by A. A. Hodge
1. What sense do the words ἅγιος, holy and ἁγιάζειν, to sanotify, bear in the Scriptures?
The verb ἁγιάζειν is used in two distinct senses in the New Testament:
1st. To make clean physically, or morally.(1) ceremonial purification.––Hebrews 9:13. (2) To render clean in a moral sense.––1 Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 13:12. Hence the phrase 'them that are sanctified,' is convertable with believers.––1 Corinthians 1:2.
2nd. To set apart from a common to a sacred use, to devote, (1) spoken of things, Matthew 23:17; (2) spoken of persons, John 10:36, (3) to regard and venerate as holy, Matthew 6:9; 1 Pet 3:15. Ἅγιος, as an adjective, pure, holy, as a noun, saint, is also used in two distinct senses, corresponding to those of the verb.
1st. Pure, clean; (1) ceremonially, (2) morally, Ephesians 1:4, (3) as a noun, saints, sanctified ones, Romans 1:7; 8:27.
2nd. Consecrated, devoted.–Matthew 4:5; Acts 6:13; 21:28; Hebrews 9:3. This word is also used in ascriptions of praise to God.––John 17:11; Revelation 4:8.
2. What are the different views entertained as to the nature of sanctification ?
1st. Pelagians denying original sin and the moral inability of man, and holding that sin can be predicated only of acts of: the will, and not of inherent states or dispositions, consequently regard sanctification as nothing more than a moral reformation of life and habits, wrought under the influence of the truth in the natural strength of the sinner himself
2nd. The advocates of the 'exercise scheme' hold that we can find nothing in the soul other than the agent and his exercises. Regeneration, therefore, is nothing more than the cessation from a series of unholy and the inauguration of a series of holy exercises; and sanctification the maintenance of these holy exercises. One party, represented by Dr. Emmons, say that God immediately effects these holy exercises. Another party, represented by Dr. Taylor, of New Haven, held that the man himself determines the character of his own by choosing God as his chief good; the Holy Spirit in some unexplained way assisting.—See above, Chap. 29., Questions 5 and 6.
3rd. Many members of the Church of England, as distinguished from the evangelical party, hold that a man conforming to the church, which is the condition of the Gospel covenant, is introduced to all the benefits of that covenant, and in the decent performance of relative duties and observance of the sacraments, is enabled to do all that is now required of him, and to attain to all the moral good now possible or desirable.
4th. The orthodox doctrine is that the Holy Ghost, by his constant influences upon the whole soul in all its faculties, through the instrumentality of the truth, nourishes, exercises, and develops those holy principles and dispositions which he implanted in the new birth, until by a constant progress all sinful dispositions being mortified and extirpated, and all holy dispositions being fully matured, the subject of this grace is brought immediately upon death to the measure of the stature of perfect manhood in Christ. 'Con. Faith,' Chap. 13.; 'L Cat.,' Question 75; 'Shorter Catechism,' Question 35.
3. How can it be shown that sanctification involves more than mere reformation?
See above Chap. 29., Question 12.
4. How may it be shown that it involves more than the production of holy exercises ?
See above, Chap. 29., Questions 7–10.
Besides the arguments presented in the chapter above referred to, this truth is established by the evidence of those passages of Scripture which distinguish between the change wrought in the heart and the effects of that change in the actions.–Matthew 12:33–35; Luke 6:43–45.
5. What relation does sanctification sustain to regeneration ?
Regeneration is the creative act of the Holy Spirit, implanting a new principle of spiritual life in the soul.
Conversion is the first exercise of that new gracious principle, in the spontaneous turning of the new–born sinner to God. Sanctification is the sustaining and developing work of the Holy Ghost, bringing all the faculties of the soul more and more perfectly under the purifying and regulating influence of the implanted principle of spiritual life.
6. What is the relation which justification and sanctification sustain to each other ?
In the order of nature, regeneration precedes justification, although as to time they are always necessarily contemporaneous. , the instant God regenerates a sinner he acts faith in Christ. The instant he acts faith in Christ he is justified, and sanctification, which is the work of carrying on and perfecting that which is begun in regeneration, is accomplished under the conditions of those new relations into which he is introduced by justification. In justification we are delivered from all the penal consequences of sin, and brought into such a state of reconciliation with God, and communion of the Holy Ghost, that we are emancipated from the bondage of legal fear, and endued with that spirit of filial confidence and love which is the essential principle of all acceptable obedience. Our justification, moreover, proceeds on the ground of our federal union with Christ by faith, which is the basis of that vital and spiritual union of the soul with him from whom our sanctification flows.—See above, Chap. 31., Question 3.
7. How can it be shown that this work extends to the whole man, the understanding, will and affections ?
The soul is a unit, the same single agent alike, thinking, feeling, and willing. A man can not love that loveliness which he does not perceive, nor can he perceive that beauty, whether moral or natural, which is uncongenial to his own heart. His whole nature is morally depraved, 1st, blind or insensible to spiritual beauty; 2nd, averse, in the reigning dispositions of the will, to moral right, and therefore disobedient. The order in which the faculties act is as follows: The intellect perceives the qualities of the object concerning which the mind is engaged; the heart loves those qualities which are congenial to it; the will chooses that which is loved.
This is proved, 1st, by experience. As the heart becomes more depraved the mind becomes more insensible to spiritual light. On the other hand, as the eyes behold more and more clearly the beauty of the truth, the more lively become the affections, and the more obedient the will. 2nd. From the testimony of Scripture. By nature the whole man is depraved. The understanding darkened, as well as the affections and will perverted.–Ephesians 4:18.
