The GOSPEL TRUTH
In discussing this subject I will,
I. GIVE SOME ACCOUNT OF THE RECENT DISCUSSIONS THAT HAVE BEEN HAD UPON THIS QUESTION.
II. REMIND YOU OF SOME POINTS THAT HAVE BEEN SETTLED IN THIS COURSE 0F STUDY.
III. DEFINE THE PRINCIPAL TERMS TO BE USED IN THIS DISCUSSION.
IV, SHOW WHAT THE REAL QUESTION NOW AT ISSUE IS.
V. THAT ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION IS ATTAINABLE IN THIS LIFE.
VI. POINT OUT THE CONDITIONS 0F THIS ATTAINMENT.
VII. ANSWER OBJECTIONS.
VIII, CONCLUDE WITH REMARKS.
I. I AM TO GIVE SOME ACCOUNT OF THE RECENT DISCUSSIONS THAT HAVE BEEN HAD UPON THE SUBJECT OF ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION IN THIS LIFE.
When lecturing and writing on polemic theology, it is important and even indispensable that we should entertain just ideas of the views and arguments of our opponents. In entering upon the discussion of the question before us, it seems impossible to proceed in the discussion without noticing the recent discussions that have been had, and without giving you the substance of the principal things that have been said of late in opposition to our views. This will prepare the way for a fuller and more intelligent examination of the question under consideration than could be otherwise had. I shall, therefore, make no apology for introducing in this place a brief history of the discussions alluded to, although they have so recently appeared in print.
About the year 1832 or 1833, the sect called Antinomian Perfectionists sprung up at about the same time, in several places in New York and New England. We have in their leading organ, The Perfectionist, published at New Haven, Ct., their articles of belief or their confession of faith, as it professes to have been, carefully prepared and published by request. It is as follows:
'WHAT WE BELIEVE."
1. We believe, that God is the only rightful interpreter of the Bible, and teacher of theological truth--hence,
2. We believe, that no doctrine can become an article of true faith, which is not recognized by the believer as an immediate revelation to him from God--yet,
3. We believe that God, 'who worketh all in all,' can and does teach his own truth, through his written word, and through the testimony of his sons--therefore,
4. We believe it is proper, that we should state, as witnesses for God, the fundamental articles of our own faith.
5. We believe, 'there is none good but one, that is God,' that all the righteousness in the universe is God's righteousness
6. We believe, that God's righteousness may be revealed in his creatures, as a man's spirit is revealed in the motions of his body.
7. We believe, that 'the works of the flesh, [that is, human nature] are adultery, uncleanness, envyings, strife, and such like' only.
8. We believe, that all attempts to produce better results from human nature, by instruction and legal discipline, only increase the evil--inasmuch as they refine and disguise without removing it.
9. We believe, that the Son of God was manifested in human nature for the purpose of destroying, (not reforming,) the works of the flesh, and revealing the righteousness of God.
10. We believe, that the righteousness of God was never revealed in human nature, till the birth of Jesus Christ.
11. We believe, that the object of all God's dealings with the human race, before the birth of Christ, was, not to promote the righteousness of the flesh, that is, self-righteousness, that is, the perfection of sin; but to prepare the way for the manifestation of his own righteousness through Jesus Christ.--hence,
12. We believe, that the righteousness of the saints, under the law before Christ, was only 'a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things,' bearing a relation to the true righteousness of God, like that of a type to its anti-type.
13. We believe, that the servants of God under the law, by submission to the discipline of the dispensation in which they lived, were prepared for, and became heirs of the righteousness of God, afterward revealed by Jesus Christ.
14. We believe, that, 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,'--that the union of human and divine nature in him, made the righteousness of God accessible to all men.
15. We believe, that Christ is properly called the second Adam, and as the human race in spirit is one body, that he became, by his incarnation, 'the light that lighteth every man.'
16. We believe, that all who are apprized by the gospel of the fact, that the Son of God has come, are thereby called to choose whether they will hold the fallen or the risen Adam as their head.
17. We believe, that faith alone receives, and unbelief rejects the blessings given to man by the second Adam--by faith men awake to a perception of the truth as it is in Christ --unbelief is the devil's dream.
18. We believe, that Christ, as he is in his resurrection and glory, is given to every member of the human race.
19. We believe, that all the faith, righteousness, liberty and glory of the risen Son of God, are given to every man.
20. We believe, that Christ in his incarnation was 'made under the law,' and that the Christian dispensation did not commence, in any sense, till he ascended up on high.
21. We believe, that none are Christians, in any sense, till they receive Christ in his resurrection--hence,
22. We believe, that the disciples of Christ, during his personal ministry in the flesh, were not Christians.
23. We believe, that Christ in the resurrection is free from sin, from the law, from all ordinances, and from death, hence all who are subject to any of these, are not properly called Christians, as not having attained the hope of their calling.
24. We believe, that the history which the Bible contains of the church after Christ's ascension, commonly called the primitive church, is a history rather of the latter-day glory of Judaism, than of the commencement of Christianity.
25. We believe, that the apostles and primitive believers, so far as they were subject to sin, law and death, were Jews and not Christians.
26. We believe, that Christ plainly and repeatedly promised to his disciples, that he would come to them a second time, and complete their salvation within the life-time of some of his immediate followers.
27. We believe that the primitive church, living in the transition period from the first to the second coming of Christ, were more or less partakers of the resurrection, holiness, liberty, and glory of Christ according to their faith.
28. We believe, that at the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of the Jewish dispensation, Christ came to believers the second time according to his promise.
29. We believe, that, at the period of the second coming of Christ, Christianity, or the kingdom of heaven properly began.
30. We believe, that this was the period of the full development of the NEW COVENANT, (Heb. viii,) which secures to believers perfect and eternal salvation from sin, full freedom from written law and human instruction.
31. We believe, that the whole body of Christ, that is the church, attained the perfect resurrection of the spiritual body at his second coming.
32. We believe, that Antichrist, at the same period, attained the perfect resurrection of damnation.
33. We believe, that this was the period of the commencement of the judgment, (CRISIS, see the Greek,) of this world.
34. We believe, that after this period, the salvation given to all men in Jesus Christ, included nothing less than a perfect and eternal salvation from sin, a perfect redemption from the law and legal instruction--a perfect resurrection of the spiritual body, and a standing on the plain of eternity beyond the judgment.'
In the winter of 1836--7, I preached a course of lectures to Christians in the church of which I was then pastor in the city of New York, which were reported by the editor of the New York Evangelist and published in his paper. Soon after they were published in that form, they were published in a volume, and went into extensive circulation both in Europe and America. Among these lectures were two on the subject of christian perfection or entire sanctification, from Matthew 5:48--'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.'
