How To Go On Unto Perfection
From The Works of John Fletcher
The Last Check to Antinomiansim, Section XIX.
By John Fletcher
An address to imperfect believers, who cordially embrace
the doctrine of Christian perfection.
Ye see the absolute necessity of personally "fulfilling the
law of Christ;" your bosom glows with desire to "perfect
holiness in the fear of God;" and, far from blushing to be called
perfectionists, ye openly assert that a perfect faith, productive
of perfect love to God and man, is the pearl of great price,
for which you are determined to sell all, and which (next to Christ)
you will seek early and late, as the one thing needful for your spiritual
and eternal welfare. Some directions, therefore, about the manner
of seeking this pearl, cannot but be acceptable to you, if they are
Scriptural and rational; and such, I humbly trust, are those which
1. First, if ye would attain an evangelically sinless perfection,
let your full assent to the truth of that deep doctrine firmly stand
upon the evangelical foundation of a precept and a promise. A
precept without a promise would not sufficiently animate you; nor
would a promise without a precept properly bind you; but a Divine
precept and a Divine promise form an unshaken foundation.
Let then your faith deliberately rest her right
foot upon these precepts:
Old Testament Precepts
"Hear, O Israelthou shalt love the Lord thy God with
all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might,
Deut. vi, 5. Thou shalt not hate thy neighbour in thy heart. Thou
shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of
thy people: but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. I
am the Lord. Ye shall keep my statutes, Lev. xix, 17, 18. And now,
Israel, what does the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear
the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to love him, and to serve
the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, to keep
the commandments of the Lord God, and his statutes, which I command
thee this day for thy good, &c? Circumcise therefore the foreskin
of your heart, and be no more stiff necked, Deut. x, 12, &c. Serve
God with a perfect heart, and a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth
all hearts, and understandeth the imaginations of the thoughts,"
1 Chron. xxviii, 9.
New Testament Precepts
Should unbelief suggest that these are only Old Testament injunctions,
trample upon the false suggestion, and rest the same foot of your
faith upon the following New Testament precepts:"Think
not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I say unto
you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them
that hate you, &c, that ye may be the children of your Father who
is in heaven, &c. For if ye love them which love you, what reward
have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? Be ye therefore perfect,
even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect, Matt. v, 17,
44, &c. If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,
Matt. xix, 17. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the
law of Christ, Gal. vi, 2. This is my commandment, that ye love
one another as I have loved you, John xv, 12. He that loveth another
hath fulfilled the law: for this, Thou shalt not commit adultery,
&c. Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it
is briefly comprehended in this saying, Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill, &c, therefore,
love is the fulfilling of the law, Rom. xiii, 8, 10. This commandment
we have from him, that he who loves God, love his brother also, 1
John iv, 21. If ye fulfil the royal law, Thou shalt love thy
neighbour as thyself, ye do well. But if ye have respect to
persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors,
James ii, 8, 9. Circumcision is nothing, uncircumcision is nothing
[comparatively speaking;] but [under Christ] the keeping of the commandments
of God [is the one thing needful,] 1 Cor. vii, 19. For the end
of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good
conscience, and of faith unfeigned, 1 Tim. i, 5. Though I have
all faith, &c, and have not charity, I am nothing, 1 Cor. xiii,
2. Whosoever shall keep the whole law [of liberty] and yet offend
in one point [in uncharitable respect of persons] he is guilty of
all, &c. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by
the law of liberty," [which requires perfect love, and therefore
makes no allowance for the least degree of uncharitableness,]
James ii, 10, 12.
When the right foot of your faith stands on these evangelical
precepts and proclamations, lest she should stagger for want of a
promise every way adequate to such weighty commandments, let her place
her left foot upon the following promises, which are extracted from
the Old Testament:
Old Testament Promises
"The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart
of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, Deut.
xxx, 6. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord, and
they shall be my people, and I will be their God, [in a new and peculiar
manner,] for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.
This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel.
After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward
parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and
they shall be my people, Jer. xxiv, 7; xxxi, 33. Then will I sprinkle
clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness
and from all your idols will I cleanse you: a new heart also will
I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take
away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart
of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk
in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them,"
Ezek. xxxvi, 25-27.
And let nobody suppose that the promises of the circumcision
of the heart, the cleansing, the clean water, and the
Spirit, which are mentioned in these scriptures, and by which
the hearts of believers are to be made new, and God's law is to be
so written therein, that they shall "keep his judgments and do
them;" let none, I say, suppose that these glorious promises
belong only to the Jews; for their full accomplishment peculiarly
refers to the Christian dispensation. Beside, if sprinklings of
the Spirit were sufficient, under the Jewish dispensation, to
raise the plant of Jewish perfection in Jewish believers, how much
more will the revelation of "the horn of our salvation,"
and the outpourings of the Spirit, raise the plant of Christian
perfection in faithful, Christian believers!
And that this revelation of Christ in the Spirit as well as in the
flesh, these effusions of the water of life, these baptisms of fire
which burn up the chaff of sin, thoroughly purge God's spiritual floor,
save us from all our uncleanness, and deliver us from all our enemies;
that these blessings, I say, are peculiarly promised to Christians,
is demonstrable by the following cloud of
New Testament declarations and
"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,for he hath raised
up a horn of salvation for us,as he spake by the mouth of his
holy prophets,that we, being delivered out of the hands of our
enemies, might serve him without [unbelieving] fear, [that is,
with perfect love,] in holiness and righteousness before him all the
days of our life, Luke i, 68, 75. Blessed are the poor in spirit,
who thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled, Matt.
v, 3, 6. If thou knewest the gift of God, &c, thou wouldest have asked
of him, and he would have given thee living water: and the water
that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up
to everlasting life, John iv, 10, 14. Jesus stood and cried, saying,
If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He that believeth
on me, [when I shall have ascended up on high to receive gifts
for men,] out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,
[to cleanse his soul, and keep it clean.] But this he spake
of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive;
for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, [in such a manner as to raise
the plant of Christian perfection,] because Jesus was not yet glorified,"
[and his spiritual dispensation was not yet fully opened,] John vii,
Mr. Wesley, in his Plain Account of Christian Perfection, has
published some excellent queries, and proposed them to those who
deny perfection to be attainable in this life. They are close
to the point, and therefore the two first attack the imperfectionists
from the very ground on which I want you to stand. They run thus:
(1.) Has there not been a larger measure of the Holy Spirit
given under the Gospel than under the Jewish dispensation? If
not, in what sense was the Spirit not given before Christ was glorified?
John vii, 39.
(2.) Was that glory which followed the sufferings of
Christ, 1 Peter i, 11, an external glory, or an internal, viz.
the glory of holiness? Always rest the doctrine of Christian
perfection on this Scriptural foundation, and it will stand as firm
as revelation itself.
It is allowed on all sides that the dispensation of John the
Baptist exceeded that of the other prophets, because it immediately
introduced the Gospel of Christ, and because John was not only
appointed to "preach the baptism of repentance," but also
clearly to point out the very person of Christ, and to give knowledge
of salvation to God's people by the remission of sins, Luke i, 77;
and nevertheless, John only promised the blessing of the Spirit,
which Christ bestowed when he had received gifts for men. "I
indeed," said John, "baptize you with water unto repentance;
but he that cometh after me is mightier than I,he shall baptize
you with the Holy Ghost and with fire," Matt. iii, 44. Such is
the importance of this promise, that it is particularly recorded not
only by the three other evangelists, see Mark i, 8; Luke iii, 16;
and John i, 26, but also by our Lord himself, who said just before
his ascension, "John truly baptized with water, but ye shall
be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence," Acts
So capital is this promise of the Spirit's stronger influences to
raise the rare plant of Christian perfection, that when our Lord
speaks of this promise, he emphatically calls it, The promise of
the Father; because it shines among the other promises of the
Gospel of Christ, as the moon does among the stars. Thus, Acts
i, 4, "Wait," says he, "for the promise of the Father,
which ye have heard of me." And again, Luke xxiv, 49, "Behold
I send the promise of my Father upon you." Agreeably to this,
St. Peter says, "Jesus being by the right hand of God exalted,
and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he
hath shed forth this:" he has begun abundantly to fulfil "that
which was spoken by the Prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass in
the last days, saith God, that I will pour out [bestow a more abundant
measure] of my Spirit upon all flesh. Therefore repent and be baptized
[i.e. make an open profession of your faith] in the name of the Lord
Jesus, for the remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of
the Holy Ghost; for the promise is unto you and to your children,
and to as many as the Lord our God shall call" to enjoy the full
blessings of the Christian dispensation, Acts ii, 17, 33, 38. This
promise, when it is received in its fulness, is undoubtedly the greatest
of all the "exceeding great and precious promises, which are
given to us, that by them you might be partakers of the Divine nature,"
[that is, of pure love and unmixed holiness,] 2 Peter i, 4. Have
therefore a peculiar eye to it, and to these deep words of our Lord:
"I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter,
that he may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth [and
power] whom the world knows not, &c, but ye know him, for he remaineth
with you, and shall be in you. At that day ye shall know that I am
in my Father, and you in me, and I in you: for if any man [i.e.
any believer] love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love
him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him,"
John xiv, 15, 23: "Which," says Mr. Wesley, in his note
on the place, "implies such a large manifestation of the Divine
presence and love, that the former, in justification, is as nothing
in comparison of it." Agreeably to this the same judicious
divine expresses himself thus in another of his publications. "These
virtues [meekness, humility, and true resignation to God] are
the only wedding garment; they are the lamps and vessels
well furnished with oil. There is nothing that will do instead
of them: they must have their full and perfect work in you, or
the soul can never be delivered from its fallen, wrathful state.
There is no possibility of salvation but in this. And when the
Lamb of God has brought forth his own meekness, &c, in our souls,
then are our lamps trimmed, and our virgin hearts made ready for the
marriage feast. This marriage feast signifies the entrance
into the highest state of union that can be between God and the soul
in this life. This birthday of the Spirit of love in our souls,
whenever we attain it, will feast our souls with such peace and joy
in God, as will blot out the remembrance of every thing that we called
peace or joy before."