If this be so, it is evident that sanctification must also be effected throughout the entire nature. 1st. From the necessity of the case. 2nd. From the testimony of Scripture.––Romans 6:13; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:18; Colossians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 John 4:7.
8. In what sense is the body sanctified?
1st. As consecrated, (1) as being the temple of the Holy Ghost, 1 Corinthians 6:19; (2) hence as being a member of Christ.– 1 Corinthians 6:15. 2nd. As sanctified, since they are integral parts of our persons, their instincts and appetites act immediately upon the passions of our souls, and consequently these must be brought subject to the control of the sanctified soul, and all its members, as organs of the soul, made instruments of righteousness unto God.–Romans 6:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:4. 3rd. It Will be made like Christ’s glorified body.–1 Corinthians 15:44; Philippians 3:21.
9. To whom is the work of sanctification referred in Scripture?
1st. To the Father.––1 Thessalonians 6:23; Hebrews 13:21. 2nd. To the Son.–Ephesians 5:25, 26; Titus 2:14. 3rd. To the Holy Ghost.–1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
In all external actions the three Persons of the Trinity are always represented as concurring, the father working through the Son and Spirit, and the Son through the Spirit. Hence the work of sanctification is with special prominence attributed to the Holy Spirit, since he is the immediate agent therein, and since this is his special office work in the plan of redemption.
10. What do the scriptures teach as to the agency of the truth in the work of sanctification?
The whole process of sanctification consists in the development and confirmation of the new principle of spiritual life implanted in the soul in regeneration, conducted by the Holy Ghost in perfect conformity to, and through the operation of the laws and habits of action natural to the soul as an intelligent, moral and free agent. Like the natural faculties both of body and mind, and the natural habits which modify the actions of those faculties, so Christian graces, or spiritual habits, are developed by exercise; the truths of the gospel being the objects upon which these graces act, and by which they are both excited and directed. Thus the divine loveliness of God presented in the truth, which is his image, is the object of our complacent love; his goodness of our gratitude; his promises of our trust; his Judgments of our wholesome awe, and his commandments variously exercise us in the thousand forms of filial obedience. John 17:19; 1 Peter 1:22; 2:2; 2 Peter 1:4; James 1:18.
11. What efficiency do the Scriptures ascribe in this work to the Sacraments ?
There are three views entertained on this subject by theologians–
1st. The lowest view is, that the sacraments simply, as symbols, present the truth in a lively manner to the eye, and are effective thus only as a form of presenting the gospel objectively.
2nd. The opinion occupying the opposite extreme is that they, of their own proper efficiency, convey sanctifying grace ex opere operato (by the works performed), 'because they convey grace by the virtue of the sacramental action itself, instituted by God for this very end, and not through the merit either of the agent (priest) or the receiver.'––Bellarmin, 'De Sac.,' 2, 1.
3rd. The true view is, 'that the sacraments are efficacious means of grace, not merely exhibiting but actually conferring upon those who worthily receive them the benefits which they represent;' yet this efficacy does not reside properly in them, but accompanies their proper use in virtue of the divine institution and promise, through the accompanying agency of the Holy Ghost, and as suspended upon the exercise of faith upon the part of the recipient, which faith is at once the condition and the instrument of the reception of the benefit.––Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:41; 10:47; Romans 6:3;1 Corinthians 12:13; Titus 3:5;1 Peter 3:21.
12. What office do the Scriptures ascribe to faith in sanctification ?
Faith is the first grace in order exercised by the soul consequent upon regeneration, and the root of all other graces in principle.––Acts 15:9; 26:18. It is instrumental in securing sanctification therefore––
1st. By securing the change of the believer’s relation to God and to the law, as a condition of life and favor.––See above, Question 6.
2nd. By securing his union with Christ.––1 Corinthians 13:; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:3.
3rd. It is sanctifying in its own nature, since, in its widest sense, faith is that spiritual state of the soul in which it holds living active communion with spiritual truth. 'By this faith a Christian believeth to be true, whatsoever is revealed in the word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently, upon that which every particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling to the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come.'––'Conf: Faith' ch. 14 §2.
13. What, according to Scripture, is necessary to constitute a good work ?
1st. That it should spring from a right motive, i.e. , love for God’s character, regard for his authority, and zeal for his glory; love as a fruit of the Spirit, if not always consciously present, yet reigning as a permanent and controlling principle in the soul.
2nd. That it be in accordance with his revealed law.––Deuteronomy 12:32; Isaiah 1:11, 12; Colossians 2:16–23.
14. What is the Popish doctrine as to 'the counsels' of Christ, which are not included in the positive precepts of the law ?
The positive commands of Christ are represented as binding on all classes of Christians alike, and their observance necessary in order to salvation. His counsels, on the other hand, are binding only upon those who, seeking a higher degree of perfection and a more excellent reward, voluntarily, assume them. These are such as celibacy, voluntary poverty, etc., and obedience to rule (monastic).––Bellarmin, 'De Monachis,' Cap. 7.
The wickedness of this distinction is evident–
1st. Because Christ demands the entire consecration of every Christian: after we have done all we are only unprofitable servants. Works of supererogation, therefore, are impossible.
2nd. All such will worship is declared abhorrent to God.––Colossians 2:18–23; 1 Timothy 4:3.
15. What judgment is to be formed of the good works of unrenewed men?
Unrenewed men retain some dispositions and affections in themselves relatively good, and they do many things in themselves right, and according to the letter of God’s law. Yet–
1st. As to his person, every unrenewed man is under God’s wrath and curse, and consequently can do nothing pleasing to him. The rebel in arms is in every thing a rebel until he submits and returns to his allegiance.