In the first of these lectures I endeavored to show,
I. What perfection the text does not and what it does require.
II. That this perfection is a duty.
III. That this perfection is attainable in this life.
IV. I proceeded to answer objections.
I regarded the perfection demanded by the text as consisting in entire obedience of heart and life to the law of God. And so I taught. I then proceeded to show that this state of obedience is attainable in this life. The remainder of this and the following lecture were occupied in answering objections to the doctrine of the first discourse. These lectures were soon spread before thousands of readers. Whatever was thought of them, I heard not a word of objection to the doctrine from any quarter. If any was made, it did not, to my recollection, come to my knowledge.
In the year 1840, President Mahan published a small work on the subject of christian perfection. Several pieces had previously been published by him and myself in the Oberlin Evangelist upon the same subject. Prof. Cowles about the same time published a series of articles in the Oberlin Evangelist upon the subject of the holiness of christians in this life which were soon after their first appearance collected and published in a small volume. Nearly at the same time I published a course of lectures in the same paper, which were soon also put into a volume by themselves. All three of us gave a definition of christian perfection or entire sanctification, amounting in substance to the same thing, making it to consist in entire consecration to God, and entire obedience to the law, and supported the attainability of this state in this life by substantially the same course of argument. We agreed in stating the attainability of this state as the thing which we proposed to prove, and to the proof of which we shaped our whole course of argument. The attainability of this state we attempted to establish by many arguments, among which are the following:
1. We argued the possibility of attaining this state from the fact that God expressly commands it.
2. From the fact that man by virtue of his moral agency is naturally able fully to obey God.
3. From the fact that provisions are made in the gospel for the entire sanctification of believers in this life.
4. From the fact that we are commanded to pray in faith for the entire sanctification of believers in this life.
5. From the fact that Christ and the apostles prayed for this.
6. From the fact that the entire sanctification of believers in this life is expressly promised in Scripture.
Pres. Mahan and myself, especially, urged the attainability of this state, not only from the foregoing and many other considerations, but also from the fact that this state has been attained, and instanced Paul the apostle as an example of this attainment.
Immediately upon the publication of the above named works, the public journals opened a battery upon us, strangely, and I must say, unaccountably confounding our views with those of the antinomian perfectionists. What analogy was discernible between our views as set forth in our writings and those of the antinomian perfectionists as expressed in their own formula of doctrine, as above given, I am utterly at a loss to understand. But it was insisted that we were of that school and denomination, notwithstanding the greatest pains-taking on our part to make the public acquainted with our views. Many honest ministers and laymen in this country and in Europe were doubtless misled by the course pursued by the public press. Some of the leading religious journals refused to publish our articles, and kept their readers in ignorance of our real views. They gave to the public, oftentimes, the grossest misrepresentations of our views, and refused to allow our replies a place in their columns. The result for sometime was a good deal of misapprehension and alarm on the part of many of the friends of Zion who had been among our warmest friends. Soon after the publication of Pres. Mahan's work above alluded to, it was reviewed by Dr. Leonard Woods, of Andover Theological Seminary. Dr. Woods committed in his review four capital errors which laid his review open to a blow of annihilation, which was in due time leveled against it by Pres. Mahan. The President had defined what he intended by christian perfection or entire sanctification, and had also stated what he did not understand it as implying. He defined it to consist in a state of entire conformity of heart and life to the law of God, or in consecration of the whole being to God. He very expressly took issue upon the question of the attainability of this state in this life, and was at special pains to guard against the true point at issue being mistaken, and protested against any one's making a false issue. Dr. Woods noticed this and his first error consisted in assuming that the real point at issue between him and Pres. Mahan was just what he (Dr. Woods) chose to make it. Hence, secondly, Dr. Woods proceeded to take issue with the author he was reviewing, not upon the possibility of attaining the state in question in this life, which was the proposition stated and defended by his author, but upon the fact of this state having been attained in this life. This was the Doctor's second error. His third error consisted in the fact that having made a false issue, he replied to the arguments of his opponent as if they had been designed by him to establish, not the attainability, but the actual attainment of this state in this life.
He certainly had a right to controvert if he chose the fact of actual attainment, or to deny any other argument Pres. Mahan used to prove the attainability of this state. But he had no right, and it was utterly absurd and unjust, to make a false issue, to take issue upon the fact of attainment and represent the President's argument as adduced to sustain that position, when in fact it was framed in support of a totally different position; and this Dr. Woods knew full well.
But the Doctor fell into a fourth error as fatal to his object as either of the preceding. He did not at all define his views of what constitutes christian perfection or entire sanctification, nor did he notice his opponent's definition. We are therefore left to the necessity of inferring what he understands by entire sanctification or christian perfection from his course of argument.
From this we learn that he founded his argument against the fact of attainment, which was the point that he aimed to overthrow, upon a grossly false assumption in respect to the nature of christian perfection. The following are specimens of his course of reasoning: He denied that any Christian had ever attained to a state of entire sanctification in this life, because the Bible requires Christians in all their earthly course to grow in grace. Now it will be seen at once that this argument is good for nothing, unless it be assumed as a major premise that christian perfection or entire sanctification implies the impossibility of further progress in holiness. The argument in syllogistic form would stand thus:
'Christian perfection or entire sanctification implies the impossibility of further progress in holiness. The bible requires all christians in all time to progress in holiness, which implies the possibility of their doing so. Therefore no christian is in this life entirely sanctified.'
The assumption of a grossly false major premise alone gives his argument the color of relevancy or plausibility. But suppose any one should pursue the same course of argument in respect to total depravity and insist that no sinner is ever totally depraved in this life because the bible represents wicked men and seducers as waxing worse and worse; would Dr. Woods or those who agree with him acknowledge the conclusiveness of such an argument? But if total depravity does not imply, as every one knows that it does not, the impossibility of further progress in sin, so neither for the same reason does entire or total sanctification imply the impossibility of further progress in holiness.
But President Mahan had expressly excluded from his definition of christian perfection the idea of its implying a state in which no higher attainments in holiness were possible. He had insisted that the saints may not only always in this life grow in holiness, but that they must forever grow in grace or holiness as they grow in knowledge. How strange, then, that Dr. Woods should not only make a false issue, but also proceed to sustain his position by assuming as true what his author had expressly denied! There was not even the shadow of disagreement between him and his opponent, assuming as he did, that christian perfection implied the impossibility of further progress in holiness. President Mahan as much abhorred the idea of the actual or possible attainment of such a state in this or any other life, as the Doctor did himself. The Doctor had no right to represent him as holding to Christian Perfection in any such sense as that he was controverting. In the face of President Mahan's disavowal of such a sentiment, the Doctor shaped his argument to overthrow a position which the President never maintained. Having created his own issue, and supported it by his own assumption, he was pronounced by multitudes to have gained a complete victory.
Again, Dr. Woods denied that christian perfection ever was or ever will be attained in this life, because the Bible represents christians in all time as engaged in the christian warfare. Here again we get at the Doctor's view of christian perfection, to wit, that it implies the cessation of the christian warfare. But what is the christian warfare?