To make you believe this important promise with more ardour, consider
that our Lord spent some of his last moments in sealing it with his
powerful intercession. After having prayed the Father to sanctify
his disciples through the truth, firmly embraced by their faith, and
powerfully applied by his Spirit, he adds, "Neither pray I for
these alone, but for them who will believe on me through their word."
And what is it that our Lord asks for these believers? Truly, what
St. Paul asked for the imperfect believers at Corinth, even
their perfection, 2 Cor. xiii, 9. A state of soul this,
which Christ describes thus:That they all may be one,
as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they may be made one
in us, &c, that they may be one as we are one: I in them, and thou
in me, that they may be perfected in one, and that the world may
know that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me, John xvii,
17, 23. Our Lord could not pray in vain: it is not to be supposed
that the Scriptures are silent with respect to the effect of this
solemn prayer, an answer to which was to give the world an idea
of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, a specimen of
the power which introduces believers into the state of Christian perfection;
and therefore we read that on the day of pentecost the kingdom of
Satan was powerfully shaken, and the kingdom of God, "righteousness,
peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost," began to come with a new power:
then were thousands wonderfully converted, and clearly justified;
then was the kingdom of heaven taken by force; and the love of Christ
and of the brethren began to burn the chaff of selfishness and sin
with a force which the world had never seen before: see Acts ii, 42,
&c. Some time after, another glorious baptism, or capital outpouring
of the Spirit, carried the disciples of Christ farther into the kingdom
of grace which perfects believers in one. And therefore we find that
the account which St. Luke gives us of them after this second, capital
manifestation of the Holy Spirit, in a great degree answers to our
Lord's prayer for their perfection. He had asked "that they all
might be one, and that they might be one as the Father and he are
one, and that they might be perfected in one," John
xvii, 17, &c. And now a fuller answer is given to his deep request.
Take it in the words of an inspired historian:"And when
they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together,
and they were [once more] filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake
the word with [still greater] boldness; and the multitude of them
that believed were of one heart, and of one soul; neither said
any of them, that aught of the things which he possessed were his
own; but they had all things common, &c, and great grace was upon
them all!" Acts iv, 31-33. Who does not see in this account a
specimen of that grace which our Lord had asked for believers,
when he had prayed that his disciples, and those who would believe
on him through their word, might be "perfected in one?"
It may be asked here, whether "the multitude of them that believed,"
in those happy days, were all perfect in love? I answer, that if pure
love had cast out all selfishness, and sinful fear from their hearts,
they were undoubtedly "made perfect in love:" but as God
does not usually remove the plague of indwelling sin till it has been
discovered and lamented; and as we find, in the two next chapters,
an account of the guile of Ananias and his wife, and of the
partiality or selfish murmuring of some believers, it
seems that those chiefly, who before were strong in the grace of their
dispensation, arose then into sinless fathers; and that
the first love of other believers, through the peculiar blessing of
Christ upon his infant Church, was so bright and powerful for a time,
that little children had, or seemed to have, the strength of
young men, and young men the grace of fathers. And,
in this case, the account which St. Luke gives of the primitive believers
ought to be taken with some restriction. Thus, while many of them
were perfect in love, many might have the imperfection of their love
only covered over by a land flood of peace and joy in believing. And,
in this case, what is said of their being "all of one heart and
mind, and of their having all things common," &c, may only mean
that the harmony of love had not yet been broken, and that none had
yet betrayed any of the uncharitableness for which Christians in after
ages became so conspicuous. With respect to the "great grace
which was upon them all," this does not necessarily mean
that they were all equally strong in grace; for great unity and happiness
may rest upon a whole family where the difference between a father,
a young man, and a child, continues to subsist. However,
it is not improbable that God, to open the dispensation of the Spirit,
in a manner which might fix the attention of all ages upon its importance
and glory, permitted the whole body of believers to take an extraordinary
turn together into the Canaan of perfect love, and to show the world
the admirable fruit which grows there, as the spies sent by Joshua
took a turn into the good land of promise before they were settled
in it, and brought from thence the bunch of grapes which astonished
and spirited up the Israelites, who had not yet crossed Jordan.
Upon the whole, it is, I think, undeniable, from the four first
chapters of the Acts, that a peculiar power of the Spirit is bestowed
upon believers under the Gospel of Christ; that this power, through
faith on our part, can operate the most sudden and surprising change
in our souls; and that when our faith shall fully embrace the promise
of full sanctification, or of a complete "circumcision of the
heart in the Spirit," the Holy Ghost, who kindled so much
love on the day of pentecost, that all the primitive believers loved
or seemed to love each other perfectly, will not fail to help us
to love one another without sinful self seeking; and as soon as we
do so, "God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us,"
1 John iv, 12; John xiv, 23.
Should you ask,
How many baptisms, or effusions of the sanctifying
Spirit are necessary
to cleanse a believer from all sin, and to kindle his soul into perfect
I reply, that the effect of a sanctifying truth depending upon
the ardour of the faith with which that truth is embraced, and upon
the power of the Spirit with which it is applied, I should betray
a want of modesty if I brought the operations of the Holy Ghost, and
the energy of faith, under a rule which is not expressly laid down
in the Scriptures. If you ask your physician how many doses of physic
you must take before all the crudities of your stomach can be carried
off, and your appetite perfectly restored; he would probably answer
you, that this depends upon the nature of those crudities, the strength
of the medicine, and the manner in which your constitution will allow
it to operate; and that in general you must repeat the dose, as you
can bear, till the remedy has fully answered the desired end. I return
a similar answer: if one powerful baptism of the Spirit "seal
you unto the day of redemption, and cleanse you from all [moral] filthiness,"
so much the better. If two or more be necessary, the Lord can repeat
them: "His arm is not shortened, that it cannot save;" nor
is his promise of the Spirit stinted: he says, in general, "Whosoever
will, let him come and take of the water of life freely. If you, being
evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more
will your heavenly Father [who is goodness itself] give his Holy [sanctifying]
Spirit to them that ask him!" I may, however, venture to say,
in general, that before we can rank among perfect Christians,
We must receive so much of the truth and Spirit of Christ by faith,
as to have the pure love of God and man shed abroad in our hearts
by the Holy Ghost given unto us, and to be filled with the meek and
lowly mind which was in Christ.
And if one outpouring of the Spirit, one bright manifestation of
the sanctifying truth, so empties us of self, as to fill us with the
mind of Christ, and with pure love, we are undoubtedly Christians
in the full sense of the word. From the ground of my soul I therefore
subscribe to the answer which a great divine makes to the following
"But some who are newly justified, do come up to this [Christian
perfection:] what then will you say to these?" Mr. Wesley says
with great propriety: "If they really do, I will say, they are
sanctified, saved from sin in that moment; and that they never
need lose what God has given, or feel sin any more. But certainly
this is an exempt case. It is otherwise with the generality of
those that are justified. They feel in themselves, more or
less, pride, anger, self will, and a heart bent to backsliding. And
till they have gradually mortified these, they are not fully
renewed in love. God usually gives a considerable time for
men to receive light, to grow in grace, to do and to suffer his will
before they are either justified or sanctified. But he does not
invariably adhere to this. Sometimes he 'cuts short his work.' He
does the work of many years in a few weeks; perhaps in a week, a day,
an hour. He justifies, or sanctifies both those who have done or suffered
nothing, and who have not had time for a gradual growth either in
light or grace. And may he not 'do what he will with his own? Is thine
eye evil, because he is good?' It need not therefore be proved by
forty texts of Scripture, either that most men are perfected in love
at last, or that there is a gradual work of God in the soul;
and that, generally speaking, it is a long time, even many
years, before sin is destroyed. All this we know. But we know,
likewise, that God may, with man's good leave, 'cut short his work,'
in whatever degree he pleases, and do the usual work of many years
in a moment. He does so in a great many instances. And yet there
is a gradual work both before and after that moment. So that one may
affirm, the work is gradual; another, it is instantaneous,
without any manner of contradiction." (Plain Account,
page 115, &c.) Page 155, the same eminent Divine explains himself
more fully thus: "It [Christian perfection] is constantly
preceded and followed by a gradual work. But is it in itself
instantaneous or not? In examining this, let us go on step
by step. An instantaneous change has been wrought in some believers.
None can deny this. Since that change, they enjoy perfect love. They
feel this, and this alone. They rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing,
in every thing give thanks. Now this is all that I mean by perfection.
Therefore these are witnesses of the perfection which I preach.
'But in some this change was not instantaneous.' They did not perceive
the instant when it was wrought; it is often difficult to perceive
the instant when a man dies. Yet there is an instant in which life
ceases. And if ever sin ceases, there must be a last moment of its
existence, and a first moment of our deliverance from it. 'But if
they have this love now, they will lose it.' They may; but they need
not. And whether they do or no, they have it now; they now experience
what we teach. They now are all love. They now rejoice, pray,
and praise without ceasing. 'However, sin is only suspended in them;
it is not destroyed.' Call it which you please. They are all love
to-day; and they take no thought for the morrow." To return:
2. When you firmly assent to the truth of the precepts and promises,
on which the doctrine of Christian perfection is founded; when
you understand the meaning of these scriptures, "Sanctify
them through thy truth, thy word is truth. I will send the Comforter,
[the Spirit of truth and holiness,] unto you; God hath chosen
you to [eternal] salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and
belief of the truth:" when you see that the way to Christian
perfection is by the word of the Gospel of Christ, by faith, and by
the Spirit of God; in the next place,
Get tolerably clear ideas of this
perfection. This is absolutely necessary.
If you will hit a mark, you must know where it is. Some
people aim at Christian perfection; but mistaking it for angelical
perfection, they shoot above the mark, miss it, and then peevishly
give up their hopes. Others place the mark as much too low; hence
it is that you hear them profess to have attained Christian perfection,
when they have not so much as attained the mental serenity of a philosopher,
or the candour of a good-natured, conscientious heathen.