2nd. Love for God and regard to his authority are never his supreme motive in any of his acts. Thus while many of his actions are civilly good as respects his fellow–men, none of them can be spiritually good as it respects God. There is an obvious distinction between an act viewed in itself; and viewed in connection with its agent. The sinner, previous to justification and renewal, is a rebel; each one of his acts is the act of a rebel, though as considered in itself any single act may be either good, bad, or indifferent.
16. In what sense are good necessary salvation?
As the necessary and invariable fruits of both the change of relation accomplished in justification, and of the change of nature accomplished in regeneration, though never as the meritorious grounds or conditions of our salvation.
This necessity results, 1st, from the holiness of God; 2nd, from his eternal purpose, Ephesians 1:4; 2:10; 3rd, from the design and redemptive efficacy of Christ’s death, Ephesians 5:25–27; 4th, from the union of the believer with Christ, and the energy of his indwelling Spirit, John 15:5; Galatians 5:22; 5th, from the very nature of faith, which first leads to and then works by love, Galatians 5:6; 6th, from the command of God, 1 Thessalonians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:15; 7th, from the nature of heaven, Revelation 21:27.
17. What is the theory of the Antinomians upon this subject ?
Antinomians are, as their name signifies, those who deny that Christians are bound to obey the law. They argue that, as Christ has in our place fulfilled both the preceptive and the penal departments of God’s law, his people must be delivered from all obligation to observe it, either as a rule of duty or as a condition of salvation.––See above, Question 3, Chap. 25.
It is evident that all systems of Perfectionism, which teach (as the Pelagian and Oberlin theories) that men’s ability to obey is the measure of their responsibility, or (as the Papal and Armenian theories) that God, for Christ’s sake, has graciously reduced his demand from absolute moral perfection to faith and evangelical obedience, are essentially Antinomian. Because they all agree in teaching that Christians in this life are no longer under obligations to fulfill the Adamic law of absolute moral perfection.
Paul, in the 6th chapter of Romans, declares that this damnable heresy was charged as a legitimate consequent upon his doctrine in that day. He not only repudiates the charge, but, on the contrary, affirms that free justification through an imputed righteousness, without the merits of works, is the only possible condition in which the sinner can learn to bring forth holy works as the fruits of filial love. The very purpose of Christ was to redeem to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works, and this he accomplished by delivering them from the federal bondage of the law, in order to render them capable as the Lord’s freedmen of moral conformity to it, ever increasingly in this life, absolutely in the life to come.
18. What are the different senses which have been applied to the term 'merit'?
It has been technically used in two different senses. 1st. Strictly, to designate the common quality of all services to which a reward is due, ex justiciâ, on account of their intrinsic value and dignity. 2nd. Improperly, it was used by the Fathers as equivalent to that which results in or attains to a reward or consequent, without specifying the ground or virtue on account of which it is secured.––Turretin, 50. 17., Quaestio 5.
19. What distinction does the Romish Church, design to signalize by the terms 'merit of condignity' and the 'merit of congruity'?
The 'merit of condignity' they teach attaches only to works wrought subsequently to regeneration by the aid of divine grace, and is that degree of merit that intrinsically, and in the way of equal right, not by mere promise or covenant deserves the reward it attains at God’s hands. The 'merit of congruity' they teach attaches to those good dispositions or works which a man may, previously to regeneration, realize without the aid of divine grace, and which makes it congruous or specially fitting for God to reward the agent by infusing grace into his heart.
It is extremely difficult to determine the exact position of the Romish Church on this subject, since different schools of theologians in her midst differ widely, and the decisions of the Council of Trent are studiously ambiguous. The general belief appears to be that ability to perform good works springs from grace infused into the sinner’s heart for Christ’s sake, through the instrumentality of the sacraments, but that afterwards these good works merit, that is, lay for us the foundation of a just claim to salvation and glory. Some say, like Bellarmin, 'De Justific.,' 5, 1, and 4, 7, that this merit attaches to the good works of Christians intrinsically, as well as in consequence of God’s promise; others that these works deserve the reward only because God has promised the reward on the condition of the work.––'Coun. Trent,' Sess. 6., Cap. 16., and canons 24 and 32.
20. What is necessary that a work should be in the proper sense of the term meritorious ?
Turretin makes five conditions necessary to that end. 1st. That the work be not of debt, or which the worker was under obligation to render.––Luke 17:10. 2nd. That it is our own, i.e., effected by our own natural energy. 3rd. That it be perfect. 4th. That it be equal to the reward merited. 5th. That the reward be of justice due to such an act.––Turretin, 50. 17., Questio 5.
According to this definition, it is evident, from the absolute dependence and obligation of the creature, that he can never merit any reward for whatever obedience he may render to the commands of his Creator. 1st. Because all the strength he works with is freely given by God. 2nd. All the service he can render is owed to God. 3rd. Nothing he can do can equal the reward of God’s favor and eternal blessedness.
Under the covenant of works, God graciously promised to reward the obedience of Adam with eternal life. This was a reward, however, not of merit, but of free grace and promise. Every thing under that constitution depended upon the standing of the person before God. As long as Adam continued without sin, his services were accepted and rewarded according to promise. But from the moment he forfeited the promise, and lost his standing before God no work of his, no matter of what character, could merit any tiling at the hand of God.
21. How can it be Proved that our good works, even after the restoration of our person to God’s' favor by justification, do not merit heaven ?
