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man has attained, or in how high a degree soever he is perfect, he hath still need to “grow in grace," and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his Saviour.
II. 1. In what sense, then, are Christians perfect? This is what I shall endeavour, in the Second place, to show. But it should be premised, that there are several stages in Christian life, as in natural;—some of the children of God being but new-born babes; others having attained to more maturity. And accordingly St. John, in his First Epistle, (ii. 12, &c.,) applies himself severally to those he terms little children, those he styles young men, and those whom he entitles fathers. “I write unto you, little children,” saith the Apostle, “ because your sins are forgiven you :” Because thus far you have attained,-being “ justified freely,” you “have peace with God, through Jesus Christ.” “I write unto you, young men,
have overcome the wicked one;" or, (as he afterwards addeth,)“ because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you.” Ye have quenched the fiery darts of the wicked one, the doubts and fears wherewith he disturbed your first peace; and the witness of God, that your sins are forgiven, now abideth in your heart. “I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning.” Ye have known both the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit of Christ, in your inmost soul. Ye are “perfect men,” being grown up to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."
2. It is of these chiefly I speak in the latter part of this discourse : For these only are perfect Christians. But even babes in Christ are in such a sense perfect, or born of God, (an expression taken also in divers senses,) as, First, not to commit sin. If any doubt of this privilege of the sons of God, the question is not to be decided by abstract reasonings, which may be drawn out into an endless length, and leave the point just as it was before. Neither is it to be determined by the experience of this or that particular person. Many may suppose they do not commit sin, when they do; but this proves nothing either way. To the law and to the testimony we appeal. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” By His word will we abide, and that alone. Hereby we ought to be judged.
3. Now, the word of God plainly declares, that even those who are justified, who are born again in the lowest sense,“ do not continue in sin ;” that they cannot “live any longer therein ;"
(Rom. vi. 1, 2;) that they are “ planted together in the likeness of the death" of Christ; (verse 5;) that their “old man is crucified with him," the body of sin being destroyed, so that henceforth they do not serve sin ; that, being dead with Christ, they are free from sin ; (verses 6, 7 ;) that they are “dead unto sin, and alive unto God;" (verse 11;) that “sin hath no more dominion over them," who are not under the law, but under grace;' but that these,“ being free from sin, are become the servants of righteousness.” (Verses 14, 18.)
4. The very least which can be implied in these words, is, that the persons spoken of therein, namely, all real Christians, or believers in Christ, are made free from outward sin. And the same freedom, which St. Paul here expresses in such variety of phrases, St. Peter expresses in that one: (1 Peter iv. 1, 2:) “ He that hath suffered in the flesh, hath ceased from sin, that he no longer should live to the desires of men, but to the will of God.” For this ceasing from sin, if it be interpreted in the lowest sense, as regarding only the outward behaviour, must denote the ceasing from the outward act, from any outward transgression of the law.
5. But most express are the well-known words of St. John, in the third chapter of his First Epistle, verse 8, &c.: “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 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." And those in the fifth : (Verse 18:) “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."
6. Indeed it is said, this means only, He sinneth not wilfully; or he doth not commit sin habitually; or, not as other men do ; or, not as he did before. But by whom is this said ? by St. John? No: There is no such word in the text; nor in the whole chapter; nor in all his Epistle; nor in any part of his writings whatsoever. Why then, the best way to answer a bold assertion, is, simply to deny it. And if any man can prove it from the word of God, let him bring forth his strong reasons.
7. And a sort of reason there is, which has been frequently brought to support these strange assertions, drawn from the examples recorded in the word of God: “What !" say they,
“ did not Abraham himself commit sin,-prevaricating, and denying his wife? Did not Moses commit sin, when he provoked God at the waters of strife ? Nay, to produce one for all, did not even David, the man after God's own heart, commit sin, in the matter of Uriah the Hittite ; even murder and adultery ?" It is most sure he did. All this is true. But what is it you would infer from hence? It may be granted, First, that David, in the general course of his life, was one of the holiest men among the Jews; and, Secondly, that the holiest men among the Jews did sometimes commit sin. But if you would hence infer, that all Christians do and must commit sin as long as they live; this consequence we utterly deny : It will never follow from those premises.