In the preceding pages, if I am not mistaken, the mark is fixed according
to the rules of Scriptural moderation. It is not placed so high, as
to make you despair of hitting it, if you do your best in an evangelical
manner; nor yet so low, as to allow you to presume that you can reach
it, without exerting all your abilities to the uttermost, in due subordination
to the efficacy of Jesus' blood, and the Spirit's sanctifying influences.
3. Should you ask, "Which is the way to Christian perfection?
Shall we go on to it by internal stillness, agreeably to this
direction of Moses and David? 'The Lord will fight for you, and ye
shall hold your peace; stand still and see the salvation of God. Be
still and know that I am God. Stand in awe and sin not; commune with
your own heart upon your bed, and be still.' Or shall we press
after it by an internal wrestling, according to these commands
of Christ? 'Strive to enter in at the strait gate: the kingdom of
heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.'"
According to the evangelical balance of the doctrines of free grace
and free will, I answer, that
The way to perfection is by
the due combination of prevenient, assisting free grace;
and of submissive, assisted free will.
Antinomian stillness, therefore, which says that free grace must
do all, is not the way. Pharisaic activity, which will do most, if
not all, is not the way. Join these two partial systems, allowing
free grace the lead and high pre-eminence which it so justly claims,
and you have the balance of the two Gospel axioms. You do justice
to the doctrines of mercy and justice, of free grace and free will,
of Divine faithfulness in keeping the covenant of grace, and of human
faithfulness in laying hold on that covenant, and keeping within its
bounds: in short, you have the Scripture method of waiting upon
God, which Mr. Wesley describes thus:
Restless, resign'd, for God I wait,
For God my vehement soul stands still.
To understand these lines, consider that faith, like the Virgin
Mary, is alternately a receiver and a bestower:
first, it passively receives the impregnation of Divine grace,
saying, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord: let it be done to me
according to thy word;" and then it actively brings forth its
heavenly fruit with earnest labour. "God worketh in you to will
and to do," says St. Paul: here he describes the passive office
of faith, which submits to, and acquiesces in every dispensation and
operation. "Therefore work out your salvation with fear and trembling,"
and, of consequence, with haste, diligence, ardour, and faithfulness:
here the apostle describes the active office of that mother grace,
which carefully lays out the talent she has already received.
Would you then wait aright for Christian perfection?
Impartially admit the Gospel axioms, and faithfully reduce them to
In order to this, let them meet in your hearts, as the two legs of
a pair of compasses meet in the rivet, which makes them one compounded
instrument. Let your faith in the doctrine of free grace and
Christ's righteousness fix your mind upon God as you fix one
of the legs of your compasses immovably in the centre of the circle
which you are about to draw: so shall you "stand still,"
according to the first text produced in the question, and then
let your faith in the doctrine of free will, and evangelical obedience,
make you steadily run the circle of duty round that firm centre:
so shall you imitate the other leg of the compasses, which evenly
moves around the centre, and traces the circumference of a perfect
circle. By this activity, subordinate to grace, you will "take
the kingdom of heaven by force." When your heart quietly
rests in God by faith, as it steadily acts the part of a passive
receiver, it resembles the leg of the compasses which
rests in the centre of the circle; and then the poet's expressions,
"restlessresigned," describe its fixedness in God.
But when your heart swiftly moves toward God by faith, as it acts
the part of a diligent worker, when your ardent soul follows
after God as a thirsty deer does after the water brooks, it may
be compared to the leg of the compasses which traces the circumference
of the circle; and then these words of the poet, "restless and
vehement," properly belong to it. To go on steadily to perfection,
you must therefore endeavour steadily to believe, according
to the doctrine of the first Gospel axiom; and (as there
is opportunity) diligently to work, according to the doctrine
of the second; and the moment your faith is steadily fixed in
God as in your centre, and your obedience swiftly moves in the circle
of duty from the rest and power which you find in that centre you
have attained, you are made perfect in the faith which works by love.
Your humble faith saves you from Pharisaism, your obedient love from
Antinomianism, and both, in due subordination to Christ, constitute
you a just man made perfect according to your dispensation.
4. Another question has also puzzled many sincere perfectionists;
and the solution of it may remove a considerable hinderance out of
your way:"Is Christian perfection," say they,
"to be instantaneously brought down to us, or are we gradually
to grow up to it? Shall we be made perfect in love
by a habit of holiness suddenly infused into us, or by acts of feeble
faith and feeble love so frequently reported as to become strong,
habitual, and evangelically natural to us, according to the well-known
maxim, A strong habit is a second nature?"
Both ways are good; and instances of some believers gradually
perfected, and of others [comparatively speaking] instantaneously
fixed in perfect love, might probably be produced, if we were
acquainted with the experiences of all those who have died in a state
of evangelical perfection. It may be with the root of sin, as it is
with its fruit: some souls parley many years before they can be persuaded
to give up all their outward sins, and others part with them, as it
were, instantaneously. You may compare the former to those besieged
towns which make a long resistance, or to those mothers who go through
a tedious and lingering labour: and the latter resemble those fortresses
which are surprised and carried by storm; or those women who are delivered
almost as soon as labour comes upon them. Travellers inform us that
vegetation is so quick and powerful in some warm climates, that the
seeds of some vegetables yield a salad in less than twenty-four hours.
Should a northern philosopher say, "Impossible!" and should
an English gardener exclaim against such mushroom salad, they
would only expose their prejudices, as do those who decry instantaneous
justification, or mock at the possibility of the instantaneous destruction
of indwelling sin.
For where is the absurdity of this doctrine? If the light of
a candle brought into a dark room can instantly expel the darkness;
and if, upon opening your shutters at noon, your gloomy apartment
can instantaneously be filled with meridian light; why may not the
instantaneous rending of the veil of unbelief, or the sudden and full
opening of your faith, instantly fill your soul with the light of
truth, and the fire of love; supposing the Sun of righteousness arise
upon you with powerful healing in his wings? May not the Sanctifier
descend upon your waiting soul, as quickly as the Spirit descended
upon your Lord at his baptism? Did it not descend "as a dove,"
that is, with the soft motion of a dove, which swiftly shoots down,
and instantly lights? A good man said once, with truth, "A mote
[splinter] is little, when it is compared with the sun; but I am far
less before God." Alluding to this comparison, I ask, If the
sun could instantly kindle a mote; nay, if a burning glass can in
a moment calcine a bone, and turn a stone to lime; and if the dim
flame of a candle can in the twinkling of an eye destroy the flying
insect which comes within its sphere, how unscriptural and irrational
is it to suppose that, when God fully baptizes a soul with his sanctifying
Spirit and with the celestial fire of his love, he cannot in an instant
destroy the man of sin, burn up the chaff of corruption, melt the
heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and kindle the believing soul
into pure, seraphic love!
An appeal to parallel cases may throw some light upon the question
which I answer. If you were sick, and asked of God the perfect recovery
of your health, how would you look for it? Would you expect to have
your strength restored to you at once, without any external
means, as the lepers who were instantly cleansed; and as the paralytic,
who at our Lord's word took up the bed upon which he lay, and carried
it away upon his shoulders? Or by using some external means of a slower
operation, as the "ten lepers" did, who were more "gradually
cleansed as they went to show themselves to the priests?"
Or as King Hezekiah, whose gradual, but equally sure recovery,
was owing to God's blessing upon the poultice of figs prescribed by
Isaiah? Again: if you were blind, and besought the Lord to give you
perfect human sight, how should you wait for it? As Bartimeus, whose
eyes were opened in an instant? Or as the man who received his sight
by degrees? At first he saw nothing; by and by he confusedly discovered
the objects before him, but at last he saw all things clearly. Would
ye not earnestly wait for an answer to your prayers now, leaving to
Divine wisdom the particular manner of your recovery? And why should
ye not go and do likewise with respect to the dreadful disorder which
we call indwelling sin?
If our hearts be purified by faith, as the Scriptures expressly
testify if the faith which peculiarly purifies the hearts of Christians
be a faith in "the promise of the Father," which promise
was made by the Son and directly points at a peculiar effusion of
the Holy Ghost, the purifier of spirits; if we may believe in a
moment; and if God may, in a moment, seal our sanctifying faith by
sending us a fulness of his sanctifying Spirit: if this, I say, be
the case, does it not follow, that to deny the possibility of the
instantaneous destruction of sin, is to deny, contrary to Scripture
and matter of fact, that we can make an instantaneous act of faith
in the sanctifying promise of the Father, and in the all-cleansing
blood of the Son, and that God can seal that act by the instantaneous
operation of his Spirit? which St. Paul calls the "circumcision
of the heart in [or by] the Spirit," according to the Lord's
ancient promise, "I will circumcise thy heart, to love the Lord
thy God with all thy heart." Where is the absurdity of believing
that "the God of all grace" can give an answer to the poet's
rational and evangelical request?
Open my faith's interior eye;
Display thy glory from above:
And sinful self shall sink and die,
Lost in astonishment and love.
If a momentary display of Christ's-bodily glory could, in an instant,
turn Saul, the blaspheming, bloody persecutor, into Paul, the praying,
gentle apostle; if a sudden sight of Christ's hands could in a moment
root up from Thomas' heart that detestable resolution, "I will
not believe," and produce that deep confession of faith, "My
Lord and my God!" what cannot the display of Christ's spiritual
glory operate in a believing soul, to which he manifests himself "according
to that power whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself?"
Again: if Christ's body could in an instant become so glorious on
the mount, that his very garments partook of the sudden irradiation,
became not only free from every spot, but also "white as the
light, shining exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on the earth
could whiten them;" and if our bodies "shall be changed,
if this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and if this mortal
shall put on immortality, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
at the last trump;" why may not our believing souls, when they
fully submit to God's terms, be fully changedfully turned from
the power of Satan unto God? When the Holy Ghost says, "Now
is the day of salvation," does he exclude salvation from heart
iniquity? If Christ now deserves fully the name of JESUS,
"because he fully saves his believing people from their
sins;" and if now the Gospel trumpet sounds, and sinners arise
from the dead, why should we not, upon the performance of the condition,
be changed in a moment from indwelling sin to indwelling holiness?
Why should we not pass, in the twinkling of an eye, or in a short
time, from indwelling death, to indwelling life?