1st. Justification proceeds upon the infinite merits of Christ, and on that foundation rests our title to the favor of God and all the infinite consequences thereof: Christ's merit, lying at the foundation and embracing all, excludes the possibility of our meriting any thing. 2nd. The law demands perfect obedience.–Romans 3:23; Galatians 5:3. 3rd. We are saved by grace not by works.––Ephesians 2:8, 9. 4th. All good dispositions are graces or gifts of God.—1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13. 5th. Eternal life itself is declared to be the gift of God.––1 John 5:11.
22. What do the scriptures teach concerning the good works of believers, and the rewards promised to them ?
Both the work and its reward are branches from the same gracious root. The covenant of grace provides alike for the infusion of grace in the heart, the exercise of this grace in the life, and the rewards of that grace so exercised. It is all of grace, grace for grace, grace added to grace, presented to us in this form of a reward:
1st. That it may act upon us as a rational motive to diligent obedience. 2nd. To mark that the gift of heaven and eternal blessedness is an act of strict legal Justice (1) in respect to the perfect merits of Christ, (2) in respect to God’s faithful adherence to his own free promise.––1 John 1:9. 3rd. To indicate that the heavenly reward stands in a certain gracious proportion to the grace given in the obedience on earth; (1) because God so wills it, Matthew 16:27;1 Corinthians 3:8; (3) because the grace given on earth prepares the soul to receive the grace given in heaven, 2 Corinthians 4:17.
IS PERFECT SANCTIFICATION ATTAINABLE BY BELIEVERS IN CHRIST IN THIS LIFE ?
23. What, in general terms, is perfectionism?
The various theories of perfectionism all agree in maintaining that it is possible for a child of God in this world to become, 1st, perfectly free from sin, 2nd, conformed to the law under which they now live.
They differ very variously among themselves, however, 1st, as to what sin is; 2nd, as to what law we are now obliged to fulfill; 3rd, as to the means whereby this perfection may be attained, whether by nature or by grace.
24. How does the Pelagian theory of the nature of man and of grace lead to perfectionism ?
Pelagians maintain, 1st, as to man’s nature, that it was not radically corrupted by the fall, and that every man possesses sufficient power to fulfill all the duties required of him, since God can not in justice demand that which man has not full power to do. 2nd. As to God’s grace, that it is nothing more than the favorable constitution of our own minds, and the influence exerted on them by the truth he has revealed to us, and the propitious circumstances in which he has placed us. Thus in the Christian church, and with the Christian revelation, men are, in fact, placed in the most propitious circumstances possible to persuade them to perform their duties. It follows from this system directly that every one who wishes may certainly attain perfection by using his natural powers and advantages of position with sufficient care.––'Wigger’s Historical View of Augustinianism and Pelagianism.'
25. What, according to the Pelagian theory, is the nature of the sin from which man may be perfectly free; what the law which he may perfectly fulfill, and what are the means by which this perfection may be attained?
They deny original and inherent corruption of nature, and hold that sin is only voluntary transgression of known law, from which any man may abstain if he will.
As to the law which man in his present state may perfectly fulfill, they hold that it is the single and original law of God, the requirements of which, however, in the case of every individual subject, are measured by the individual’s ability, and opportunities of knowledge. As to the means whereby this perfection may be attained, they maintain the plenary ability man’s natural will to discharge all the obligations resting upon him, and they admit the assistance of God’s grace only in the sense of the influence of the truth, and other favorable circumstances in persuading man to use his own power. Thus the means of perfect sanctification are, 1st, man’s own volition, 2nd, as helped by the study of the Bible, prudent avoidance of temptation, etc.
26. In what sense do Romanists hold the doctrine of perfection?
The decisions of the Council of Trent upon the subject, as upon all critical points, are studiously ambiguous. They lay down the principle that the law must be possible to them upon whom it is binding, since God does not command impossibilities. Men justified (sanctified) may by the grace of God dwelling in them satisfy the divine law, pro hujus vitœ statu , i.e., as graciously for Christ’s sake adjusted to our present capacities. They confess, nevertheless, that the just may fall into venial sins every day, and that while in the flesh no man can live entirely without sin (unless by a special privilege of God); yet that in this life the renewed can fully keep the divine law; and even by the observance of the evangelical counsels do more than is commanded; and thus, as many saints have actually done, lay up a fund of supererogatory merit.––'Council of Trent,' Session 6. Compare Chap. 11. and 16., and Canons 18, 23, and 32. See above, Question 14.
27. In what sense do they hold that the renewed may, in this life live without sin; in what sense fully satisfy the law; and by the use of what means do they teach that this perfection may be attained ?
As to sin, they hold the distinction between mortal and pardonable sins, and that the strong desire that remains in the bosom of the renewed, as the result of original and the fuel of actual sin, is not itself sin, since sin consists only in the consent of the will to the impulse of strong desire. In. accordance with these views they hold that a Christian in this life may live without committing mortal sins, but that he never can be free from the inward movements of strong desire, nor from liability to fall through ignorance, inattention, or passion, into venial sins.
As to the law, which a believer in this life may fully satisfy, they hold that as God is just and can not demand of us what is impossible, his law is graciously adjusted to our present capacities, as assisted by grace, and that it is this law pro hujus vitae statu, which we may fulfil.
As to the means whereby this perfection may be attained, they hold that divine grace precedes, accompanies, and follows all of our good works, which divine grace is to be sought through those sacramental and priestly channels which Christ has instituted in his church, and especially in the observance of works of prayer, fasting, and alms deeds, and the acquisition of supererogatory merit by the fulfillment of the counsels of Christ to chastity, obedience, and voluntary poverty.––'Council of Trent,' Sess. 14., Chapter 5., Sess. 6., Chapters 11. and 12., Sess. 5., Canon 5; 'Cat. Rom.,' Part 2., Chapter 2., Question 32, and Part 2., chapter 5., Question 59, and Part 3., Chapter 10., Questions 5––10.