The Doctor plainly assumes that it consists in warring with present sin. Yet he holds all sin to be voluntary. His assumption then that the christian warfare consists in a warfare with present sin, represents the will as opposing its present choice. Choice warring with choice. But the christian warfare implies no such thing. It is a warfare or contest with temptation. No other warfare is possible in the nature of the case. Christ was a subject of it. He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. While our circumstances remain what they will always be in this world, we shall be subject to temptation, of course, from the world, the flesh, and Satan. But christian perfection is not at all incompatible with the existence of this strife with temptation. This argument of the Doctor was based wholly like the preceding upon the begging or assumption of a totally false major premise. He made an issue between himself and Pres. Mahan, when there was none. The President no more held than he did that such a state ever was or will be attained in this life as implies the cessation of the christian warfare, properly so called. Thus Dr. Woods set out without giving his readers any definition of christian perfection, and stumbled and blundered through his whole argument, totally misrepresenting the argument of the author whom he reviewed, and sustaining several of his own positions by sheer assumptions.
The applause with which this review was received by the great mass of ministers and by many laymen, shows the deep darkness in which this whole question was and had been for a long time enveloped. We shall see in its proper place, that the erroneous view of nearly the whole church upon this subject was the legitimate result of a totally false philosophy of moral depravity. The review of Dr. Woods was looked upon very extensively as a complete using up of President Mahan's book. It was soon published, by request, in a separate volume. But the President's answer appeared in due time, and so far as I know, was universally regarded by those who candidly read it, as a complete refutation of Dr. Wood's review.
The Doctor admitted in his review that entire sanctification was attainable in this life both on the ground of natural ability, and also because the gospel has made sufficient provision for this attainment. But with his assumed definition of entire sanctification, he should not have admitted the possibility of such attainment. For surely it is not possible on the ground of natural ability to attain such a state either in this life or in any other, that no farther advances can be made. Nor has the gospel made provision to render such attainment possible in this life. Nor is it possible, either on the ground of natural ability or through the provisions of grace, to attain a state in this life in which the warfare with temptation will cease. It is difficult to conceive how Dr. Woods with his ideal of entire sanctification could admit the possibility of attaining this state in this life. Certainly there was no consistency in making both the assumption and the admission. If he assumed the one he should have denied the other. That it, if in his view entire sanctification implied a state in which there could be no farther advances in holiness, or in which there could be no farther war with temptation, he should have denied the possibility of the attainment in this life at least.
Nearly at the same time with the review of Dr. Woods, just named, the presbytery of Troy, New York, by a committee appointed for that purpose, issued a review of our views, and, as I suppose, intended especially as a reply to my work already alluded to.
The letter or review of the presbytery was published in the New York Evangelist, and I believe in most of the leading public journals of the day. I replied, but my reply was not admitted into the columns of the journals that published the review. This fact seems to demand that both the letter of the presbytery and my reply should have a place in this account of the discussion. I therefore here give them to you entire.
Action of the Troy Presbytery.
STATEMENT OF DOCTRINE.
"In the progress of human investigation, it not unfrequently happens, that truth and error are so connected, that the work of distinction becomes as indispensable as that of refutation. In this form, error is always the most dangerous, not only because it is the least likely to be perceived, but because from its relation, it is liable to share in that confidence which the mind is accustomed to assign to admitted truth. In this form, also, it is often, relatively to our perceptions, the same as truth; but the moment this unnatural union of repellent elements is sundered, both assume their distinctive and peculiar marks.
These prefatory thoughts find an ample illustration in the present state of opinion, in some sections of the church, relative to the doctrine of 'Christian Perfection.' That all the sentiments of this system are false, it would be difficult to show; and as difficult to show their entire truth. The system is a subtle combination of truth and error. Any partial prevalence that it may have had, is easily explained on this principle. Where the truth is made most prominent, the whole assumes an imposing aspect; but an inversion of this error will as signally mark its defects. The work, therefore, of exposing the one, without injury to the other, becomes a duty with every devout and honest inquirer. This is what your committee purpose to undertake; and for this purpose it will be sufficient to answer the two following questions:
1. What is the controverted point in this system?
2. What is truth in relation to that point?
Let us take up these questions in the above order.
I. In the first place, What is the controverted point--what is the real issue?
That there is some issue, admits of no doubt. What is it? It is not, whether by the requirement of the moral law, or the injunction of the gospel, men are commanded to be perfectly holy; not whether men are under obligations to be thus holy; not whether, as moral agents, such a state is to them a possible state; not whether the gospel system is competent to secure actual perfection in holiness, if its entire resources be applied; not whether it is the duty and privilege of the church, to rise much higher in holy living, than it has ever yet done in our world. To join issue on any or all of these points, is to make a false issue; it is to have the appearance of a question without its reality. Some or all of these points, form a part of the scheme of 'Christian Perfection;' but certainly they do not invest it with any peculiar character, for they involve no new sentiment differing from the ground taken by the great body of orthodox Christians in every. age. It cannot be supposed that their advocacy has led to the various and fearful solicitudes of learned and pious men in regard to the truth and tendency of this system. It must therefore be fraught with some other element. What is that element? The assertion that Christian men do attain in some cases during the present life, to a state of perfect holiness, excluding sin in every form, and that for an indefinite period they remain in this state. This position requires a moment's analysis, that it may neither suffer nor gain by an ambiguous use of terms.
1. A state of perfect holiness is the general thing affirmed under several relations--such holiness, as leaves not a solitary point of the divine requirements, either in kind or degree, that is not absolutely and completely met by the subject of this predicate--such holiness as involves entire conformity to God's law, and excludes all sin. Any thing short of this, is not perfect holiness, even at the time when its possession is alledged; such a state would be one of imperfect or incomplete sanctification. In establishing the reality of this assumed attainment, it is not allowable to abate or decrease the purity and rigor of the divine law--this would at once change the nature of both categories involved in this question, that is, sin and holiness. We must take the law as it is, and use it as the infallible standard of measurement.
2. This affirmation of a fact is made under several relations. The first is one of speciality, that is, that some Christians have reached this state. It is not contended that it is the state of all Christians, and by consequence, that none are Christians but those who are perfectly sanctified. The second involves two relations of time, that is, that this attainment has been made in the present life, and that it has remained the permanent state for a period more or less indefinite--a day, a week, a month, a year, or years. It is not denied that it is a state in which defection is possible; hence a Christian in this state may relapse into one of imperfect sanctification. Such a phenomenon would be apostacy from perfect to imperfect holiness, and might be succeeded by a return to the former state. These relapses and restorations may be of an indefinite number, for they admit of no necessary limitation but the life of the individuals. They are not however to be confounded with that theory of moral actions, which regards each as wholly good or wholly bad, for they contemplate a longer period of time than is assigned to the production of any given moral act.
Such is the real question at issue--such is the import of 'Christian Perfection,' so far as it has any peculiarity. This is the question to be decided; to argue any other, is to lose sight of the real one--it is to meet an opponent where there is no debate, but entire agreement.