This is not all. If you deny the possibility of a quick destruction
of indwelling sin, you send to hell, or to some unscriptural purgatory,
not only the dying thief, but also all those martyrs who suddenly
embraced the Christian faith, and were instantly put to death by bloody
persecutors, for confessing the faith which they had just embraced.
And if you allow that God may "cut his work short in righteousness"
in such case, why not in other cases? Why not, especially when a believer
confesses his indwelling sin, ardently prays Christ would, and sincerely
believes that Christ can, "now cleanse him from all unrighteousness?"
Nobody is so apt to laugh at the instantaneous destruction of sin
as the Calvinists, and yet (such is the inconsistency which characterizes
some men!) their doctrine of purgatory is built upon it. For, if
you credit them, all dying believers have a nature which is still
morally corrupted, and a heart which is yet desperately wicked. These
believers, still full of indwelling sin, instantaneously breathe out
their last, and, without any peculiar act of faith, without any peculiar
outpouring of the sanctifying Spirit, corruption is instantaneously
gone. The indwelling "man of sin" has passed through
the Geneva purgatory, he is entirely consumed! And behold! the souls
which would not hear of the instantaneous act of a sanctifying faith,
which receives the indwelling Spirit of holinessthe souls which
pleaded hard for the continuance of indwelling sin, are now completely
sinless; and, in the twinkling of an eye, they appear in the third
heaven among the spirits of just Christians made perfect in love!
Such is the doctrine of our opponents: and yet they think it incredible
that God should do for us, while we pray in faith, what they suppose
death will do for them, when they lie in his cold arms, perhaps delirious
On the other hand, to deny that imperfect believers may and do
gradually grow in grace, and of course that the remains of their sins
may, and do gradually decay, is as absurd as to deny that God waters
the earth by daily dews, as well as by thunder showers: it is
as ridiculous as to assert that nobody is carried off by lingering
disorders, but that all men die suddenly or a few hours after they
are taken ill.
I use these comparisons about death, to throw some light upon the
question which I solve, and not to insinuate that the decay and destruction
of sin run parallel with the decay and dissolution of the body, and
that of course sin must end with our bodily life. Were I to admit
this unscriptural tenet, I should build again what I have all along
endeavoured to destroy, and, as I love consistency, I should promise
eternal salvation to all unbelievers; for unbelievers, I presume,
will die, i.e. will go into the Geneva purgatory, as well as believers.
Nor do I see why death should not be able to destroy the van and
the main body of sin's forces, if it can so readily cut the
rear (the remains of sin) in pieces.
From the preceding observations it appears, that believers generally
go on to Christian perfection, as the disciples went to the other
side of the sea of Galilee. They toiled some time very hard, and with
little success. But after they had "rowed about twenty-five;
or thirty furlongs, they saw Jesus walking on the sea. He said
to them, It is I, be not afraid: then they willingly received
him into the ship, and immediately the ship was at the land whither
they went." Just so, we toil till our faith discovers
Christ in the promise, and welcomes him into our hearts; and such
is the effect of his presence, that immediately we arrive at the land
of perfection. Or, to use another illustration, God says to believers,
"Go to the Canaan of perfect love: arise, why do ye tarry? Wash
away the remains of sin, calling, i.e. believing, on the name of the
Lord." And if they submit to the obedience of faith, he deals
with them as he did with the Evangelist Philip, to whom he had said,
"Arise and go toward the south." For when they "arise
and run," as Philip did, "the Spirit of the Lord takes"
them, as he did the evangelist; and they are found in the New Jerusalem,
as "Philip was found at Azotus." They "dwell in God,
[or in perfect love,] and God [or perfect love] dwells in them."
Hence it follows, that the most evangelical method of following
after the perfection to which we are immediately called, is
Seeking it now, by endeavouring fully
to lay hold on the promise of that perfection through faith,
just as if our repeated acts of obedience could never help us forward.
But, in the meantime,
We should do the works of faith, and repeat
our internal and external acts of obedience with as much earnestness
and faithfulness, according to our present power, as if we were
sure to enter into rest merely by a diligent use of our talents, and
a faithful exertion of the powers which Divine grace has bestowed
If we do not attend to the first of these directions, we shall seek
to be sanctified by works like the Pharisees; and if we disregard
the second, we shall fall into Solifidian sloth with the Antinomians.
This double direction is founded upon the connection of the two
Gospel axioms. If the second axiom, which implies the doctrine of
free will, were false, I would only say, "Be still, or rather
do nothing; free grace alone will do all in you and for you."
But as this axiom is as true as the first, I must add, "Strive
in humble subordination to free grace: for Christ saith, 'To him that
hath' initiating grace to purpose, 'more grace shall be given, and
he shall have abundance:' his faithful and equitable Benefactor will
give him the reward of perfecting grace."
5. Beware therefore of unscriptural refinements. Set out for
the Canaan of perfect love with a firm resolution to labor for the
rest which remains on earth for the people of God. Some good,
mistaken men, wise above what is written, and fond of striking out
paths which were unknown to the apostles,new paths marked out
by voluntary humility, and leading to Antinomianism: some people of
that stamp, I say, have made it their business, from the days of heated
Augustine, to decry making resolutions. They represent this practice
as a branch of what they are pleased to call legality. They
insinuate that it is utterly inconsistent with the knowledge of our
inconstancy and weakness: in a word, they frighten us from the first
step to Christian perfection; from an humble evangelical determination
to run till we reach the prize, or, if you please, to go down till
we come to the lowest place. It may not be amiss to point out the
ground of their mistake. Once they broke the balance of the
Gospel axioms by leaning too much toward free will, and by not laying
their first and principal stress upon free grace. God, to
bring them to the evangelical mean, refused his blessing to their
unevangelical willing and running; hence it is that their self-righteous
resolutions started aside like a broken bow. When they found
out their mistake, instead of coming back to the line of moderation,
they fled to the other extreme. Casting all their weights into
the scale of free grace, they absurdly formed a resolution never to
form a resolution; and, determining not to throw one determination
into the scale of free will, they began to draw all the believers
they met with into the ditch of a slothful quietism and Laodicean
You will never steadily go on to perfection, unless you get over
this mistake. Let the imperfectionists laugh at you for making
humble resolutions; but go on "steadfastly purposing to lead
a new life," as says our Church; and in order to this, "steadfastly
purpose" to get a new heart in the full sense of the word:
for so long as your heart continues partly unrenewed, your
life will be partly unholy. And, therefore, St. James justly
observes that "if any man, offend not in word, he is a perfect
man," he loves God with all his heart, his heart is fully renewed;
it being impossible that a heart, still tainted in part with vanity
and guile, should always dictate the words of sincerity and love.
Your good resolutions need not fail: nor will they fail, if,
under a due sense of the fickleness and helplessness of your unassisted
free will, you properly depend upon God's faithfulness and assistance.
However, should they fail, as they probably will do
more than once,
Be not discouraged, but repent,
search out the cause, and, in the strength of free grace, let your
assisted free will renew your evangelical purpose, till the Lord seals
it with his mighty fiat, and says, "Let it be done to
thee according to thy resolving faith.
It is much better to be laughed at as "poor creatures, who know
nothing of themselves," than to be deluded as foolish virgins,
who fondly imagine that their vessels are full of imputed oil. Take
therefore the sword of the Spirit, and boldly cut this dangerous snare
in pieces. Conscious of your impotence, and yet laying out your talent
of free will, say with the prodigal son, "I will arise and go
to my father:" say with David, "I will love thee, O Lord
my God: I will behold thy face in righteousness: I am purposed that
my mouth shall not transgress: I will keep it, as it were, with a
bridle: I have said that I would keep thy word: the proud," and
they who are humble in an unscriptural way, "have had me exceedingly
in derision, but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart. I have
sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments:"
say with St. Paul, "I am determined not to know any thing
save Jesus, and him crucified." And with Jacob,
"I will not let thee go, unless thou bless me!"
And, to sum up all good resolutions in one, if you are a member
of the Church of England, say, "I have engaged to renounce all
the vanities of this wicked world, all the sinful lusts of the flesh,
and all the works of the devil: to believe all the articles of the
Christian faith; and to keep God's commandments all the days of my
life;" that is, I have most solemnly resolved to be a perfect
Christian. And this resolution I have publicly sealed by receiving
the two sacraments upon it: baptism, after my parents and sponsors
had laid me under this blessed vow: and the Lord's Supper, after I
had personally ratified, in the bishop's presence, what they had done.
Nor do I only think that I am bound to keep this vow; but "by
God's grace so I will; and I heartily thank our heavenly Father, that
he has called me to this state of salvation [and Christian perfection;]
and I pray unto him to give me his grace, that I may not only attain
it, but also continue in the same unto my life's end." (Church
"Much diligence," says Kempis, "is necessary to him
that will profit much. If he who firmly purposeth, often faileth,
what shall he do who seldom or feebly purposeth any thing?"
But, I say it again and again, do not lean upon your free will
and good purposes, so as to encroach upon the glorious pre-eminence
of free grace. Let the first Gospel axiom stand invariably in
its honourable place. Lay your principal stress upon Divine mercy,
and say with the good man, whom I have just quoted, "Help me,
O Lord God, in thy holy service, and grant that I may now this day
In following this method, ye will do the two Gospel axioms justice:
ye will so depend upon God's free grace as not to fall into
Pharisaic running: and ye will so exert your own free will
as not to slide into Antinomian sloth. Your course lies exactly
between these rocks. To pass these perilous straits, your resolving
heart must acquire a heavenly polarity. Through the spiritually
magnetic touch of Christ, the corner stone, your soul must learn to
point toward faith and works, or, if you please, toward a due submission
to free grace, and a due exertion of free will, as the opposite
ends of the needle of a compass point toward the north and the south.
