The GOSPEL TRUTH
by Charles G. Finney
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" --Matthew 5:48.
God has two kinds of perfections, natural and moral. His natural perfections constitute His nature or essence and are His eternity, immutability, omnipotence, etc. They are called natural perfections because they have no moral character. God has not given them to Himself because He did not create Himself but existed from eternity with these attributes in full possession. All these God possesses in an infinite degree.
These natural perfections are not the perfection required. The attributes of our nature were created in us, and we are not required to produce any new natural attributes. It would not be possible. We are not required to possess any of them in the degree that God possesses them.
Christian perfection is not freedom from temptation. James says, "Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lusts, and enticed" (James 1:14). The sin is not in the temptations but in yielding to them. A person may be tempted by Satan, the appetites, or by the world and yet not have sin. All sin consists in voluntarily consenting to the desires.
The perfection required is not the infinite moral perfection that God has: man, being a finite creature, is not capable of infinite affections. God, being infinite in Himself, must be infinitely perfect. But this is not required of us.
THE OBEDIENCE OF LOVE
Christian perfection is perfect obedience to the law of God. The law of God requires perfect, disinterested, impartial benevolence--love to God and neighbor. It requires that we be motivated by the same feeling and act on the same principles that God acts upon. We must leave self out of the question as uniformly as He does and be as separated from selfishness as He is. We must be in our measure as perfect as God is.
Christianity requires that we do neither more nor less than the law of God prescribes. This is being, morally, just as perfect as God. Everything is here included: to feel as He feels, love what He loves, and hate what He hates--for the same reason that He loves and hates.
God loves Himself with the love of benevolence, or regards His own interest and happiness as the supreme good, because it is the supreme good. He requires us to love Him in the same way. He loves Himself with infinite complacency because He knows that He is infinitely worthy and excellent; and He requires the same of us. He also loves His neighbor as Himself, according to their real value. From the highest angel to the smallest worm, He regards their happiness with perfect love.
God cannot depart from this rule any more than we can without committing sin. For Him to do it would be much worse than for us to do it because he is greater than we are. God's very nature binds Him to this. He has created us moral beings in His own image, capable of conforming to the same rule as Himself. This rule requires us to have the same character as He does--to love impartially with perfect love and to seek the good of others as He does. This, and nothing less, is Christian perfection.
The command in the text, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect," is given under the gospel. Christ here commands the same thing that the law requires. The gospel does not require perfection as the condition of salvation, but no part of the obligation of the law is discharged. The gospel holds those who are under it to the same holiness as those under the law.
God cannot discharge us from the obligation to be perfect. If He were to attempt it, He would give us a license to sin. While we are moral beings, there is no power in the universe that can discharge us from the obligation to be perfect. Can God discharge us from the obligation to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? That would be saying that God doesn't deserve such love. And if He cannot discharge us from the whole law, He cannot discharge us from any part of it, for the same reason.
How perfect are we required to be? Where do you find a rule in the Bible to determine how much less holy you are allowed to be under the gospel than you would be under the law? Should we let each man judge for himself? Do you think it is your duty to be more perfect than you are now? Can you say, "Now I am perfect enough; I have some sin left, but I have gone as far as it is my duty to go in this world"? The more holy a person is, the more strongly he feels the obligation to be perfect.
CONFORMING TO GOD'S WILL
Christian perfection is attainable in this life. God commands us to be perfect as He is perfect. Can we say this is impossible? When God commands something, isn't there a natural possibility of doing what He commands?
I remember hearing an individual say he preached repentance to sinners because God commands it; but he would not preach that they could repent because God has nowhere said it was possible. What nonsense! Always understand that when God requires anything of men, they possess the faculties to do it. Otherwise, God requires of us impossibilities and sends sinners to hell for not doing what they couldn't do!
There can be no question of this. Perfection is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It requires us to exert our own powers. The law itself goes no further than to require the right use of the powers you possess.
Some may object that if there is a natural ability to be perfect, there is a moral inability, which comes to the same thing. Inability is inability, call it what you will. If we have moral inability, we are as unable as if our inability was natural.