28. In what form was the doctrine taught by the early Arminians ?
Arminius declared that his mind was in suspense upon this subject ('Writings of Arminius,' translated by Nichols, Vol. 1., p. 256). His immediate successors in the theological leadership of the remonstrant party, developed a theory of perfectionism apparently identical with that taught by Wesley, and professed by his disciples. 'A man can, with the assistance of divine grace, keep all the commandments of God perfectly, according to the gospel or covenant of grace. The highest evangelical perfection (for we are not teaching a legal perfection, which includes sinlessness entire in all respects and in the highest degree, and excludes all imperfection and infirmity, for this we believe to be impossible), embraces two things, 1st, a perfection proportioned to the powers of each individual; 2nd, a desire of making continual progress and increasing one’s strength more and more.'––Episcopius, quoted by Dr. G. Peck, 'Christian Perfection,' pp. 135 and 136.
29. What is the Wesleyan doctrine on this subject ?
1st. That although every believer as soon as he is justified is regenerated, and commences the incipient stages of sanctification, yet this does not exclude the remains of much inherent sin, nor the warfare of the flesh against the Spirit, which may continue for a long time, but which must cease at some time before the subject can be fit for heaven.
2nd. This state of progressive sanctification is not itself perfection, which is properly designated by the phrases 'entire' or 'perfect sanctification.' This, sooner or later, every heir of glory must experience; although the majority do not reach it long before death, it is the attainment of some in the midst of life and consequently it is the duty and privilege of all to desire, strive for, and expect its attainment now.
3rd. This state of evangelical perfection does not consist in an ability to fulfill perfectly the original and absolute law of holiness under which Adam was created, nor does it exclude all liability to mistake, or to the infirmities of the flesh, and of natural temperament, but it does exclude all inward disposition to sin as well as all outward commission of it, since it consists in a state in which perfect faith in Christ and perfect love for God fills the whole soul and governs the entire life, and thus fulfills all the requirements of the 'law of Christ,' under which alone the Christian’s probation is now held.
30. In what sense do they teach that men may live without sin ?
Mr. Wesley did not himself use, though he did not object to, the phrase 'sinless perfection.' He distinguished between 'sin, properly so called, i.e., a voluntary transgression of a known law, and sin, improperly so called, i.e., an involuntary transgression of a divine law, known or unknown,' and declared
'I believe there is no such perfection in this life as excludes these involuntary transgressions, which I apprehend to be naturally consequent on the ignorance and mistakes inseparable from mortality.' He also declares that the obedience of the perfect Christian 'can not bear the rigor of God’s justice, but needs atoning blood,' and consequently the most perfect 'must continually say, ‘forgive us our trespasses’,' and Dr. Peck says that the holier men are here 'the more they loathe and abhor themselves.' On the other hand they hold that a Christian may in this life attain to a state of perfect and constant love which fulfills perfectly all the requirements of the gospel covenant. Violations of the original and absolute law of God are not counted to the believer for sin, since for him Christ has been made the end of that law for righteousness, and for Christ’s sake he has been delivered from that law and been made subject to the ' law of Christ,' and that only is sin to the Christian which is a violation of this law of love. See Mr. Wesley’s 'Tract on Christian Perfection,' in the volume of 'Methodist Doctrinal Tracts,' pp. 294, 310, 312, and Dr. Peck’s 'Christian Doc. of Perfection,' p. 204.
31. What law do they say the Christian can in this life perfectly obey ?
Dr. Peck says, p. 244, 'To fallen humanity, though renewed by grace, perfect obedience to the moral law is impracticable during the present probationary state. And consequently Christian perfection does not imply perfect obedience to the moral law.'––Peck, p. 244.
This moral law they hold to be universal and unchangeable, all moral agents are under perpetual obligations to fulfill it, and they are in no degree released therefrom by their loss of ability through sin.––Peck, p. 271. This law sustains, however, a twofold relation to the creature. 1st. It is a rule of being and acting. 2nd. It is a condition of acceptance. In consequence of sin, it became impossible for men to obtain salvation by the law, and therefore Christ appeared and rendered to this law perfect satisfaction in our stead, and thus is for us the end of the law for righteousness. This law, therefore, remaining forever as a rule of duty, is abrogated by Christ as a condition of our acceptance. 'Nor is any man living bound to observe the Adamic more than the Mosaic law (I mean it is not the condition either of present or future salvation.)'––'Doctrinal Tracts,' p. 332. 'The gospel, which is the law of love, the ‘law of liberty’ offers salvation upon other terms, and yet provides the vindication of the broken law. The condition of justification at first is faith alone and the condition of continued acceptance is faith working by love.
There are degrees of faith, and degrees of love. . . . Perfect faith and perfect love is Christian perfection.'
'Christian character is estimated by the conditions of the gospel; Christian perfection implies the perfect performance of these conditions and nothing more.'
32. By what means do they teach this perfection is to be attained?
Wesley says, 'I believe this perfection is always wrought in the soul by a simple act of faith, consequently in an instant. But I believe there is a gradual work, both preceding and following that instant.'–quoted by Dr. Peck, pp. 47, 48.
They hold that this entire sanctification is not to be effected through either the strength or the merit of man, but entirely of grace, for Christ’s sake, by the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which faith involves our believing, 1st, 'in the sufficiency of the provisions of the gospel for the complete deliverance of the soul from sin.' 2nd. 'That these provisions are made for us.' 3rd. 'That this blessing is for us now.'–Peck, 'Ch. Doc. Sanc.,' pp. 405–407.