6. From this direction flows the following advice.
Resolve to be perfect in yourselves,
but not of yourselves:
The Antinomians boast that they are perfect only in their heavenly
representative. Christ was filled with perfect humility and love:
they are perfect in his person: they need not a perfection of humble
love in themselves. To avoid their error, be perfect in yourselves
and not in another: let your perfection of humility and love be inherent;
let it dwell in you. Let it fill your own heart and influence your
own life: so shall you avoid the delusions of the virgins, who
give you to understand that the oil of their perfection is all contained
in the sacred vessel which formerly hung on the cross, and therefore
their salvation is finished, they have oil enough in that rich vessel;
manna enough and to spare in that golden pot. Christ's heart was perfect,
and therefore theirs may safely remain imperfect, yea, full of indwelling
sin, till death, the messenger of the bridegroom, come to cleanse
them, and fill them with perfect love at the midnight cry! Delusive
hope! Can any thing be more absurd than for a sapless, dry branch
to fancy that it has sap and moisture enough in the vine which it
cumbers? or for an impenitent adulterer to boast that "in the
Lord he has" chastity and righteousness? Where did Christ
ever say, "Have salt in another?" Does he not say, Take
heed, that ye be not deceived! Have salt in "
yourselves?" Mark ix, 50. Does he not impute the destruction
of stony ground hearers to their "not having root in themselves?"
Matt. xiii, 21. If it was the patient man's comfort, that "the
root of the matter was found in him," is it not deplorable to
hear modern believers say, without any explanatory clause, that they
have nothing but sin in themselves? But is it enough to have "the
root in ourselves?" Must we not also have the
fruit,yea, "be filled with the fruits of
righteousness?" Phil. i, 11. Is it not St. Peter's doctrine,
where he says, "If these things be in you, and abound, ye
shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ?"
2 Peter i, 8. And is it not that of David, where he prays,
"Create in me a clean heart," &c? Away, then, with
all Antinomian refinements! And if, with St. Paul, you will have salvation
and rejoicing in yourselves, and not in another, make sure of holiness
and perfection "in yourselves, and not in another."
But while you endeavour to avoid the snare of the
Antinomians, do not run into that of the Pharisees; who will
have their perfection of themselves; and therefore,
by their own unevangelical efforts, self-concerted willings, and self-prescribed
runnings, endeavour to "raise sparks of their own kindling, and
to warm themselves" by their own painted fires and fruitless
agitations. Feel your impotence. Own that "no man has
quickened [and perfected] his own soul." Be contented to invite,
receive, and welcome the light of life: but never attempt to form
or to engross it. It is your duty to wait for the morning light,
and to rejoice when it visits you: but if you grow so self conceited
as to say, "I will create a sun: let there be light:"
or if, when the light visits your eyes you say, "I will bear
a stock of light: I will so fill my eyes with light to-day, that to-morrow
I shall be almost able to do my work without the sun, or at least
without a constant dependence upon its beams;" would ye not betray
a species of self-deifying idolatry and Satanical pride? If our
Lord himself, as "Son of man," would not have one grain
of human goodness himself; if he said, "Why callest thou me good?
There is none good [self good, or good of himself]
but God:" who can wonder enough at those proud Christians
who claim some self-originated goodness; boasting of what they
have received, as if they had not received it: or using what
they have received without an humble sense of their constant dependence
upon their heavenly Benefactor. To avoid this horrid delusion
of the Pharisees,
Learn to see, to feel, and to
acknowledge, that of the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy
Ghost, are all your urim and thummim,
your lights and perfections.
And while the Lord says, "From me is thy fruit
found," Hoses xiv, bow at his footstool, and gratefully reply,
"Of thy fulness have all we received, and grace for grace,"
John i, 16. For thou art "the Father of lights, from whom
cometh every good and perfect gift," James i, 17 Of thee,
and through thee, and to thee are all things: to thee, therefore
be the glory for ever. Amen," Romans xi, 36.
7. You will have this humble and thankful disposition
if you let your repentance cast deeper roots. For if Christian
perfection implies a forsaking all inward, as well as outward sin;
and if true repentance is a grace whereby we forsake sin, it
To attain Christian perfection,
we must so follow our Lord's evangelical precept, "Repent for
the kingdom of heaven is at hand," as to leave no sin, no bosom
sin, no indwelling sin unrepented of, and, of consequence,
He, whose heart is still full of indwelling sin,
has no more truly repented of indwelling sin, than the man whose mouth
is still defiled with filthy talking and jesting has truly repented
of his ribaldry. The deeper our sorrow for, and detestation of
indwelling sin is, the more penitently do we confess the plague of
our hearts; and when we properly confess it, we inherit the blessing
promised in these words: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful
and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
To promote this deep repentance,
consider how many spiritual evils still haunt your breast.
Look into the inward "chamber of imagery,"
where assuming self love, surrounded by a multitude of vain
thoughts, foolish desires, and wild imaginations,
keeps her court. Grieve that your heart, which should be all flesh,
is yet partly stone; and that your soul, which should be only
a temple for the Holy Ghost, is yet so frequently turned into a den
of thieves, a hole for the cockatrice, a nest for a brood of spiritual
vipers,for the remains of envy, jealousy, fretfulness, anger,
pride, impatience, peevishness, formality, sloth, prejudice, bigotry,
carnal confidence, evil shame, self righteousness, tormenting fears,
uncharitable suspicions, idolatrous love, and I know not how many
of the evils which form the retinue of hypocrisy and unbelief.
Through grace detect these evils by a close attention to what passes
in your own heart at all times, but especially in an hour of temptation.
By frequent and deep confession, drag out all these abominations:
these sins, which would not have Christ to reign alone over you, bring
before him: place them in the light of his countenance; and (if
you do it in faith) that light and the warmth of his love will kill
them, as the light and heat of the sun kill the worms which the
plough turns up to the open air in a dry summer's day.
Nor plead that you can do nothing: for, by the help
of Christ, who is always ready to assist the helpless, ye can solemnly
say upon your knees what ye have probably said in an airy manner to
your professing friends. If ye ever acknowledged to them that your
heart is deceitful, prone to leave undone what ye ought to do, and
ready to do what ye ought to leave undone; ye can undoubtedly make
the same confession to God. Complain to him who can help you, as ye
have done to those who cannot. Lament, as you are able, the darkness
of your mind, the stubbornness of your will, the dulness
or exorbitancy of your affections, and importunately entreat the
God of all grace to "renew a right spirit within you.
If ye sorrow after this godly sort, what carefulness will be wrought
in you! what indignation! what fear! what vehement desire! what zeal!
yea, what revenge!" Ye will then sing in faith, what the imperfectionists
sing in unbelief:
O how I hate those lusts of mine,
That crucified my God:
Those sins that pierced and nail'd his flesh
Fast to the fatal wood!
Yes, my Redeemer, they shall die,
My heart hath so decreed;
Nor will I spare those guilty things
That made my Saviour bleed.
While with a melting, broken heart,
My murder'd Lord I view,
I'll raise revenge against my sins,
And slay the murderers too.
8. Closely connected with this deep repentance
is the practice of a judicious, universal self denial. "If
thou wilt be perfect," says our Lord, "deny thyself, take
up thy cross daily, and follow me. He that loveth father or mother
[much more he that loveth praise, pleasure, or money] more than me,
is not worthy of me:" nay, "Whosoever will save his
life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose it for my sake, shall
find it." Many desire to live and reign with Christ, but few
choose to suffer and die with him. However, as the way of the cross
leads to heaven, it undoubtedly leads to Christian perfection.
To avoid the cross, therefore, or to decline drinking the cup of vinegar
and gall, which God permits your friends or foes to mix for you, is
to throw away the aloes which Divine wisdom puts to the breasts of
the mother of harlots, to wean you from her and her witchcrafts: it
is to refuse a medicine which is kindly prepared to restore your health
and appetite: in a word, it is to renounce the Physician who "heals
all our infirmities," when we take his bitter draughts, submit
to have our imposthumes opened by his sharp lancet, and yield to have
our proud flesh wasted away by his painful caustics. Our Lord "was
made a perfect Saviour through sufferings," and we may
be made perfect Christians in the same manner. We may be called
to suffer, till all that which we have brought out of spiritual Egypt
is consumed in a howling wilderness, in a dismal Gethsemane, or on
a shameful Calvary. Should this lot be reserved for us, let us not
imitate our Lord's imperfect disciples, who "forsook him and
fled;" but let us stand the fiery trial, till all our
fetters are melted, and our dross is purged away. Fire is of a purgative
nature: it separates the dross from the gold; and the fiercer it is
the more quick and powerful is its operation. "He that is left
in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy,
&c, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters
of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem by the spirit
of judgment and by the spirit of burning," Isa. iv, 4. "I
will bring the third part through the fire, saith the Lord, and will
refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried;
they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is
my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God," Zech. iii,
9. Therefore, if the Lord should suffer the best men in his camp,
or the strongest men in Satan's army, to cast you into a furnace of
fiery temptations, come not out of it till you are called. "Let
patience have its perfect work:" meekly keep your trying
station till your heart is disengaged from all that is earthly, and
till the sense of God's preserving power kindles in you such a faith
in his omnipotent love as few experimentally know but they
who have seen themselves, like the mysterious bush in Horeb, burning
and yet unconsumed; or they who can say with St. Paul, "We are
killed all the day longdying, and behold we live!"
"Temptations," says Kempis, "are often
very profitable to men, though they be troublesome and grievous: for
in them a man is humbled, purified, and instructed. All the saints
have passed through and profited by many tribulations: and they that
could not bear temptations, became reprobates and fell away."
"My son," adds the author of Ecclesiasticus, (chap. ii,
1,) "if thou come to serve the Lord" in the perfect beauty
of holiness, "prepare thy soul for temptation. Set thy heart
aright; constantly endure; and make not haste in the time of trouble.