First, there is no more moral inability to be perfectly holy than there is to be holy at all. You can as easily be perfectly holy as you can be holy at all. The true distinction between natural ability and moral ability is this: natural ability relates to the powers and faculties of the mind; moral ability relates only to the will. Moral inability is nothing but unwillingness to do a thing.
When you ask whether you have moral ability to be perfect, if you mean, "Am I willing to be perfect? I answer, "No." If you were willing to be perfect, you would be perfect, for the perfection required is only a perfect conformity of the will to God's law.
If you ask, then, "Are we able to will right?" the question implies a contradiction in supposing that there can be such a thing as a moral agent unable to choose or will. There is no such thing as moral inability. When we speak of inability to do a thing, we mean a lack of power. To say, therefore, that we are unable to will, is absurd.
Desperate unwillingness is the case. There is a stubborn unwillingness in sinners to become Christians and in Christians to come up to the full perfection required both by the law and gospel. Sinners may want to become Christians, and Christians may desire to be rid of all their sins, and may even agonize in prayer for it. They may think they are willing to be perfect, but they deceive themselves.
When Christians are truly willing to give up all sin and have no will of their own but merge in the will of God, then their bonds are broken. When they yield absolutely to God's will, then they are filled with all the fullness of God.
THE PROMISE OF HOLINESS
The question is this: Do I have a right to expect to be perfect in this world? Is there any reason for me to believe that I can be completely subdued and love God as much as the law requires? But is perfection attainable?
I believe it is. Much has been said about Christian perfection, and individuals who have entertained it have run into many wild notions. It seems that the devil anticipated the movement of the Church and created a negative state of feeling. The moment the doctrine of sanctification is presented, people cry, "Why, this is Perfectionism" (the idea that Jesus' perfection was so imputed to us that we cannot sin).
But despite the errors into which Perfectionists have fallen, there is such a thing taught in the Bible as Christian perfection. Everybody needs to know this. I entirely reject the peculiarities of modern Perfectionists. I have read their publications, and I cannot agree with many of their views. But Christian perfection is a duty, and I am convinced that it is attainable in this life.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, we are told, "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification." If you examine the Bible carefully, from one end to the other, you will find it plainly taught that God wills the holiness of Christians just as He wills sinners would repent. Why should He not reasonably expect it? He requires it. No man can show, from the Bible, that God does not require perfect sanctification in this world or that it is not just as attainable as any degree of sanctification.
If you have never looked into the Bible with this view, you will be astonished to see how many more passages there are that speak of deliverance from the commission of sin than there are that speak of deliverance from the punishment of sin. The passages that speak of deliverance from punishment are nothing compared to the others.
What is sanctification? Holiness! When a prophecy speaks of the sanctification of the Church are we to understand that it is partial sanctification? When God requires holiness is it partial holiness? Surely not. He promises holiness! We have so long understood the Scriptures in regard to the way things are that we lose sight of the real meaning. But if we look at the language of the Bible, I defy any man to prove that the promise and prophecies of holiness mean anything short of perfect sanctification.
Holiness is the great blessing promised throughout the Bible. Peter says, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakes of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). If that is not perfect sanctification, what is? These "exceeding great and precious promises" are given for this object, and by believing, appropriating, and using them, we can become partakers of the divine nature.
The promise of the Abrahamic covenant was that his posterity would possess the land of Canaan and that through him by the Messiah, all nations would be blessed. The seal of the covenant, circumcision, shows us what was the principal blessing intended: it was holiness. Peter tells us in another place that Jesus Christ was given so that He might sanctify unto Himself a peculiar people. (See 1 Peter 2:9.)
A GOSPEL OF PURIFICATION
All the purifications and other ceremonies of the Mosaic ritual signify the same thing; they all point to a Savior to come. Those ordinances of purifying the body were set forth, every one of them, with reference to the purifying of the mind--or holiness.
Under the gospel, the same thing is signified by baptism: the washing of the body represents the sanctification of the mind.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 promises the great blessing of the gospel: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them."
It is the same in Jeremiah 33:8: "And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me." Search the Bible for yourselves, and you will be astonished to find how uniformly the blessing of sanctification is held up as the principal blessing promised to the world through the Messiah.
The great objective of the Messiah's coming was to sanctify His people! Just after the fall it was prophesied that Satan would bruise His heel but that He would bruise Satan's head. And John tells us, "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).