II. In the second place it is proposed to inquire--What is truth in relation to this point?
It is obvious that the burden of proof lies with him who affirms the truth of this sentiment. He must moreover direct his proof to the very thing affirmed, and not to something else. It is easy to carry a question by stating one proposition and proving another. If the proposition in debate be established, the discussion is at an end--the doctrine of christian perfection must be acknowledged.
1. It may be well, therefore, in the first place, to insist on our logical rights, and inquire--'has the proposition yet been proved?' This question involves a variety of subordinate ones, a brief allusion to which is all that can be made.
(a.) It has sometimes been urged, that because perfection in holiness is attainable in this life, therefore it is actually attained. How much validity this argument possesses, we shall be able to judge, if we state it in a syllogistic form. It would be thus: Whatever is attainable in this life, is actually attained in this life; a state of perfect holiness is attainable in this life; therefore it is actually attained in this life. It must be confessed that this syllogism has the attribute of logical conclusiveness, but ere we grant the truth of the inference, it may be well to decide the truth of the premises. Is the first or major premise true? If so, then every sinner who hears the gospel, must attain to actual salvation; then not some, but all believers must be perfectly sanctified in the present life: then every man actually reaches in the present life, the highest possible intellectual and moral good of his being. It must he palpable to every discriminating mind, that this reason takes for granted a false premise; and although conformable to the rules of logic, it is liable to prove an untruth; it confounds the broad distinction between what is merely possible and what is actual.
(b.) Again, it is urged in defence of this system, that the gospel contains adequate provisions for the perfect sanctification of believers in this life, and therefore some believers are thus sanctified. The logical formula will place this reasoning in its true light. It would stand thus: Whatever is possible by the provisions of the gospel in this life, will take place in this life; the perfect sanctification of some believers in this life is possible by these provisions; therefore it will take place in this life. This is a most extraordinary method of reasoning. With some slight changes, it will prove what even the advocate of Perfection will be slow to admit. In the second or minor proposition, substitute the word 'all' for 'some,' and then it proves that all believers are perfectly sanctified in this life. Again, in place of some or all believers, insert the words all men, then it proves that all are perfectly sanctified in this life. There must therefore be some radical difficulty in the first or major proposition. What is that difficulty? It lies in a limitation which is not expressed, but which, the moment it is seen, overturns the whole argument. The provisions of the gospel are sufficient for perfect sanctification at any time and place, if they be fully applied, and not otherwise. Their partial or full application contemplates the action of a rational and voluntary agent. Hence, while competent, they may fail of this effect, owing to the non-application, and not to any fault in the provisions themselves. Before, therefore, this argument is entitled to the least weight, it must be proved that some believers, or all, fully appropriate these provisions in the present life. This being done, then all is clear. This has never yet been done; but it has been lately assumed, as if it were an undisputed truth. The main argument of President Mahan on Perfection is embarrassed with this very fallacy.
(c.) Again, in support of this scheme, much use has been made of the commands, promises and prayers recorded in the Bible.
In relation to the commands, it will be sufficient to say that although the Bible does command a state of perfect holiness in this life, it does not follow that the command is in any instance fully obeyed on earth. Before we can arrive at this conclusion, we must adopt the following principle; that is, that whatever is commanded in the Bible is actually performed by the subjects of that command. This would exclude the existence of all sin from the world; it would prove all men to be holy, without a single exception; it would establish the perfect sanctification not of some, but of all believers. It is certainly a most formidable engine of demonstration, too potent for an ordinary hand to wield.
So also the argument based on the promises of God involves fallacies of reasoning not less apparent. It is a glorious truth that God has promised to all believers a final victory over sin, which undoubtedly will be accomplished at some period of their history. But does it follow then, because believers are to be perfectly sanctified at some time and somewhere, the present life will be the time and place of this perfect sanctification? Let a promise be adduced, if it can be, that fixes the period of this event to the present life. The divine promises, like the provisions of the gospel, are conditioned as to the degree of their results, by appropriative acts on the part of the believer. Hence the fallacy of the argument is apparent, in that it takes for granted that some believers in the present life do fully comply with all the conditions contemplated in the promises themselves. Without this assumption, it proves nothing. Besides, it is not to be forgotten that the promises are general, addressed alike to all believers; and hence the rules of reasoning by which they are made to prove the perfect sanctification of some Christians in the present life, equally prove that of all in every period of time, past, present and future. The argument from promises has no relation to, or limitation by, any specific time. But two alternatives seem to be possible; either the reasoning must be abandoned as not valid, or we must admit that every regenerated man is sinless, and that too from the moment of his conversion.
Similar defects characterize the arguments drawn from the prayers which the Bible records, as well as those which it authorizes Christians to make. It is true that Christ prayed for his disciples in language the most elevated--'Sanctify them through thy truth.' The same may be said of the great apostle when he prayed--'And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.' We are directed to pray that God's will may be done on earth as in heaven; and in general authorized to pray for a perfect victory over all sin at every time. These are the facts;--now what is the inference? The advocate of perfection responds--that some believers are perfectly sanctified in the present life. These and kindred facts we offer, to prove this conclusion. Is there then between the two a certain connection? If we admit the one, must we logically admit the other? Facts speak a very different language. Were those included in the prayer of Christ thus sanctified, and that from the moment of its utterance? Was the same true of all the Christians of Thessalonica? Has the will of God yet been done on earth as perfectly as in Heaven? Has every believer who has hungered and thirsted after righteousness attained to sinless perfection in this life? Did not Paul most fervently pray for the salvation of Israel, and have not thousands of Jews died since, in their sins? Did he not pray that the thorn in his flesh might be removed? and was it removed? The grand mistake in this reasoning is, that it fixes what the nature and terms of prayer do not fix; that is, the time when and the place where the sought blessing shall be obtained. Applied as evidence to any believer who claims to be wholly sanctified, it would prove his sanctification an hour, a week, month, or year, before he was thus sanctified, as really as at the moment in which he professed to have made this high attainment. Contemplated in its most general form, it would prove that every thing which is a proper object of prayer, and which will be obtained in some state of being, will actually be obtained in the present life. There is a vast abyss between the facts and conclusion, which the utmost ingenuity is unable to remove.
(d.) Finally, on this branch of the argument, a variety of proof-texts has been summoned to the service of this system. A critical examination of all these, is inconsistent with the limits of the present statement. It will be sufficient to advert to the false principles of interpretation to which they have been subjected. These are three in number:
(1.) The first consists in a misapplication of passages; as when Paul says, 'I take you to record this day, that I am free from the blood of all men'--or when Zacharias and Elizabeth are spoken of as 'walking in all the commandments and ordinances blameless.'
(2.) The second consists in regarding certain terms as proofs of perfection in holiness, which are merely distinctive of Christian character, as contrasted with the state of the unregenerate. These are such words as 'holy, saints, sanctified, blameless, just, righteous, perfect, entire,' &c. That these and kindred terms are designed to be characteristic, and not descriptive of the degrees of holiness, is proved by the fact that they are indiscriminately appropriated to all Christians, and that in many cases they are applied, when the context absolutely charges sin upon their subjects.