Whatever is brought upon thee take cheerfully; and be patient when
thou art changed to a low estate: for gold is tried and purified in
the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity." And
therefore, says St. James, "Blessed is the man that endureth
temptation; for, when he is tried, [if he stands the fiery trial,]
he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to
them that love him" [with the love which endureth all things,
that is, with perfect love,] James i, 12. Patiently endure,
then, when God "for a season (if need be) suffers you to be in
heaviness through manifold temptations." By this mean, "the
trial of your faith, being much more precious than that of gold which
perisheth, though it be tried in the fire, will be found unto praise,
and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ,"
1 Pet. i, 7.
9. Deep repentance is good, Gospel self denial
is excellent, and a degree of patient resignation in trials is of
unspeakable use to attain the perfection of love; but
As "FAITH immediately
works by love," it is of far more immediate use to purify
Hence it is that Christ, the prophets, and the apostles,
so strongly insist upon faith; assuring us that, "if we will
not believe, we shall not be established;" that, "if
we will believe, we shall see the glory of God; we shall be saved;
and rivers of living water shall flow from our inmost souls; and that
our hearts are purified by faith; and that we are saved
by grace through faith." They tell us that "Christ gave
himself for the Church, that he might sanctify and cleanse itby
the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not
having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be
holy and without blemish." Now, if believers are not to be "cleansed
and made without blemish" by the word, (which testifies of the
all-atoning blood, and the love of the Spirit,) it is evident that
they are to be sanctified by faith; for faith, or believing, has as
necessary a reference to the word, as eating has to food. For the
same reason the apostle observes that "they who believe enter
into rest; that a promise being given us to enter in, we should take
care not to fall short of it" through unbelief; that we ought
to take warning by the Israelites, who "could not enter"
into the land of promise "through unbelief;" that we are
"filled with all joy and peace in believing;" and
that "Christ is able to save to the uttermost them who come
unto God through him." Now "coming," in the Scripture
language, is another expression for believing: "He
that cometh to God," says the apostle, "must believe."
Hence it appears that
Faith is peculiarly necessary
to those who will" be saved to the uttermost, especially a firm
faith in the capital promise of the Gospel of Christ, the promise
of "the Spirit of holiness" from the Father, through the
For "how shall they call on him, in whom they
have not believed?" Or, how can they earnestly plead the truth,
and steadily wait for the performance of a promise, in which they
have no faith? This doctrine of faith is supported by Peter's
words:"God who knoweth the hearts [of penitent believers]
bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, and purifying their
hearts by faith," Acts xv, 8, 9. For the same Spirit of
faith, which initially purifies our hearts when we cordially
believe the pardoning love of God, completely cleanses them
when we fully believe his sanctifying love.
10. This direction about faith being of the utmost
importance, I shall confirm and explain it by an extract from Mr.
Wesley's sermon, which points out the Scripture way of salvation:
"Though it be allowed," says this judicious divine,
"that both this repentance and its fruits are necessary to
full salvation, yet they are not necessary either in the same sense
with faith, or in the same degree. Not in the same degree;
for these fruits are only necessary conditionally, if there be
time and opportunity for them, otherwise a man may be sanctified without
them. But he cannot be sanctified without faith. Likewise,
Let a man have ever so much of this repentance,
or ever so many good works, yet all this does not at all avail; he
is not sanctified till he believe. But the moment he believes, with
or without those fruits, yea, with more or less of this repentance,
he is sanctified.
Not in the same sense; for this repentance
and these fruits are only remotely necessary in order to the continuance
of his faith, as well as the increase of it; whereas faith is immediately
and directly necessary to sanctification. It remains that faith
is the only condition which is immediately and proximately necessary
to sanctification. "But
What is that faith whereby we
are sanctified, saved from sin, and perfected in love?
(1.) It is a Divine evidence and conviction, that
God hath promised it in the Holy Scriptures. Till we
are thoroughly satisfied of this, there is no moving one step farther.
And one would imagine there needed not one word more to satisfy a
reasonable man of this, than the ancient promise, 'Then will I
circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord
thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul.' How clearly
doth this express the being perfected in love! How strongly imply
the being saved from all sin! For as long as love takes up the whole
heart, what room is there for sin therein?
(2.) It is a Divine evidence and conviction, that
what God has promised he is able to perform. Admitting,
therefore, that 'with men it is impossible to bring a clean thing
out of an unclean,' to purify the heart from all sin, and to
fill it with all holiness; yet this creates no difficulty in the case,
seeing 'with God all things are possible.'
(3.) It is an evidence and conviction that he
is able and willing to do it NOW. And why not? Is not a moment
to him the same as a thousand years? He cannot want more time to accomplish
whatever is his will. We may therefore boldly say at any point of
time, 'Now is the day of salvation! Behold! all things are now
ready! Come to the marriage!'
(4.) To this confidence, that God is both able
and willing to sanctify us now, there needs to be added one thing
more, a Divine evidence and conviction that he doth it.
In that hour it is done. God says to the inmost soul, 'According
to thy faith, be it unto thee!' Then the soul is pure from every
spot of sin; it is clean from all unrighteousness."
Those who have low ideas of faith will probably be
surprised to see how much Mr. Wesley ascribes to that Christian grace,
and to inquire, why he so nearly connects our believing that
God cleanses us from all sin, with God's actual cleansing us.
But their wonder will cease, if they consider the definition which
this divine gives of faith in the same sermon. "Faith
in general," says he, "is defined by the apostle, an
evidence, a Divine evidence 'and conviction [the word used by
the apostle means both] of things not seen;' not visible, nor
perceivable either by sight, or by any other of the external senses.
It implies both a supernatural evidence of God and of the things
of God. a kind of spiritual light exhibited to the soul, and
a supernatural sight or perception thereof. Accordingly
the Scriptures speak of God's giving sometimes light, sometimes a
power of discerning it. So St. Paul, 'God who commanded light to
shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give us the light
of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.'
And elsewhere the same apostle speaks of 'the eyes of our understanding
being opened.' By this twofold operation of the Holy Spirit,
having the eyes of our souls both opened and enlightened, we see
the things which the natural 'eye hath not seen, neither the ear heard.'
We have a prospect of the invisible things of God: we see the
spiritual world, which is all round about us, and yet
is no more discerned by our natural faculties, than if it had no being;
and we see the eternal world, piercing through
the veil which hangs between time and eternity. Clouds and darkness
then rest upon it no more, but we already see the glory which shall
From this striking definition of faith, it is evident
that the doctrine of this address exactly coincides with Mr. Wesley's
sermon; with this verbal difference only, that what he calls faith,
implying a two-fold operation of the Spirit productive of spiritual
light and supernatural sight, I have called faith, apprehending
a sanctifying "baptism (or outpouring) of the Spirit." His
mode of expression savours more of the rational divine, who logically
divides the truth, in order to render its several parts conspicuous:
and I keep closer to the words of the Scriptures, which, I hope, will
frighten no candid Protestant. I make this remark for the sake of
those who fancy that when a doctrine is clothed with expressions which
are not quite familiar to them, it is a new doctrine, although these
expressions should be as Scriptural as those of a "baptism, or
outpouring of the Spirit," which are used by some of the prophets,
by John the Baptist, by the four evangelists, and by Christ himself.
I have already pointed out the close connection there
is between an act of faith which fully apprehends the Spirit of Christ,
which makes an end of moral corruption by forcing the lingering "man
of sin" instantaneously to breathe out his last. Mr. Wesley,
in the above-quoted sermon, touches upon this delicate subject in
so clear and concise a manner, that while his discourse is before
me, for the sake of those who have it not at hand, I shall transcribe
the whole passage, and thus put the seal of that eminent divine to
what I have advanced, in the preceding pages, about sanctifying faith
and the quick destruction of sin.
Does God work this great
work in the soul gradually or instantaneously?
Perhaps it may be gradually wrought in some:
I mean in this sense; they do not advert to the particular moment
wherein sin ceases to be. But it is infinitely desirable, were it
the will of God, that it should be done instantaneously; that the
Lord should destroy sin by the breath of his mouth, in a moment, in
the twinkling of an eye. And so he generally does; a plain fact, of
which there is evidence enough to satisfy any unprejudiced person.
Thou therefore look for it every moment. Look for it in the way
above described; in all those good works, whereunto thou art created
anew in Christ Jesus. There is then no danger: you can be no worse,
if you are no better for that expectation. For were you to be disappointed
of your hope, still you lose nothing. But you shall not be disappointed
of your hope: it will come, and will not tarry. Look for it then every
day, every hour, every moment. Why not this hour, this moment? Certainly
you may look for it now, if you believe it is by faith. And by this
token you may surely know whether you seek it by faith or by works:
if by works, you want something to be done first, before you
are sanctified. You think, "I must first be or do thus or thus."
Then you are seeking it by works unto this day. If you seek it
by faith, you expect it as you are, and if as you are, then
expect it now.
It is of importance
to observe that there is an inseparable connection between these three
points,expect it by faith, expect it as you are, and
expect it now!
To deny one of them, is to deny them all: to allow
one, is to allow them all. Do you believe we are sanctified by
faith? Be true then to your principle: and look for this blessing
just as you are, neither better nor worse: as a poor sinner,
that has still nothing to plead but Christ died. And if you
look for it as you are, then expect it now. Stay for nothing: why
should you? Christ is ready; and he is all you want. He is waiting
for you: he is at the door!
Let your inmost soul cry out,
Come in, come in, thou heavenly
Nor hence again remove:
But sup with me, and let the feast
Be everlasting love.
11. Social prayer is closely connected with faith
in the capital promise of the sanctifying Spirit: and therefore
I earnestly recommend that mean of grace, where it can be had, as
being eminently conducive to the attaining of Christian perfection.
When many believing hearts are lifted up, and wrestle with God in
prayer together, you may compare them to many diligent hands, which
work a large machine. At such times, particularly, the fountains
of the great deep are broken up, the windows of heaven are opened,
and "rivers of living water flow" into the hearts of obedient
In Christ when brethren join,
And follow after peace,
The fellowship Divine
He promises to bless,
His chiefest graces to bestow
Where two or three are met below.
Where unity takes place,
The joys of heaven we prove;
This is the Gospel grace,
The unction from above,
The Spirit on all believers shed,
Descending swift from Christ their Head.
Accordingly we read, that when God powerfully opened
the kingdom of the Holy Ghost on the day of pentecost, the disciples
"were all with one accord in one place." And when
he confirmed that kingdom, they "were lifting up their voices
to God with one accord:" see Acts ii, 1, and iv, 24. Thus
also the believers at Samaria were filled with the Holy Ghost,
the Sanctifier, while Peter and John prayed with them, and laid their
hands upon them.