33. What is the Oberlin doctrine of perfection ?
'It is a full and perfect discharge of our entire duty, of all existing obligations to God, and all other beings. It is perfect obedience to the moral law.' This is God’s original and universal law, which, however, always, not because of grace, but of sheer. justice, adjusts its demands to the measure of the present ability of the subject. The law of God can not now justly demand that we should love him as we might have done if, we had always improved our time, etc. Yet a Christian may now attain to a state of 'perfect and disinterested benevolence,' may be, 'according to his knowledge, as upright as God is,' and as 'perfectly conformed to the will of God as is the will of the inhabitants of heaven.' And this, Mr.
Finney appears to teach, is essential for even the lowest stage of genuine Christian experience. The amount of the matter appears to be, God has a right to demand only that which we have the power to render therefore, it follows that we have full power to render all that God demands, and, therefore, we may be as perfectly conformed to his will as it regards us, as the inhabitants of heaven are to his will asit regards them.'
Pres. Mahan, 'Scripture Doctrines of Christian Perfection,' and Prof. Finney, 'Oberlin Evangelist,' Vol. 4., No. 19, and Vol. 4., No. 15, as quoted by Dr. Peck.
34. State the points of agreement and disagreement between these several theories, Pelagian, Romish, Armenian, and Oberlin?
1st. They all agree in maintaining that it is possible for men in this life to attain a state in which they may habitually and perfectly fulfill all their obligations, i.e., to be and do perfectly all that God requires them to be or do at present.
2nd. The Pelagian theory differs from all the rest, in denying the deterioration of our natural and moral powers, and consequently, in denying the necessity of the intervention of supernatural grace to the end of making men perfect.
3rd. The Pelagian and Oberlin theories agree in making the original moral law of God the standard of perfection. The Oberlin theologians, however, admitting that our powers are deteriorated by sin, hold that God’s law, as a matter of sheer justice, adjusts its demands to the present ability of the subject. The Romish theory regards the same law as the standard of perfection, but differs from the Pelagian theory in maintaining that the demands of this law are adjusted to man’s deteriorated powers; and on the other hand, it differs from the Oberlin theory, by holding that the lowering of the demands of this law in adjustment to the enfeebled powers of man, instead of being of sheer justice, is of grace for the merits of Christ. The Armenian theory differs from all the rest in denying that the original law is the standard of evangelical perfection; in holding that that law having been fulfilled by Christ, the Christian is now required only to fulfill the requirements of the gospel covenant of grace. This, however, appears to differ more in form than essence from the Romish position in this regard.
4th. The Romish and Armenian theories agree–– lst. In admitting that the perfect Christian is still liable to transgress the provisions of the original moral law, and that he is subject to mistakes and infirmities.
The Romanists calls them venial sins; the Armenian, mistakes or infirmities. 2nd. In referring all the work of making man perfect to the efficiency of the Holy Ghost, who is given for Christ’s sake. But they differ, on the other hand, 1st, as to the nature of that faith by which sanctification is effected, and, 2nd, as to the merit of good works.
35. What are the arguments upon which perfectionists sustain their theory, and how may they be answered ?
1st. They argue that this perfection is attainable in this life, (1) From the commands of God, who never will command impossibilities.–Matthew 5:48. (2) From the fact that abundant provision has already been made in the gospel for securing the perfect sanctification of God’s people; in fact, all the provision that ever will be made. (3) From the promises of God to redeem Israel from all his iniquities, etc.––Psalm 130:8; Ezekiel 36:25–29; 1 John 1:7, 9. (4) From the prayers of saints recorded in Scripture with implied approval.–Psalm 51:2; Hebrews 13:21.
2nd. They argue that this perfection has in fact been attained, (1) From biblical examples, as David.—Acts 9:22. See also Genesis 6:9; Job 1:1; Luke 1:6. (2) Modern examples—Peck’s 'Christian Perfection,' pp. 365–396.
1st. The Scriptures never assert that a Christian may in this lift attain to a state in which he may live without sin.
2nd. The meaning of special passages must be interpreted in consistency with the entire testimony of Scripture.
3rd. The language of Scripture never implies that man may here live without sin. The commands of God are adjusted to man’s responsibility, and the aspirations and prayers of the saints to their duties and ultimate privileges, and not to their present ability. Perfection is the true aim of the Christian’s effort in every period of growth and in every act. The terms 'perfect' and 'blameless' are often relative, or used to signify simple genuineness or sincerity. This is evident from the recorded fact–
4th. That all the perfect men of the Scriptures sometimes sinned; witness the histories of :Noah, Job, David, Paul, and compare Genesis 6:9, with Genesis 9:21, and Job 1:1, with Job 3:1, and 9:20; also see Galatians 2:11, 14; Psalm 19:12; Romans 7:; Galatians 5:17; Philippians 3:12–14.
36. What special objections bear against the Pelagian theory of perfection ?
This is a part of a wholly Anti–Christian system. Its constituent elements are a denial of the Scripture testimony with regard to original sin, and the work of the Spirit of grace in effectual calling, and an assertion of man’s ability to save himself. It involves low views of the guilt and turpitude of sin, and of the extent, spirituality, and unchangeableness of God’s holy law. This is the only perfectly consistent theory of perfection ever ventilated, and in the same proportion it is the most thoroughly unchristian.