(3.) The third false principle consists in interpreting certain passages in an absolute and unrestricted sense, where evidently they are designed to have a qualified sense. This error may perhaps be illustrated by a single passage. Take that remarkable saying of the Apostle John: 'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God.' Stronger language or a better proof text can not well be conceived. In an unrestricted sense, it affirms not only that every regenerated man is sinless, but an impossibility that it should be otherwise; it dislodges all sin and moral agency from a converted mind at a single blow. What will the Advocate of Perfection do with this passage? Will he acknowledge either or both of these consequences? This can hardly be supposed. How then will he escape them? There is but one way for him--this lies in placing a restricted and qualified sense upon the passage, and in a moment all is plain and harmonious. But why subject so plain a passage to this law of interpretation, and deny it to others less harmonious and decisive? No reason can be perceived but the one which grows out of the necessities of a favorite theory. Indeed, there is logically no stopping place to this system short of the bold affirmation that all believers are perfectly sinless from the moment of conversion. Every argument in its last analysis must terminate in this extraordinary result. To arrest the inference at any other point is to betray a logical inconsistency. Are the advocates of Perfection prepared for this bold and unbiblical doctrine? If not, it is time they had reviewed their arguments, and abandoned principles fraught with such a conclusion. Their weapons of defense are not less destructive than constructional in their character.
2. Having tried the merits of the positive testimony of this subject, we remark in the second place, that in the present state of the question, the position is absolutely incapable of proof. When a man affirms his own sinless perfection for any given period, as a day, a week, or a year, he affirms his own infallible knowledge on two points; that is, that at the present moment he can recall every moral exercise during that period, every thought, feeling, desire, purpose, and that he does infallibly judge of the moral character of each exercise. Will any pretend to this knowledge? To do so, manifests the last degree of presumption, as well as ignorance, both of facts and the truths of mental science. 'Every effort to recall the whole of our mental exercises for a single day, must always be a failure; it can only be partially successful. This shows how little weight is due to the testimony of a man who asserts his own perfection; he may be honest, but this is no proof of the truth of his statement. If a case of 'perfection' were admitted to be real, still it is impossible, in the present state of our faculties, to find and predicate certain knowledge of it. The evidences of 'Christian Perfection,' are then not only inconclusive, but its main proposition is absolutely unknowable to us.
3. In the third place we remark, that this proposition is disproven by an amount of evidence that ought to be conclusive. To secure the greatest brevity of statement, this evidence may be condensed into the following series of propositions:--The Bible records defects in the characters of the most eminent saints, whose history it gives; it speaks in moderate terms of the attainments of the pious, when put in contrast with those of Christ, who hence is an exception to our race; it points the believer to the heavenly world as the consummation of his hopes, and exemption from all sin and sorrow; it describes the work of grace as going forward by successive and progressive stages, and fixes no limit to these stages, antecedent to the period of death; it speaks of those as being self-deceived who deny their own sinfulness--'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;' it represents Christians here as in an imperfect state--'For in many things we offend all' [the word 'all' in the original qualifies 'we' and not 'things;'] it exhorts Christians to lowly and humble views of their own attainments; it declares Christians in the present life to be under a process of providential discipline, the object of which is to make them more fully partakers of God's holiness; the most eminent saints that have ever lived since the days of the Apostles, have uniformly expressed a painful consciousness of remaining sin, and spoken of their attainments in language far different from that of self-confidence; the higher Christians have risen in holiness, the more deeply have they been humbled with their own sinful imperfections, owing to a clearer discernment both of God and themselves. These propositions might each of them be amplified into as many arguments. Taken together, they seem conclusively to set aside the pretensions of any class of men who claim for themselves sinless perfection in the present life. We can not but think, that however sincere such persons may be, they labor under a most dangerous delusion. With them we have no controversy; our controversy is with their system. It appears to us in no other light than that of a system, totally disconnected with its proposed evidence, demonstrably unknowable by the present state of our faculties, and in direct contravention to an amount of proof, biblical and experimental, that must forever discredit its claims.
1. Resolved; That in the judgment of this Presbytery, the doctrine of 'Christian Perfection' in this life, is not only false, but calculated in its tendencies, to engender self-righteousness, disorder, deception, censoriousness and fanaticism.
2. Resolved, That it is contrary to the Confession of Faith adopted by the Presbyterian church in the United States. See chap. 12, Sec. 2.
3. Resolved, That it is the duty of all orthodox ministers to acquaint themselves with this error, and at such times and in such measures as may seem to them most expedient, to instruct the people on this point.
4. Resolved, That we view with regret and sorrow, the ground taken on this subject by the Theological Professors at Oberlin.
5. Resolved, That we hail with joy every improvement in human opinion that conforms to the Bible, and promises, in its practical tendency, to decrease the sins or increase the moral purity of the church.
6. Resolved, That the above statement and resolutions be signed by the Moderator and Stated Clerk, and published in the New York Evangelist, New York Observer, the Christian Observer, and the Presbyterian.
Fayette Shipherd requested that his dissent from the above report of the Committee be appended to it, entered on the records of the Presbytery, and published with it. All the other members present voted in the affirmative.
Thomas J. Haswell, Moderator.
N. S. S. Beman, Stated Clerk.
Troy, June 29, 1841.
To the Troy [N. Y.] Presbytery.
Permit me to make a few remarks upon your report on the subject of Christian perfection. I have read with attention most that has come to hand upon the subject of your report, and have thought it of little use to reply, until some opponent of our views should throw his objections into a more tangible form than any one had hitherto done. Your report embraces, in a condensed form, almost all that has been said in opposition to our views. For this reason, as well as for the reason that I have a high respect and fervent love for those of your number with whom I am acquainted, I beg leave to be heard in reply.
What I have said was prepared for, and should have been published in the New York Evangelist. I wrote to the editor, making the request to be heard through his columns; to which he made no reply. I still hope he will not fail to do me, yourselves, and the church the justice to give this article a place in his columns. The truth demands it. For no other reason, I am sure, than to subserve the interests of truth would I say one word. Without further preface, I quote your statement of the real point at issue. You say:
'That there is some issue, admits of no doubt. What is it? It is not, whether by the requirements of the moral law, or the injunctions of the gospel, men are commanded to be perfectly holy; not whether men are under obligations to be thus holy; not whether as moral agents, such a state is to them a possible state; not whether the gospel system is competent to secure actual perfection in holiness, if its entire resources be applied; not whether it is the duty and privilege of the church to rise much higher in holy living, than it has ever yet done in this world. To join issue on any, or all of these points, is to make a false issue; it is to have the appearance of a question without its reality. Some, or all of these points, form a part of the scheme of 'Christian Perfection:' but certainly they do not invest it with any peculiar character, for they involve no new sentiment differing from the ground taken by the great body of orthodox Christians in every age. It can not be supposed that their advocacy has led to the various and fearful solicitudes of learned and pious men in regard to the truth and tendency of this system. It must therefore be fraught with some other element. What is that element? The assertion that Christian men do attain in some cases, during the present life, to a state of perfect holiness, excluding sin in every form, and that for an indefinite period they remain in this state.'