12. But perhaps thou art alone. As a solitary
bird which sitteth on the housetop, thou lookest for a companion who
may go with thee through the deepest travail of the regeneration.
But, alas! thou lookest in vain: all the professors about thee
seem satisfied with their former experiences, and with self-imputed
or self-conceited perfection. When thou givest them a hint
of thy want of power from on high, and of thy hunger and thirst after
a fulness of righteousness, they do not sympathize with thee.
And indeed how can they? They are full already, they reign without
thee, they have need of nothing. They do not sensibly want that
"God would grant them, according to the riches of his glory,
to be strengthened with might in the inner man, that Christ may
dwell in their hearts by faith, that they, being rooted and
grounded in love, may comprehend with all saints [perfected in
love] what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and
to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that they might
be filled with all the fulness of God," Eph. iii, 16, &c.
They look upon thee as a whimsical person, full of singular notions,
and they rather damp than enliven thy hopes.
Thy circumstances are sad; but do not give place
to despair, no, not for a moment. In the name of Christ, who could
not get even Peter, James, and John, to watch with him one hour; and
who was obliged to go through his agony alone;in his name, I
say, "Cast not away thy confidence, which has great recompense
of reward." Under all thy discouragements, remember that,
after all, Divine grace is not confined to numbers, any more than
to a few. When all outward helps fail thee, make the more of Christ,
on whom sufficient help is laid for theeChrist, who says,
"I will go with thee through fire and water;" the former
shall not burn thee, nor the latter drown thee. Jacob was alone when
he wrestled with the angel, yet he prevailed; and if the servant is
not above his master, wonder not that it should be said of thee, as
of thy Lord, when he went through his greatest temptations, "Of
the people there was none with him."
Should thy conflicts be "with confused noise,
with burning and fuel of fire;" should thy "Jerusalem be
rebuilt in troublesome times;" should the Lord "shake, not
the earth only, but also heaven; should deep call unto deep at the
noise of his water spouts; should all his waves and billows go over
thee;" should thy patience be tried to the uttermost; remember
how in years past thou hast tried the patience of God, nor be discouraged:
an extremity and a storm are often God's opportunity. A blast of
temptation, and a shaking of all thy foundations, may introduce the
fulness of God to thy soul, and answer the end of the rushing wind,
and of the shaking, which formerly accompanied the first great manifestations
of the Spirit. The Jews still expect the coming of the Messiah
in the flesh, and they particularly expect it in a storm. When lightnings
flash, when thunders roar, when a strong wind shakes their houses,
and the tempestuous sky seems to rush down in thunder showers; then
some of them particularly open their doors and windows to entertain
their wished-for Deliverer. Do spiritually what they do carnally.
Constantly wait for full "power from on
high;" but especially when a storm of affliction, temptation,
or distress overtakes thee; or when thy convictions and desires raise
thee above thyself, as the waters of the flood raised Noah's ark
above the earth; then be particularly careful to throw the door of
FAITH, and the window of HOPE as wide open as thou canst; and, spreading
the arms of thy imperfect LOVE, say with all the ardour and resignation
which thou art master of,
"My heart strings groan with
My flesh lies panting, Lord, for thee;
And every limb, and every joint,
Stretches for perfect purity."
But if the Lord be pleased to come softly to thy
help; if he make an end of thy corruption by helping thee gently
to sink to unknown depths of meekness; if he drown the indwelling
man of sin, by baptizing, by plunging him into an abyss of humility;
do not find fault with the simplicity of his method, the plainness
of his appearing, and the commonness of his prescription. Nature,
like Naaman, is full of prejudices. She expects that Christ will come
to make her clean with as much ado, pomp, and bustle, as the Syrian
general looked for, "when he was wroth and said, Behold, I thought
he will surely come out to meand stand and call on his Godand
strike his hand over the placeand recover the leper." Christ
frequently goes a much plainer way to work; and by this mean he disconcerts
all our preconceived notions and schemes of deliverance. "Learn
of me to be meek and lowly in heart, and thou shalt find rest to thy
soul," the sweet rest of Christian perfection, of perfect humility,
resignation, and meekness. Lie at my feet, as she did who loved
much, and was meekly taken up with "the good part, and the one
thing needful." But thou frettest; thou despisest this robe of
perfection; it is too plain for thee; thou slightest "the
ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which, in the sight of God, is
of great price:" nothing will serve thy turn but a tawdry coat
of many colours, which may please thy proud self will, and draw the
attention of others, by its glorious and flaming appearance; and it
must be brought to thee with lightnings, thunderings, and voices.
If this be thy disposition, wonder not at the Divine wisdom which
thinks fit to disappoint thy lofty prejudices; and let me address
thee, as Naaman's servants addressed him: "My brother, if the
prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done
it? How much rather then, when he says to thee, I am the meek and
lowly Lamb of God; wash in the stream of my bloodplunge in the
Jordan of my humility, and be clean!"Instead therefore
of going away from a plain Jesus in a rage, welcome him in his lowest
appearance, and be persuaded that he can as easily make an end of
thy sin, by gently coming in "a still, small voice," as
by rushing in upon thee in "a storm, a fire, or an earthquake."
The Jews rejected their Saviour, not so much because they did not
earnestly desire his coming, as because he did not come in the manner
in which they expected him. It is probable that some of this Judaism
cleaves to thee. If thou wilt absolutely come to Mount Sion in a triumphal
chariot, or make thine entrance into the New Jerusalem upon a prancing
horse, thou art likely never to come there. Leave then all thy lordly
misconceptions behind; and humbly follow thy King, who makes his entry
into the typical Jerusalem, "meek and lowly, riding upon an ass,
yea, upon a colt, the foal of an ass." I say it again, therefore,
While thy faith and hope strongly
insist on the blessing, let thy resignation and patience leave to
God's infinite goodness and wisdom the peculiar manner of be-stowing
When he says, "Surely I come quickly to make
my abode with thee," let thy faith close in with his word; ardently
and yet meekly embrace his promise. This will instantly beget power;
and with that power thou mayest instantly bring forth prayer, and
possibly the prayer which opens heaven, which humbly wrestles with
God, inherits the blessing, and turns the well-known petition, "Amen!
Even so, come Lord Jesus!" into the well-known praises, He
is come, he is come, O praise the Lord, O my soul, &c. Thus repent,
believe, and obey; and "he that cometh will come" with a
fulness of pure, meek, humble love; "he will not tarry,"
or if he tarry, it will be to give thy faith and desires more time
to open, that thou mayest, at his appearing, be able to take in more
of his perfecting grace and sanctifying power: beside, thy expectation
of his coming is of a purifying nature, and gradually sanctities thee.
He that has this hope in him, by this very hope purifies
himself even as God is pure: for "we are saved [into,
perfect love] by hope as well as by faith." The stalk, as well
as the root, bears "the full corn in the ear."
Up then, thou sincere expectant of God's kingdom!
Let thy humble, ardent free will meet prevenient, sanctifying free
grace in its weakest and darkest appearance, as the father of the
faithful met the Lord, "when he appeared to him on the plain
of Mamre" as a mere mortal. "Abraham lifted up his eyes
and looked, and lo! three men stood by him." So does free grace
(if I may venture upon the allusion) invite itself to thy tent: nay,
it is now with thee in its creating, redeeming, and sanctifying influences.
"And when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door,
and bowed himself toward the ground." Go and do likewise: if
thou seest any beauty in the humbling grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the sanctifying love of God, and in the comfortable fellowship
of the Holy Ghost, let thy free will run to meet them, and bow itself
toward the ground. O for a speedy going out of thy tent, thy sinful
self! O for a race of desire in the way of faith! O for incessant
prostrations! O for a meek and deep bowing of thyself before thy Divine
Deliverer! "And Abraham said, My Lord, if now I have found
favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant!"
O for the humble pressing of a loving faith! O for the faith which
stopped the sun, when God avenged his people in the days of Joshua!
O for the importunate faith of the two disciples who detained Christ,
when "he made as though he would have gone farther! They constrained
him, saying, Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day
is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them." He soon
indeed vanished out of their bodily sight, because they were not called
always to enjoy his bodily presence. Far from promising them that
blessing, he had said, "It is expedient for you that I go away:
for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if
I depart, I will send him unto you, that he may abide with you for
ever. He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." This promise
is "YEA and AMEN in Christ;" only plead it according to
the preceding directions, and as sure as the Lord is the true and
faithful Witness, so sure will the God of hope and love soon fill
you with all joy and peace, that ye may abound in pure love, as well
as in confirmed hope, "through the power of the Holy Ghost."
Then shall you have an indisputable right to join the believers who
sing at the Tabernacle, and at the Lock Chapel, in the words of Messrs.
J. and C. Wesley:
"MANY are we now and ONE,
We who Jesus have put on.
There is neither bond nor free,
Male nor female, Lord, in thee.
Love, like death, hath all destroy'd,
Render'd all distinction void;
Names, and sects, and parties fall.
Thou, O Christ, art all in all."
In the meantime you may sing with the pious countess
of Huntingdon, the Rev. Mr. Madan, the Rev. Dr. Conyers, the Rev.
Mr. Berridge, Richard Hill, Esq., and the imperfectionists who use
their collections of hymns: ye may sing, I say, with them all, the
two following hymns, which they have agreed to borrow from the hymns
of Messrs. J. and C. Wesley, after making some insignificant alterations.
I transcribe them from the collection used in Lady Huntingdon's chapels,
(Bristol edition, 1765, p. 239, &c.)
O for a heart to praise my God!
A heart from sin set free:
A heart that's sprinkled with the blood
So freely spilt for me:
A heart resign'd, submissive, meek,
My dear Redeemer's throne;
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone:
An humble, lowly, contrite heart,
Believing, true, and clean;
Which neither life nor death can part
From him that dwells within:
A heart in every thought renew'd,
And fill'd with love Divine;
Perfect, and right, and pure, and good;
A copy, Lord, of thine!
My heart, thou know'st, can never
Till thou create my peace
Till of my Eden repossess'd,
From self and sin I cease.
Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart,
Come quickly from above;
Write thy new name upon my heart,
Thy new, best name of LOVE.