8. Those who argue thus, seem never to have considered that declaration of our Lord: (Matt. xi. 11 :) “Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist : Notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” I fear, indeed, there are some who have imagined “the kingdom of heaven," here, to mean the kingdom of glory; as if the Son of God had just discovered to us, that the least glorified saint in heaven is greater than any man upon earth! To mention this is sufficiently to refute it. There can, therefore, no doubt be made, but “the kingdom of heaven," here, (as in the following verse, where it is said to be taken by force, or, " the kingdom of God," as St. Luke expresses it,- is that kingdom of God on earth whereunto all true believers in Christ, all real Christians, belong. In these words, then, our Lord declares two things : First, that before his coming in the flesh, among all the children of men there had not been, one greater than John the Baptist; whence it evidently follows, that neither Abraham, David, nor any Jew, was greater than John. Our Lord, Secondly, declares, that he which is least in the kingdom of God (in that kingdom which he came to set up on earth, and which the violent now began to take by force) is greater than he :-Not a greater Prophet, as some have interpreted the word; for this is palpably false in fact; but greater in the grace of God, and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we cannot measure the privileges of real Christians by those formerly given to the Jews. Their “ministration," (or dispensation,) we allow, “ was glorious ;" but ours “exceeds
in glory.” So that whosoever would bring down the Christian dispensation to the Jewish standard, whosoever gleans up the examples of weakness, recorded in the Law and the Prophets, and thence infers that they who have “put on Christ” are endued with no greater strength, doth greatly err, neither knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.”
9. “But are there not assertions in Scripture which prove the same thing, if it cannot be inferred from those examples ? Does not the Scripture say expressly, 'Even a just man sinneth seven times a day ??" I answer, No: The Scripture says no such thing. There is no such text in all the Bible. That which seems to be intended is the sixteenth verse of the twenty-fourth chapter of the Proverbs; the words of which are these : “A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again." But this is quite another thing. For, First, the words “ a day," are not in the text. So that if a just man fall seven times in his life, it is as much as is affirmed here. Secondly, here is no mention of falling into sin at all; what is here mentioned is, falling into temporal affliction. This plainly appears from the verse before, the words of which are these : “Lay not wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; spoil not his restingplace." It follows, “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again; but the wicked shall fall into mischief." As if he had said, “God will deliver him out of his trouble ; but when thou fallest, there shall be none to deliver thee."
10. “But, however, in other places, continue the objectors, “ Solomon does assert plainly, “There is no man that sinneth not;' (1 Kings viii. 46 ; 2 Chron. vi. 36 ;) yea, “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not." (Eccles. vii: 20.)” I answer, Without doubt, thus it was in the days of Solomon. Yea, thus it was from Adam to Moses, from Moses to Solomon, and from Solomon to Christ. There was then no man that sinned not. Even from the day that sin entered into the world, there was not a just man upon earth that did good and sinned not, until the Son of God was manifested to take away our sins. It is unquestionably true, that “the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant.” And that even so they (all the holy men of old, who were under the Jewish dispensation) were, during that infant state of the Church, “in bondage under the elements of the world." 66 But when the fulness of the time was come,
God sent forth his Son, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that they might receive the adoption of sons;"—that they might receive that “grace which is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ ; who hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” (2 Tim. i. 10.) Now, therefore, they are no more servants, but sons.” So that, whatsoever was the case of those under the law, we may safely affirm with St. John, that, since the gospel was given, “ he that is born of God sinneth not."
11. It is of great importance to observe, and that more carefully than is commonly done, the wide difference there is between the Jewish and the Christian dispensation ; and that ground of it which the same Apostle assigns in the seventh chapter of his Gospel. (Verses 38, &c.) After he had there related those words of our blessed Lord, “He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,” he immediately subjoins, “This spake he of the Spirit, ου εμελλον λαμβανειν οι σις ευοντες εις αυτον,-which they who should believe on him were afterwards to receive. For the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” Now, the Apostle cannot mean here, (as some have taught,) that the miracle-working power of the Holy Ghost was not yet given. For this was given; our Lord had given it to all the Apostles, when he first sent them forth to preach the gospel. He then gave them power over unclean spirits to cast them out; power to heal the sick; yea, to raise the dead. But the Holy Ghost was not yet given in his sanctifying graces, as he was after Jesus was glorified. It was then when “he ascended up on high, and led captivity captive,” that he “received” those “ gifts for men, yea, even for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them.” And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, then first it was, that they who “waited for the promise of the Father” were made more than conquerors over sin by the Holy Ghost given unto them.
12. That this great salvation from sin was not given till Jesus was glorified, St. Peter also plainly testifies; where, speaking of his brethren in the flesh, as now.“receiving the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls," he adds, (1 Peter i. 9, 10, &c.,) “Of which salvation the Prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace," that is, the