Upon this I remark:
I. You have made a false issue. Proof:
1. What our position is. It is, and always has been, that entire sanctification is attainable in this life, in such a sense as to render its attainment a rational object of pursuit, with the expectation of attaining it.
This proposition, it would seem, you admit; but on account of 'the various and fearful solicitudes of learned and pious men,' you take it for granted, there must be a heresy somewhere, and accordingly proceed to take issue with us, upon one of the arguments we have used in support of our proposition; and reply to our other arguments, as if they had been adduced by us in support of the proposition, upon which you have erroneously made up the issue.
2. Some of the arguments by which we have attempted to establish this proposition are--
(1.) That men are naturally able to obey all the commandments of God.
(2.) That this obedience is unqualifiedly demanded of men in this life.
(3.) That the gospel proffers sufficient grace to secure their entire sanctification in this life; and that nothing is wanting but 'appropriative acts,' on the part of Christians, to realize this result.
(4.) That the entire sanctification of Christians in this life was made the subject of prayer by inspired men, and also that Christ taught his disciples to pray for it.
(5.) That this state has actually been attained.
These are among our arguments; and as they are the only ones to which you have professed to reply, I will mention no others.
3. I will put our arguments in the form of syllogisms in their order.
First argument. Whatever is attainable in this life, on the ground of natural ability, may be aimed at with a rational hope of success. A state of entire sanctification in this life is attainable on the ground of natural ability. Therefore, it may be aimed at with a rational hope of success.
Again, whatever men are naturally able to do in this life, they may aim at doing with a rational hope of success. Men are naturally able to do all their duty, which is to be entirely sanctified. Therefore, they may aim at entire sanctification with a rational hope of being entirely sanctified.
You admit both the major and minor premises in these syllogisms. Can the conclusion be avoided?
Second argument. Whatever God commands to be done by men in this life, may be done by them. God commands men to be entirely holy in this life. Therefore a state of entire holiness in this life is possible. You admit both the major and minor premises. Can the conclusion be avoided?
Third argument. Whatever attainment the gospel proffers sufficient grace to secure in this life, may be made. The gospel proffers sufficient grace, should any one 'apply its entire resources,' to secure a state of entire sanctification in this life. Therefore, this state may be secured, or this attainment may be made. Here again, you admit both premises. Can the conclusion be denied?
Fourth argument. Whatever was made the subject of prayer by the Spirit of inspiration may be granted. The entire sanctification of the saints in this life was prayed for by the Spirit of inspiration. Therefore, Christians may aim at and pray for this state, with the rational expectation of being entirely sanctified in this life.
Again. What Christ has made it the universal duty of the church to pray for, may be granted. He has made it the duty of all Christians to pray for the entire sanctification of the saints in this life. Therefore these petitions may be presented, and christians may expect to be entirely sanctified in this life. Both premises in these syllogisms are admitted. Are not the conclusions inevitable?
Fifth argument. Whatever men have done, men can do. Men have been entirely sanctified in this life. Therefore they may be so sanctified. The minor premise in this syllogism you deny; and, strange to tell, you affirm, over and over again, that this one argument of ours is the main proposition to be established. And you reply to all our other arguments in support of the main proposition as if they had been adduced to prove this! Now it would have been equally fair, and just as much in point, so far as our argument in support of the main proposition is concerned, if you had made an issue with us on any other argument adduced by us in support of that proposition--insisted that that was the main question--and replied to our arguments as if they had been adduced in support of that.
You misrepresent our logic. Assuming that the fact of actual attainment is the main proposition which we are laboring to establish, and in support of which we adduce the fact of actual attainment only as an argument, you misrepresent our reasoning. To put this matter in the clearest light, I will place side by side, the syllogisms which you put in our mouths and our own syllogisms.
YOUR SYLLOGISMS IMPUTED TO US. OUR OWN SYLLOGISMS.
1. "Whatever is attainable in this life, is actually attained in this life. A state of perfect holiness is attainable in this life; therefore it is actually attained."
1. Whatever is attainable in this life may be aimed at, with the rational hope of attaining it; entire sanctification is attainable in this life; therefore the attainment of this state may be aimed at with a rational hope of success.
2. "Whatever is possible by the provisions of the gospel in this life, will take place in this life; the perfect sanctification of some believers is possible by those provisions; therefore it will actually take place in this life."
2. Whatever attainment is possible, by the provisions of the gospel in this life, may be aimed at by those under the gospel, with a rational hope of attaining it; the perfect sanctification of believers is possible by these provisions; therefore believers may aim at making this attainment, with a rational hope of success.
3. "In relation to the commands it will be sufficient to say, that although the Bible does command a state of perfect holiness in the present life, it does not follow that the command is in any instance obeyed fully on earth. Before we can arrive at this conclusion, we must adopt the following principle: that is, that whatever is commanded in the Bible is actually performed by the subjects of that command."
The syllogism would stand thus:
Whatever is commanded by God, is actually performed; perfect holiness is commanded; therefore all men are perfectly holy.
3. Whatever the Bible commands to be done in this life may be done; the Bible commands Christians to be perfect in this life; therefore, they may be perfect in this life.
Now, brethren, I ask if you will deny the major premise, the minor premise, or the conclusion in either of the above syllogisms? You cannot deny either. I beseech you then, to consider what injustice you have done to yourselves, to us, your brethren, and to the cause of truth, by such an evasion and misrepresentation of our logic.
5. What your logic must be to meet our argument as we have stated it. If you would state in syllogistic form an argument that shall meet and set aside our reasoning, it must stand thus: That a thing is attainable in this life, is no proof that it can be attained. This must be assumed as a major premise, by any one who would answer our logic. But who does not see, that this amounts to a denial of an identical proposition? The same as to say--that a thing being attainable in this life, is no proof that it is attainable in this life. But to waive this consideration, and state the argument as it must stand in syllogistic form; to meet and refute our logic, it must stand thus: "That a thing is attainable in this life is no proof that it can be attained. Entire sanctification is attainable in this life. Therefore, its attainability is no proof that it can be attained.' Who does not see, that the major premise is false, and that therefore the conclusion is? Now observe, we admit, that its attainability is no proof that it will be attained. But we insist, that its attainability is proof that the attainment may be aimed at with a rational hope of success.
Again, would you meet our second argument with a syllogism, it must stand thus: 'That God commands a state of entire sanctification in this life, is no proof that such a state is attainable in this life. God does command a state of entire sanctification in this life. Therefore the command is no proof that such a state is attainable.' Brethren, this argument would have the attribute of logical conclusiveness, if the major premise were not false. The very same course must be pursued by you, would you meet and set aside our reasoning in respect to our other arguments. This is so manifest, that I need not state the syllogisms.