37. What special objections bear against the Romish theory ?
This theory is inconsistent–
1st. With the true nature of sin. It denies that strong desire is sin, and admits as such only those deliberate acts of the will which assent to the impulse of strong desire. It distinguishes between mortal and venial sins. The truth is that every sin is mortal, and concupiscence, 'sin dwelling in me,' 'law in my members,' is of the very essence of sin.––Romans 7:8–23.
2nd. It is inconsistent with the nature of God’s holy law, which is essentially immutable, and the demands of which have never been lowered in accommodation to the weakened faculties of men.
3rd. It is essentially connected with their theory of the merit of good works, and of the higher merit of works of supererogation which is radically subversive of the essentials of the gospel.
38. What special objections bear against the Oberlin theory ?
This theory appears to assimilate more nearly than the others with the terrible self–consistency and the Anti–Christian spirit of the Pelagian view. It differs from that heresy, however, in holding–– 1st. That the law of God is, as a matter of sheer justice, accommodated to the weakened faculties of men. 2nd. That the shortcomings of men in the present life, as measured by the original law of God, are not sin, since a man’s duty is measured only by his ability. 3rd. In making the principle of this perfection to consist in 'perfect and disinterested benevolence.' In all these respects, also, this theory is inconsistent with the true nature of God’s law, the true nature of sin, and the true nature of virtue.
39. What special objections bear against the Armenian theory?
This view, as presented by the Wesleyan standard writers, is far less inconsistent with the principles and spirit of Christianity than either of the others, and consequently it is precisely in the same proportion less self–consistent as a theory, and less accurate in its use of technical language. These Christian brethren are to be honored for their exalted views, and earnest advocacy of the duty of pressing forward to the highest measures of Christian attainment, while it is to be forever lamented that their great founder was so far misled by the prejudices of system as to bind in unnatural alliance so much precious truth with a theory and terminology proper only to radical error. I will make here, once for all, the general explanation, that when stating the Armenian doctrine on any point, I have generally preferred to refer to the form in which the doctrine was explicitly defined by the Dutch Remonstrants rather than to the modified, and, as it seems to me, far less logically definite form in which it is set forth by the authorities of the Wesleyan churches, who properly style themselves Evangelical Arminians. I attribute the peculiar theoretical indefiniteness which appears to render their definitions obscure, especially on the subjects of justification and of perfection, to the spirit of a warm, loving, working Christianity struggling with the false premises of an Armenian philosophy.
1st. While over and over insisting upon the distinction as to the twofold relation sustained by the original law of God to man (1) as a rule of being and acting, (2) as a condition of divine favor, their whole theory is based upon a logical confusion of these two things so distinct. Dr. Peck teaches earnestly, and confirms by many Wesleyan testimonies, excellent Calvinistic doctrine upon the following points: The original law of God is universal and unchangeable, its demands never can be changed nor compromised.
Obedience to this law was the condition of the original covenant of works. This condition was broken by Adam, but, in our behalf perfectly fulfilled by Christ, and thus the integrity of God’s changeless law was preserved. Therefore, he goes on to argue, the believer is no longer under the law, but under the covenant of grace, i.e., to use Wesley’s own qualifying parenthesis 'as the condition of either present or future salvation.' Certainly, we answer, Christ is the end of the law for us for righteousness, in its forensic sense, that is, to secure our justification, but surely Christ did not satisfy that changeless law, in our place, in such a sense that it does not remain our rule of action, to which it is our duty to be personally conformed. The question of perfection is one which relates to our personal character, not to our relations; it is moral and inherent, and not forensic. To prove, therefore, what we also rejoice to believe, that the original law of God, under the gospel covenant, is no longer our condition of salvation, does not avail one iota towards proving that God, under the gospel, demands an obedience adjusted to any easier standard than was required before.
2nd. This theory is part of the Armenian view of the covenant of grace, which we regard so inconsistent with the gospel, and which Mr. Watson (see 'Institutes,' Part 2., Chap. 23.) appears to attempt to avoid while refusing to admit the imputation to the believer of Christ’s righteousness. This view is, that by Christ’s propitiation, he having fulfilled the original law of God, it is made consistent with divine justice to present salvation upon easier conditions, i.e., faith and evangelical obedience; Christian perfection requiring nothing more than the perfect fulfillment of these new gracious conditions. Now this view, besides confounding the ideas of law, and of covenant, and of rule, and of a condition, of a ground of justification, and of a standard of sanctification, is inconsistent with the broad teachings of the gospel concerning the righteousness of Christ, and the office of faith in justification. It makes the merit of Christ only in some uncertain and distant way the occasion of our salvation, and faith, and evangelical obedience, in the place of perfect obedience under the old covenant, the ground instead of the mere instrument and fruit of our justification. Logically developed, this theory must lead to the Romish doctrine as to the merit of good works.
3rd. This theory denies that mistakes and infirmities resulting from the effects of original sin, are themselves sin, yet admits that they are to be confessed, forgiveness implored for them, and the atonement of Christ’s blood applied to them, and that the more perfect a man becomes the more he abhors his own internal state. Surely this is a confusion of language, and abuse of the word sin. What is sin but (1) that which transgressed God’s original law, (2) which needs Christ’s atonement, (3) which should be confessed, and must be forgiven, (4) which lays a proper foundation for self–abhorrence.
40. What express declarations of Scripture are contradicted by every possible modification of the theory of Christian perfection?
1 Kings 8:46; Proverbs 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8.
41. How may it be shown to be in opposition to the experience of saints, as recorded in the scriptures?
See Paul’s account of himself, Romans 7:14–25; Philippians 3:12–14. See case of David, Psalm 19:12; Psalm 51:; of Moses, Psalm 90:8; Job 42:5, 6; of Daniel, 9:20. See Luke 18:13; Galatians 2:11–13; 6:1; James 5:16.