Jesus has put Satan under His feet. His purpose is to win us back to our allegiance to God, sanctify us and purify our minds. As it is said in Zechariah 13:1, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness."
In the New Testament, we are told that the Savior was called "Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). And, "He was manifested to take away our sins," and "to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:5,8).
Paul speaks of the grace of God, or the gospel, as teaching us to deny ungodliness: "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:13-14).
In Ephesians, we learn that "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Christ came to sanctify the Church to such a degree that it should be absolutely "holy and without blemish." "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, there shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Romans 11:26-27).
In 1 John 1:9, it is said, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
What is to "cleanse us from all unrighteous," if it is not perfect sanctification? In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul prays a very remarkable prayer: "And 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."
What does "sanctify you wholly" mean? Does that mean perfect holiness? The apostle says not only that your whole soul and spirit but that your "body be preserved blameless." Could an inspired apostle make such a prayer if he didn't believe the blessing possible? He goes on to say, in the next verse, "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Perfect holiness in believers is the objective of the Holy Spirit. The whole tenor of Scripture respecting the Holy Spirit proves it. All the commands to be holy, the promises, the prophecies, the blessings, the judgments, and the duties of religion are means that the Holy Spirit employs for sanctifying the Church.
If being perfectly holy is not practical, then the devil has so completely accomplished his design in corrupting mankind that Jesus Christ is at fault and has no way to sanctify His people but to take them out of the world. Is it possible that Satan has the advantage over God? Is God's Kingdom to be only partially established, and are saints to spend half of their time serving the devil?
If holiness is not attainable in this world, it is either from a lack of motives in the gospel or a lack of power in the Spirit of God. In another life we may be like God, for we will see Him as He is. But why not here, if we have faith that is the "substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"? (Hebrews 11:1) There is a promise to those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" that "they shall be filled." (See Matthew 5:6.) What is it to be "filled" with righteousness but to be perfectly holy? Are we to go through life hungry, thirsty, and unsatisfied?
If the power of habit can be so far encroached upon that an impenitent sinner can be converted, why can't it be absolutely broken so that a converted person may be wholly sanctified? The greatest difficulty is when selfishness has control of the mind and habits of sin are wholly unbroken. This obstacle is great, and no power but the Holy Spirit can overcome it; and in many instances, God Himself cannot, consistent with His wisdom, use the means necessary to convert the soul. But after He has broken the power of selfishness and the obstinancy of habit and actually converted the individual, God has sufficient resources to sanctify the soul altogether!
Men feel that they have fastened upon themselves appetites and physical influences that they believe are impossible to overcome by moral means. Paul, in the 7th chapter of Romans, describes a man in great conflict with the body. But in the next chapter, he speaks of one who had gotten the victory over the flesh. "And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you" (Romans 8:10-11). This quickening of the body is the influence of the Spirit of God upon the body--the sanctification of the body.
You ask, "Does the Spirit of God produce a physical change in the body?" I will illustrate it by the case of the drunkard. The drunkard has brought upon himself a diseased state, an unnatural thirst so strong that it seems impossible he can ever be reclaimed and entirely overcome this physical appetite. I have heard of cases where drunkards have been made to see the sin of drunkenness in such a strong light that they abhorred strong drink and never had the least desire for it again.
I once knew an individual who was a slave to the use of tobacco. One day he became convinced that it was a sin for him to use it. The struggle against it finally drove him to God in such an agony of prayer that he got the victory at once over the appetite and never had the least desire for it again.
I am not now giving you philosophy but facts. I've heard of people over whom a life of sin had a perfect mastery, but in time of revival they have been subdued and their appetites have died. The mind may be occupied and absorbed with greater things, never giving a thought to the things that would revive the vicious appetites.
Any appetite of the body may be subdued if a sufficient impression is made upon the mind to break it up. Haven't you known times when one absorbing topic has so filled your mind and controlled your soul that the appetites of the body remained, for the time, perfectly neutralized? Suppose this state of mind became constant. Wouldn't all these physical difficulties that stand in the way of perfect holiness be overcome? "For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did" (Hebrews 7:19).
WHO SETS THE STANDARD?