II. In respect to our inference in favor of the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, drawn from the prayers of inspiration, and the fact that all Christians are commanded to pray for the entire sanctification of believer in this life, you say as follows:
'Similar defects characterize the arguments drawn from the prayers which the Bible records, as well as those which it authorizes Christians to make. It is true, that Christ prayed for his disciples in language the most elevated: 'Sanctify them through the truth.' The same may be said of the great Apostle, when he prayed: 'And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.' We are directed to pray that God's will may be done on earth as in heaven, and in general authorized to pray for a perfect victory over all sin at every time. These are the facts. Now, what is the inference? The advocate of 'Perfection' responds--that some believers are perfectly sanctified in the present life. These and kindred facts we offer, to prove this conclusion. Is there then between the two a certain connection? If we admit the one must we logically admit the other? Facts speak a very different language. Were those included in the prayer of Christ, thus sanctified, and that from the moment of its utterance? Was the same true of all the Christians of Thessalonica? Has the will of God yet been done on earth as perfectly as in heaven? Has every believer who has hungered and thirsted after righteousness, attained to sinless perfection in this life? Did not Paul most fervently pray for the salvation of Israel, and have not thousands of Jews since died in their sins? Did he not pray that the thorn in his flesh might be removed, and was it removed? The grand mistake in this reasoning is that it fixes what the nature and terms of prayer do not fix; that is, the time when and the place where, the sought blessing shall be obtained.'
On this I remark:
This appears to me a most remarkable paragraph. Here you quote a part of 1 Thess. 5:23: 'And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly,' and then stop, assuming that nothing can be affirmed in respect to the time when the Apostle prayed that this blessing might be granted. Now, beloved brethren, why did you not quote the whole passage, when it would have been most manifest, that the Apostle actually prayed for the blessing to be granted in this life? I will quote it and see if this not so: 'The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.'
As the sanctification of the 'body,' as well as the soul, and spirit, is prayed for, and that the whole being may be 'preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,' how can you say as you do--'The grand mistake in this reasoning is that it fixes what the nature and the terms of prayer do not fix, that is, the time when and place where the sought blessing shall be obtained.' Does not this prayer contemplate the bestowment of this blessing in this life? Who can reasonably deny it? Again: You say, 'We are directed to pray that God's will may be done on earth as in heaven, and in general authorized to pray for a victory over all sin at every time.' Now how can you make this admission, and still add the assertion just quoted, that 'prayer does not fix the time when this blessing is to be expected?' Certainly, the time when is, in this prayer, limited to this life. In order to meet our argument, based upon the prayer of the Apostles, and the injunction of Christ, to pray for the entire sanctification of believers in this life, you must argue as follows. Here again I put the syllogisms into separate columns, that you may see them in contrast.
YOUR REASONING PUT IN SYLLOGISTIC FORM. OUR SYLLOGISMS.
That the Spirit of inspiration prayed for the entire sanctification of believers in this life, is no evidence that an answer to this prayer may be expected by saints in this life. Paul, under the spirit of inspiration, did pray for the entire sanctification of the saints in this life. Therefore, this prayer is no evidence that saints may aim at being entirely sanctified in this life, with a rational hope of being so sanctified.
Whatever state was prayed for by the Spirit of inspiration, Christians may aim at with a rational hope of attaining: the Spirit of inspiration prayed for the entire sanctification of saints in this life: therefore, Christians may aim at this attainment with the expectation of success.
Again: That Christ has made it the universal duty of saints to pray for the entire sanctification of Christians in this life, is no evidence that they may offer this prayer, with a rational expectation of being answered. Christ has made it the universal duty of Christians to pray for entire sanctification in this life.--Therefore, this is no evidence that they may offer this prayer with the rational hope of being heard and answered.
Again: Whatever state Christians are required to pray for in this life, they may pray for with the expectation of being heard and answered. Christians are required to pray for a state of entire sanctification in this life. Therefore, they may pray for this attainment with the expectation of being heard and answered in this life.
Now brethren, whose logic is most conclusive?
III. In one paragraph of your report you admit and deny at the same breath, that entire sanctification is promised in this life. You say--
'It is a glorious truth, that God has promised to all believers a final victory over sin, which undoubtedly will be accomplished in some period of their history. But does it follow, that because believers are to be perfectly sanctified at sometime and somewhere, the present life will be the time and place of this perfect sanctification? Let a promise be adduced, if it can be, that fixes the period of this event to the present life. The divine promises, like the provisions of the gospel, are conditioned as to the degree of their results, by appropriative acts on the part of the believer. Hence, the fallacy of the argument is apparent, in that it takes for granted that some believers in the present life do fully comply with all the conditions contemplated in the promises themselves. Without this assumption it proves nothing.'
In the first part of this paragraph, you deny that God, anywhere in the Bible, promises a state of entire sanctification in this life, and request that one promise be adduced, that fixes this event to the present life. And then you seem immediately to admit that the blessing is promised, on the condition of 'appropriative acts on the part of the believer.' This you must intend to admit, inasmuch as you have before admitted that 'should a believer avail himself of all the resources of the gospel, 'he might make this attainment.' Certainly you will not pretend to have any authority for such an admission, unless the promises when fairly interpreted do proffer such a state to christians upon condition of 'appropriative acts.' How shall we understand such a denial and admission at the same breath as this paragraph contains?
But you request that one promise may be adduced that fixes the period of entire sanctification to the present life. I might quote many: but as you ask for only one, I will quote one, and the one, a part of which you have quoted--1 Thess. 2:23,24; 'The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.'
That this prayer and promise relate to this life, I think can not consistently be questioned. The prayer is that the 'body,' as well as the 'spirit and soul,' be wholly sanctified, and 'be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Then the promise--'Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.' Does not this relate to this life?
IV. You deny that christians can know that they are in a state of entire sanctification.
You say 'If a case of perfection were admitted to be real, still it is impossible, in the present stale of our faculties, to find and predicate certain knowledge of it.'
Here, assuming as you do that the main proposition respects the fact of actual attainment, you insist that this fact, did such cases exist, would be entirely insusceptible of proof. Indeed! Does God command man to do what he can not know that he does, even if he does it? This would be passing strange. You admit that God requires men to be entirely sanctified--condemns them if they are not--but yet deny that they could know that they obeyed, if they did. This would indeed be a singular requirement--to command a man on pain of eternal death to do that which he could not possibly know that he did, even if he did it. This denial of ability to know, whether we are in a state of entire sanctification, is a total denial of the doctrine of natural ability as I presume it is held by every member of your body. Do not every one of you, my brethren, hold that natural ability to obey a command is the sine qua non of moral obligation to obey it? Do not you hold that a man can not be under a moral obligation to do what he can not understand--to use a power which he does not know himself to possess--to employ his faculties in any kind or degree of service which he cannot know to be his duty? Now if a man does all that he is able to know himself capable of doing, is he under a moral obligation to do anything more? But if he is unable to know that he falls short of his duty, does he fall short of it? Brethren, will you give us light upon this subject? Do you,--will you seriously maintain that a man is naturally unable to know whether he obeys the commands of God, and yet, that he is condemned and liable to be damned for coming short, when he could not know that he came short? Brethren, will you maintain this?