42. How does it conflict with the ordinary experience of God’s people ?
The more holy a man is, the more humble, self–renouncing, self–abhorring, and the more sensitive to every sin he becomes and the more closely he clings to Christ. The moral imperfections which cling to him he feels to be sins, laments and strives to overcome them. Believers find that their life is a constant warfare, and they need to take the kingdom of heaven by storm, and watch while they pray. They are always subject to the constant chastisement of their father’s loving hand, which can only be designed to correct their imperfections, and to confirm their graces. And it has been notoriously the fact that the best Christians have been those who have been the least prone to claim the attainment of perfection for themselves.
43. What are the legitimate practical effects of perfectionism ?
The tendency of every such doctrine must be evil, except in so far as it is modified or counteracted by limiting or inconsistent truths held in connection, which is pre–eminently the case with respect to the Wesleyan view, from the amount of pure gospel which in that instance the figment of perfectionism alloys. But perfectionism, by itself, must tend, 1st, to low views of God’s law; 2nd, to inadequate views of the heinousness of sin; 3rd, to a low standard of moral excellence; 4th, to spiritual pride and fanaticism.
AUTHORITATIVE STATEMENTS OF CHURCH DOCTRINE.
ROMISH DOCTRINE AS TO THE MORAL PERFECTION OF THE REGENERATE AS TO GOOD WORKS, AND WORKS OF SUPEREROGATION. As to their view of the MERIT OF GOOD
WORKS, see above, Chapter 33.
' Conc. Trident.,' Sess. 5, can. 5.—'If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema. . . . . But this holy Synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin). . . . This concupiscence, which the Apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin and inclines to sin. If any man is of a contrary sentiment, let him be anathema.'
' Conc. Trident.,' Sess. 6, can. 18.— 'If any one says that the commandments of God, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace are impossible to keep, let him be anathema.'
Bellarmin, 'De Justific.,' iv 10, sqq.–'If precepts are impossible they oblige no one, and hence the precepts are not precepts. Neither is it possible to devise wherein any one sins in respect to that which it is impossible to avoid.'
Ibid, ' De Monachis,' cap. 7.— 'A ‘council of perfection’ we call a good work, not commanded us by Christ, but declared; not appointed but commended. But it differs from a precept in respect to its matter subject, form, and end. (1) In respect to their matter (the difference) is twofold. First, because the matter of the precept is easier, that of the counsel more difficult, for the former is derived from the principles of nature, while the latter in some sense exceeds nature, e.g., for nature inclines to the preservation of conjugal fidelity, but not to abstaining from the conjugal relation. Secondly, because the matter of the precept is good . . . for the council includes the precept, which relates to the same matter, and adds something beyond the precept. (2) In respect to the subject, precepts and counsels differ, because the precept binds all men in common, while the counsel does not. (3) In respect to their form they differ, because the precept binds of its own inherent obligation, but the counsel through the will of man. (4) In respect to their end or effects they differ, because the precept observed has a reward, but when not observed a penalty, but the counsel when not observed has no penalty, but when observed has the greater reward.' Cap. 8.— 'It is the opinion of all Catholics that there are many true and proper evangelical counsels, but especially, viz., celibacy, poverty, and obedience (monastic), which are neither commanded to all, nor matters of indifference but grateful to God and by him commended (Matthew 19:11, sq., 21; 1 Corinthians 7:1–7.)
' Apology for Auburg Confession,' p. 91.—'The entire Scripture end the whole church declare that the Law can not be satisfied (by any thing within man’s power since the fall). This incomplete fulfilling of the law is accepted, not on its own account, but only through faith in Christ. Otherwise the law always accuses us. . . In this infirmity there is always sin, which may be charged to our account (for condemnation).'
' Formula Concordiœ,' p. 678.—'The papal and monastic doctrine, that a man after he is regenerated is able perfectly to fulfill the law of God in this life, is to be rejected.'
Ib., p. 589.—'Our Confession is, that good works most surely and indubitably follow a true faith, as the fruits of a good tree. We also believe that good works are entirely to be left out of account, not only when we are treating of justification, but even when we are debating concerning our eternal life.'
Ib., p. 700.—'Because those are not good works, which any one himself devises with good intention, or which are done according to human traditions, but those which God himself has prescribed and ordered in his own word. Because works truly good can be performed, not by the proper natural powers, but then only when the person is, by faith, reconciled with God, and is renewed by the Spirit, and is created anew to good works in Jesus Christ.'
' Heidelberg Catechism,' Q. 62.—'Our best works in the present life are all imperfect and stained with sin.'
' Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England,' Art. 12.—'Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after Justification, can not put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith; insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.'
Ib., Art. 14.—'Voluntary works besides, over and above, God’s commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, can not be taught without arrogancy and impiety; for by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, we are unprofitable servants.'
' Confess. Helvetica posterior,' p. 498.—'We teach that God gives an ample reward to those doing good works. Yet we refer this reward that the Lord gives, not to the merit of the men receiving it, but to the goodness, liberality, and truth of God, who promises and bestows it; who, while he owes nothing to any one, yet has promised that he will give a reward to his faithful worshippers.'
' West.Confession of Faith,' ch. 16, § 4.—'They who in their obedience attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, that they fall short of much, which in their duty they are bound to do' (see the whole chapter).
Ib., chap. 13, § 2.—'This sanctification is throughout in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life: there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.' §3.—'In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome: and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.'
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From Outlines of Theology by A. A. Hodge