfection, and that of evangelical worthiness. When I was a young convert, I believed that Christ could really make an end of all moral pollution, cast out the man of sin, and cleanse us from the sins of the heart as well as from outward iniquity in this life; but I soon met with unhumbled, self-willed people, who, boldly standing up for this glorious liberty, made me question the truth of the doctrine. Nay, in process of time, I found that some of those who most confidently professed to have attained this salvation, were farther from the gentleness, simplicity, catholic spirit, and unfeigned humility of Christ, than many believers, who had never considered the doctrine of Christian perfection. These offences striking in with the disappointment which I myself met with, in feebly seeking the pearl of perfect love, made me conclude that it can no more be found than the philosopher's stone, and that they are all either fools or knaves, who set believers upon seeking it. And now I every where decry the doctrine of perfection as a dangerous delusion. I set people against it wherever I go; and my zeal in this respect has been attended with the greatest success. I have damped the hopes of many perfectionists! And I have proselyted several to the doctrine of Christian imperfection. With them I now quietly wait to be purified from indwelling sin in the article of death, and to be made perfect in another world."

This is, I fear, the language of many hearts, although it is not openly spoken by many lips. Thus are you, O ye perfect Pharisees, the great instruments by which the tempter tears away the shield of those unsettled Israelites, who look more at your inconsistencies than they do at the beauty of holiness, the promise of God, the blood of Christ, and the power of the Spirit.

But this is not all; as ye destroy the budding faith of sincere perfectionists, so ye strengthen the unbelief of the Solifidians. Through you their prejudices are grown up into a fixed detestation of Christian perfection. Ye have hardened them in their error, and furnished them with plausible arguments to destroy the truth which ye contend for. Did ye never hear their triumphs! "Ha! ha! So would we have it! These are some of the people who stand up for sinless perfection! They are all alike. Did not I tell you that you would find them out to be no better than temporary monsters? What monstrous pride! What touchiness, obstinacy, bigotry, and stoicism characterizes them! How do they strain at gnats and swallow camels! I had rather be an open drunkard than a perfectionist. Publicans and harlots shall enter into the kingdom of heaven before them." These are the cutting speeches to which your glaring inconsistency, and the severe prejudices of our opponents, give birth. Is it not deplorable that your tempers should thus drive men to abhor the doctrine which your lips recommend?

And what do you get by thus dispiriting the real friends of Christian perfection, and by furnishing its sworn enemies with such sharp weapons against it? Think ye that the mischief ye do shall not recoil upon yourselves? Is not Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever? If he detested the perfect Pharisaism of unhumbled Jews, will he admire the perfect self-righteousness of aspiring Christians? If he formerly "resisted the proud, and gave grace to the humble," what reason have ye to hope that he will submit to your spiritual pride, and reward your religious ostentation with a crown of glory? Ye perhaps cry out against Antinomianism, and I commend you for it: but are ye not deeply tainted with the worst sort of Antinomianismthat which starches, stiffens, and swells the soul? Ye justly bear your testimony against those who render the law of Christ of none effect to believers, by degrading it into a rule which they stripped of the punitive and remunerative sanctions with which it stands armed in the sacred records. But are ye not doubly guilty, who maintain that this law is still in force as a law, and nevertheless refuse to pay it sincere, internal obedience? For when ye break the first commandment of Christ's evangelical law, by practically discarding penitential "poverty of spirit;" and when ye transgress the last, by abhorring the lowest place, by disdaining to "wash each other's feet," and by refusing to "prefer others in honour before yourselves;" are ye not guilty of breaking all the law by breaking it in one point,in the capital point of humble love, which runs through all the parts of the law, as vital blood does through all the parts of the body? O how much more dangerous is the case of an unhumbled man, who stiffly walks in robes of self-made perfection, than that of an humble man who through prejudice, and the force of example, meekly walks in robes of self-imputed righteousness!

Behold, thou callest thyself a perfect Christian, and restest in the evangelical law of Christ, which is commonly called the Gospel: thou makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, even the way of Christian perfection, being instructed out of the Gospel; and art confident that "thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them who are in darkness, an instructer of the foolish, and a teacher of babes," or imperfect believers; having the form of knowledge and of the truth in the Gospel. Thou therefore who teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest, another should not break the law of Christ, through breaking it dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed through you among those who seek an occasion to blaspheme it, Romans ii, 17, &c. And think ye that ye shall escape the righteous judgment of God? Has Christ no woes but for the Jewish Pharisees? O be no longer mistaken. Before ye are punished by being here given up to a reprobate mind, and by being hereafter cast into the hell of hypocrites, the outer darkness where there will be more weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth than in any other hell! Before ye are overtaken by the awful hour of death, and the dreadful day of judgment, practically learn that Christian perfection is the mind which was in Christ, especially his humble, meek, quiet mind; his gentle, free, loving spirit. Aim at it by sinking into deep self abhorrence; and not by using, as ye have hitherto done, the empty talk and profession of Christian perfection as a step to reach the top of spiritual pride.

Mistake me not: I do not blame you for holding the doctrine of Christian perfection, but for wilfully missing the only way that leads to it; I mean the humble, meek, and loving Jesus, who says, "I am the way, and the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved into so great salvation. He that entereth not by this door into this sheep fold, but climbeth up some other way, [and especially he that climbeth by the way of Pharisaic formality,] the same is a thief and a robber:" he robs Christ of his glory, and pretends to what he has no more right to than a thief has to your property. Would ye then be right? Do not cast away the doctrine of an evangelically sinless holiness; but contend more for it with your heart than with your lips. With all your soul press after such a perfection as Christ, St. Paul, and St. John taught and exemplified; a perfection of meekness and humble love. Earnestly believe all the woes which the Gospel denounces against self-righteous Pharisees, and all the blessings which it promises to perfect penitents. Drink less into the letter, and more into the Spirit of Christ, till, like a fountain of living water, it spring up to everlasting life in your heart. Ye have climbed to the Pharisaic perfection of Saul of Tarsus, when, "touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless." Would ye now attain the evangelical perfection which he was possessed of, when he said, "Let us, as many as are perfect, be thus minded?" Only follow him through the regeneration: fall to the dust before God; rise conscious of the blindness of your heart, meekly deplore it with penitential shame; and if you follow the directions laid down in the third address, I doubt not but, dangerous as your case is at present, you will be, like St. Paul, as eminent for Christian perfection, as you have hitherto been for Pharisaic formality.

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