V. Your answer to our proof texts is a very summary one. It consists simply in affirming that we have misapplied them --that we regard certain terms as proofs of perfection, which are only distinctive of Christian character,--and, that we interpret them in an absolute and unrestricted sense--without so much as naming one of them. You have indeed, quoted one passage, and affirmed that 'a better proof text can not well be conceived.' Bnt[But] we have never regarded nor quoted it as a proof text at all. Your disposal of our proof texts is really a short hand method of getting over them. But there was one difficulty in the way of your quoting and answering them, which was--that had you quoted them, it would have appeared to every body, that they were used by us to prove another proposition than that which you were controverting.
VI. Our arguments in support of the fact of attainment, you have passed over almost in silence. At the same time you have taken our arguments adduced to prove the practical attainability, and replied to them as if adduced to prove the fact of actual attainment. Brethren, we think we have reason to feel grieved with this.
VII. You find yourselves obliged to be exceedingly indefinite in regard to the measure of attainment which Christians may rationally hope to make in this life. You say 'the question is not whether it is the duty and privilege of the church to rise much higher in holy living than it has ever yet done in this world.' Now, brethren, I ask how much higher attainments Christians may make in this world than they have ever yet made? This is, with us, and must be with the church, a question of all-absorbing interest. Do you answer to this question, that Christians may make indefinitely higher attainments than they have yet made? I ask again, on what authority is this affirmation made? Do you argue it from the fact that the gospel has promised sufficient grace to Christians on condition of appropriative acts, to secure in them a higher state of holiness than has yet been attained? But if Christians may rationally hope to attain a higher state of holiness than has ever yet been attained, by appropriating to themselves promises which proffer entire sanctification in this life, why may they not rationally aim at attaining all that the gospel has promised to them? Brethren, will you answer this question?
Appended to your report is a resolution, expressing 'regret and sorrow at the ground taken on this subject by the Theological Professors at Oberlin.' Will you permit us to reciprocate your regret and sorrow, and express our deep grief that the Presbytery of Troy have taken such ground upon this subject, and so misapprehended, and of course misrepresented the arguments of their brethren?
I must close this communication with a few
1. We admit you had a right to take issue with us on the question of actual attainment, if you were dissatisfied with our course of argument on that position. But you had no right to represent our argument in support of another position, as you have done. You had no right to represent our argument in favor of the practical attainability, as having been adduced in support of the fact of actual attainment. This you have done, and by so doing, you have done your brethren and the cause of truth great injustice.
2. To what I have said in this article, you may reply, that you never denied the practical attainability of a state of entire sanctification, and that, therefore, on that question, you have no controversy with us. Why then, my brethren, did you not admit, that in our main position you agree with us, and that you only deny one of the arguments by which we attempted to support that position? This, as Christian men, you were bound to do. But instead of this, you have said nothing about admitting our main position; but made the transfer of our arguments to the support of the one upon which you take issue, and thus represent our logic as absurd and ridiculous.
We shall be happy to discuss the question of actual attainment with our brethren, when they ingenuously admit that the main position we have taken, (namely, the practical attainability of a state of entire sanctification in this life,) is a truth of the Bible.
3. Permit me to ask, my brethren, what opponent or course of argument might not be rendered ridiculous by the course you have taken--that is, by stating another proposition than that intended to be supported, and then representing the whole course of argument as intended to support the substituted proposition?
4. Should you say that your report was not intended as a reply to our argument, I ask, who has ever argued in support of this doctrine in the manner you represent? Who ever inferred, that because men have natural power to obey God, therefore they do obey Him? I have read with attention almost every thing that has come to hand upon this subject, and I never saw or heard of any such mode of argumentation as that to which you profess to reply.
5. Will your Presbytery, in reply to what I have written, excuse themselves by saying, that their treatment of our argument was an oversight--that they had supposed us to reason in the way they have represented us as reasoning? To this I must reply, that you were bound to understand our argument before you replied to it, in your public or any other capacity. And especially were you under this obligation, in asmuch as I had twice written to a leading member of your body, beseeching him, in the bowels of Christian love, to examine this subject, and to be sure he did it in a spiritual frame of mind, before he committed himself at all upon the question.
6. Will you, dear brethren, permit me to ask how long the opposers of the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, expect to retain the confidence of the church, and prevent their understanding and believing this doctrine, by such a course of procedure as this? You are no doubt aware that your course is not a novel one, but that it has been substantially pursued by several other opposers of this doctrine.
And now, beloved brethren in the Lord, do not understand me as entering into a war of words with you, or as entertaining the least unkind feeling In my heart towards you. I most cheerfully leave to your deliberate and prayerful consideration, the remarks I have freely made on your report. I cannot however refrain from saying, that when I saw the name of one whom I greatly loved, and with whom I had often taken sweet counsel, attached to that report, my heart felt a kind of spontaneous gushing, and I almost involuntarily exclaimed, 'Et tu, Brute!'
Yours in the bonds of Christian love,
C. G. Finney.
Since these replies were published, nothing worthy of notice has appeared in opposition to them that has fallen under my observation, but the policy seems to have been adopted of preventing further inquiry upon the subject. Nevertheless the agitation of the question in the minds and hearts of private Christians and of many ministers, is going steadily and in many places rapidly forward, as I have good reason to know. Indeed it is manifest that there is increasing light and interest upon the subject, and it is beginning, or, l should say, fast coming to be better understood and its truthfulness and its importance appreciated. No thanks however are due to some of the leading journalists of the day, if this blessed and glorious truth be not hunted from the world as most pernicious error. Nothing could have been more unfair and unjust than the course pursued by some of them has been. May the blessed Lord bring them to see their error and forgive them, not laying this sin to their charge.
It may doubtless appear unaccountable to the public in general, both in this country and elsewhere, that no objection was made to the doctrine of entire sanctification when published in the New York Evangelist, and afterwards in the form of a volume, and so extensively circulated, and that the same doctrine should excite so much alarm when published in the Oberlin Evangelist. It may also appear strange that such pains should have been taken to confound our views with those of antinomian perfectionists, when every one can see that there is no more analogy between their views, as set forth in their Confession of Faith, and our views, than between them and any thing else. This they have all along alledged, and consequently have been amongst our bitterest opposers. Perhaps it is not best that the public should be made acquainted with the springs of influence that have stirred up and put in motion all this hurricane of ecclesiastical and theological opposition to Oberlin. It is unpleasant to us to name and disclose it, and perhaps the cause of truth does not at present, at least, demand it."
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