Paul says "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect" (Philippians 3:12). But it is not said that he continued so until his death or that he never did attain perfect sanctification. The manner in which he speaks in the remainder of the verse indicates that he expected to become perfectly holy: "But I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12).
John speaks of himself as if he loved God perfectly. But even if the apostles were not perfect, this does not mean others cannot be. They clearly declared holiness to be their duty and were aiming at it as if they expected to attain it in this life. They command us to do the same.
Why shouldn't the Church be growing better? It seems to be the prevailing idea that the Church is to look back to the early saints as the standard. I think the reverse is true. We ought to aim at a much higher standard than theirs.
I believe many saints have attained perfect holiness. Enoch and Elijah were probably free from sin before they were taken out of the world. In different ages there have been numbers of Christians who were upright and had nothing against them. Men declare that nobody would say that they were free from sin for any other motive but pride. But why can't a man say he is free from sin, if it is so, without being proud? He can say he is converted without being proud!
Won't the saints say it in heaven, to the praise of the grace of God? Then why shouldn't they say it now from the same motive? I don't profess now to have attained perfect sanctification, but if I had attained it--if I felt that God had given me the victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil and made me free from sin--would I keep it a secret and let my brethren stumble on in ignorance of what the grace of God can do? Never. I would tell them that they could expect complete deliverance if they would only lay hold of Christ. He came to save His people from their sins.
I have recently read John Wesley's "Plain Account of Christian Perfection." I wish every member of the Church would read it. I would also recommend the memoir of James Brainerd Taylor. I have read it three times within a few months. It is plain that he believed that Christian perfection is a duty and is attainable by believers in this life.
Sometimes you hear people argue against Christian perfection on the ground that a man who was perfectly holy couldn't exist in this world. People think that if a person was perfectly sanctified and loved God perfectly, he would be in such a state of excitement that he couldn't remain in the body, eat or sleep, or attend to the duties of life. But the Lord Jesus Christ was a man, subject to all the temptations of other men. He also loved God with all His heart, soul, and strength. Yet He wasn't in such a state of excitement that He couldn't eat, sleep, or work at His trade as a carpenter.
ACCEPTING GOD'S GRACE
Christians don't believe that God wills them to be perfectly sanctified in this world. They know He commands them to be perfect, as He is perfect. But they think He is secretly unwilling. They say, "Why doesn't He do more to make us perfect?"
Sinner reason the same way. They say, "I don't believe He wills my repentance; if He did, He would make me repent." God may prefer their continued impenitence and damnation to using influences other than those He uses to bring them to repentance.
If God were to bring all the power of His government to bear on one individual, He might save him. But at the same time, it would so derange His government that it would be a greater evil than for that individual to go to hell.
In the same way, God has furnished Christians with all the means of sanctification and requires them to be perfect. He desires that they should do exactly what He commands them to do.
Hunger and thirst after holiness is not holiness. The desire of a thing isn't the thing desired. If they hunger and thirst after holiness, they ought to give God no rest until He fulfills His promise that they will be made perfectly holy.
Christians think they are to remain in sin, and all they hope for is forgiveness and holiness in heaven. But the whole framework of the gospel is designed to break the power of sin and fill men with all the fullness of God. If the Church would read the Bible and lay hold of every promise, they would find them great and precious.
How many are seeking holiness by their own resolutions and works--their fastings, prayers, and activities--instead of taking hold of Christ by faith. It is all work, when it should be by faith in "Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30).
When they take hold of the strength of God, they will be sanctified. Faith will bring Christ right into the soul and fill them with the same Spirit that breathes through Himself. These dead works are nothing. Faith must sanctify and purify the heart. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and brings Jesus into the soul. The life that we live here should be by faith in the Son of God. It is from not knowing or not regarding this that there is so little holiness in the Church.
Instead of taking scriptural views of their dependence to see where their strength is and realizing how willing God is to give His Holy Spirit to them that ask, too many Christians sit in unbelief and sin to "wait for God's time." They call this "depending on God." The Holy Spirit is there with power to enlighten, lead, sanctify, kindle the affections, and fill the soul continually with all the fullness of God! Give up your soul to His control and hold on to the arm of God. His grace is sufficient!
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