Here is undoubtedly an evangelical prayer for the
LOVE which restores the soul to a state of sinless rest and evangelical
perfection. Mean ye, my brethren, what the good people who dissent
from us print and sing, and I ask no more. Nor can ye wait for an
answer to the prayer contained in the preceding hymn, in a more Scriptural
manner, than by pleading "the promise of the Father" in
such words as these:
Love Divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down!
Fix in us thine humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.
Breathe! O breathe thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit,
Let us find thy promised rest.
Take away the power of sinning,
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.
Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all thy life receive!
Suddenly return, and never,
Never more thy temples leave!
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve thee as thine hosts above;
Pray and praise thee without ceasing,
Glory in thy precious love.
Finish then thy new creation,
Pure, unspotted may we be;
Let us see thy great salvation,
Perfectly restored by thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place;
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Lift up your hands which hang down; our Aaron, our
heavenly High Priest, is near to hold them up. The spiritual Amalekites
will not always prevail; our Samuel, our heavenly prophet, is ready
"to cut them and their king in pieces before the Lord. The
promise is unto you." You are surely called to attain the perfection
of your dispensation, although you still seem afar off. Christ, in
whom that perfection centresChrist, from whom it flows, is very
near, even at the door: "Behold, says he, [and this
he spake to Laodicean loiterers,] I stand at the door and knock.
If any man hear my voice and open, I will come in and sup with him,"
upon the fruits of my grace, in their Christian perfection; and he
shall sup with me upon the fruits of my glory, in their angelical
and heavenly maturity.
Hear this encouraging Gospel: "Ask, and you
shall have; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened
unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh,
findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. If any of you,
[believers] lack wisdomindwelling wisdom, [Christ the wisdom
and the power of God dwelling in his heart by faith,] let him ask
of God, who giveth to all men, and upbraideth not, and it shall be
given him. But let him ask [as a believer] in faith, nothing wavering;
for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind
and tossed: for let not that man think that he shall receive"
the thing which he thus asketh. "But whatsoever things ye desire,
when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
For all things [commanded and promised] are possible to him that believeth."
He who has commanded us to be perfect "in love, as our heavenly
Father is perfect," and he who has promised "speedily to
avenge his elect, who cry to him night and day;" he will
speedily avenge you of your grand adversary, indwelling sin. He
will say to you, "According to thy faith, be it done unto thee;
for he is able to do far exceedingly abundantly, far above all that
we can ask or think, and of his fulness we may all receive grace
for grace"we may all witness the gracious fulfilment of
all the promises, which he has graciously made, that by "them
we might be partakers of the Divine nature," so far as it can
be communicated to mortals in this world. You see that, with men,
what you look for is impossible: but you show yourselves believers:
take God into the account, and you will soon experience, that "with
God all things are possible." Nor forget the omnipotent Advocate
whom you have with him. Behold! he lifts his once pierced hands, and
says, "Father, sanctify them through [thy loving] truth, that
they may be perfected in love:" and showing to you the fountain
of atoning blood, and purifying water, whence flow the streams which
cleanse and gladden the hearts of believers, he says, "Hitherto
you have asked nothing in my namewhat-soever you shall ask the
Father in my name, he will give it you. Ask, then, that your joy may
be full." If I try your faith by a little delay: if I
hide my face for a moment, it is only to gather you with everlasting
kindness. "A woman, when she is in travail, hath sorrow, because
her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she
remembereth no more the anguish for joy. Now ye have sorrow, but I
will see you again, and your hearts shall rejoice, and your joy no
man taketh from you." In that day ye shall ask me no question,
for you shall not have my bodily presence. But my urim and thummim
will be with you; and the "Spirit of truth will himself lead
you into all [Christian] truth."
O for a firm and lasting faith,
To credit all the Almighty saith,
To embrace the promise of his Son,
And feel the Comforter our own!
In the meantime be not afraid to give glory to
God by "believing in hope against hope." Stagger not "at
the promise [of the Father and the Son] through unbelief:" but
trust the power and faithfulness of your Creator and Redeemer, till
your Sanctifier has fixed his abode in your heart.
Wait at mercy's door, as the lame beggar did at the beautiful gate
of the temple. "Peter fastening his eyes upon him, with John,
said, Look to us: and he gave heed to them, expecting to receive
something of them." Do so too: give heed to the Father in the
Son, who says, "Look unto me and be ye saved." Expect to
receive "the one thing now needful" for you,a fulness
of the sanctifying Spirit: and though your patience may be tried,
it shall not be disappointed. The faith and power, which, at Peter's
word, gave the poor cripple a perfect soundness in the presence of
all the wondering Jews, will give you, at Christ's word, a perfect
soundness of heart in the presence of all your adversaries.
Faithmighty faith, the promise
And looks to that alone,
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, It shall be done!
Faith asks impossibilities;
Impossibilities are given:
And Ie'en I, from sin shall cease,
Shall live on earth the life of heaven.
Faith always "works by love,"by
love of desire at least; making us ardently pray for what we believe
to be eminently desirable. And if Christian perfection appears
so to you, you might perhaps express your earnest desire of it in
some such words as these:
PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN PERFECTION
How long, Lord, shall my soul, thy spiritual temple,
be a den of thieves, or a house of merchandise? How long shall vain
thoughts profane it, as the buyers and sellers profaned thy temple
made with human hands? How long shall evil tempers lodge within me?
How long shall unbelief, formality, hypocrisy, envy, hankering after
sensual pleasure, indifference to spiritual delights, and backwardness
to painful or ignominious duty, harbour there? How long shall these
sheep and doves, yea, these goats and serpents, defile my breast,
which should be pure as the holy of holies? How long shall they hinder
me from being one of the worshippers whom thou seekest,one of
those who worship thee in spirit and in truth?
O help me to take away these cages of unclean birds.
"Suddenly come to thy temple." Turn out all that offends
the eyes of thy purity; and destroy all that keeps me out of "the
rest which remains for thy Christian people:" so shall
I keep a Spiritual Sabbath,a Christian jubilee to the God of
my life. So shall I witness my share in the oil of joy with which
thou anointest perfect Christians above their fellow believers; I
stand in need of that oil, Lord: my lamp burns dim: sometimes it seems
to be even gone out, as that of the foolish virgins; it is more like
"a smoking flax" than "a burning and shining light."
O! quench it not: raise it to a flame.
Thou knowest that I do believe in thee. The trembling
hand of my faith holds thee; and though I have ten thousand times
grieved thy pardoning love, thine everlasting arm is still under me,
to redeem my life from destruction; while thy right hand is over me,
to crown me with mercies and loving kindness. But, alas! I am neither
sufficiently thankful for thy present mercies, nor sufficiently athirst
for thy future favours. Hence I feel an aching void in my soul,
being conscious that I have not attained the heights of grace described
in thy word, and enjoyed by thy holiest servants. Their deep experiences,
the diligence and ardour with which they did thy will; the patience
and fortitude with which they endured the cross, reproach me, and
convince me of my manifold wants.
I want "power from on high;" I want the
penetrating, lasting "unction of the Holy One." I want to
have my vessel (my capacious heart) full of oil, which makes the countenance
of wise virgins cheerful. I want a lamp of heavenly illumination,
and a fire of Divine love, burning day and night in my breast, as
the typical lamps did in the temple, and the sacred fire on the altar;
I want a full application of the blood which cleanses from all
sin, and a strong faith in thy sanctifying word,a faith
by which thou mayest dwell in my heart, as the unwavering hope of
glory, and the fixed object of my love. I want the internal oracle,thy
still, small voice, together with urim and thummim, "the
new name which none knoweth but he that receiveth
it." In a word, Lord, I want a plenitude of thy Spirit, the full
promise of the Father, and the rivers which flow from the inmost souls
of the believers, who have gone on to the perfection of their dispensation.
I do believe that thou canst and wilt thus "baptize
me with the Holy Ghost and with fire:" help my unbelief:
confirm and increase my faith, with regard to this important baptism.
Lord, I have need to be thus baptized of thee, and I am straitened
till this baptism is accomplished. By thy baptisms of tears in the
mangerof water in Jordanof sweat in Gethsemaneof
blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke, and flaming wrath on Calvary,
baptizeO, baptize my soul, and make as full an end of the original
sin which I have from Adam, as thy last baptism made of the likeness
of sinful flesh, which thou hadst from a daughter of Eve. Some of
thy people look at death for full salvation from sin; but, at thy
command, Lord, I look unto thee.
"Say to my soul, I am thy salvation:"
and let me feel with my heart, as well as see with my understanding,
that thou canst save from sin to the uttermost, all that
come to God through thee. I am tired of forms, professions,
and orthodox notions; so far as they are not pipes or channels to
convey life, light, and love to my dead, dark, and stony heart. Neither
the plain letter of thy Gospel, nor the sweet foretastes and transient
illuminations of thy Spirit, can satisfy the large desires of my faith.
Give me thine abiding Spirit, that he may continually shed abroad
thy love in my soul. Come, O Lord, with that blessed Spirit: come
thou, and thy Father, in that holy Comforter,come to make your
abode with me; or I shall go meekly mourning to my grave. Blessed
mourning! Lord, increase it. I had rather wait in tears for thy fulness
than wantonly waste the fragments of thy spiritual bounties, or feed
with Laodicean contentment upon the tainted manna of my former experiences.
Righteous Father, I hunger and thirst after
thy righteousness: send thy Holy Spirit of promise to fill me
therewith, to sanctify me throughout, and to seal me centrally
to the day of eternal redemption and finished salvation.
Not for works of righteousness which I have done, but of thy
mercy, for Christ's sake, save thou me by the complete
washing of regeneration, and the full renewing of the Holy
Ghost. And in order to this, pour out of thy Spirit;
shed it abundantly on me till the fountain of living water abundantly
spring up in my soul, and I can say, in the full sense of the words,
that thou livest in me, that my life is hid with thee in God,
and that my spirit is returned to him that gave it; to thee, the first
and the last,my author and my end,my God and my all!
Works of John Fletcher, The Last Check to Antinomianism-