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ing an unspeakable tenderness for their persons, and longing for their welfare, does not cease to commend them to God in prayer, as well as to plead their cause. before men who speaks comfortably to them, and labours by all his words, to strengthen their hands in God. He assists them to the uttermost of his power in all things, spiritual and temporal. He is ready to spend and be sentp for them; yea, to lay down his life for their sake.
6. Thou, O man of God, think on these things. thou art already in the way, go on. If thou hast heretofore mistook the path, bless God who hath brought thee back. And now run the race which is set before thee, in the royal way of universal love. Take heed, lest thou be either wavering in thy judgment, or straitened in thy bowels. But keep an even pace, rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints, and grounded in love, in true Catholic love, till thou art swallowed up in love for ever and ever.
PHIL. iii. 12.
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.
HERE is scarce any expression in holy writ, which has given more offence than this. The word perfect is what many cannot bear. The very sound of it is an abomination to them. And whosoever preaches perfection (as the phrase is) i. e. asserts that it is attainable in this life, runs great hazard of being accounted by them, worse than a Heathen man or a Publican.
2. And hence some have advised, wholly to lay aside the use of those expressions: " because they have given so great offence." But are they not found in the oracles of God? If so, by what authority, can any messen
ger of God lay them aside, even though all men should be offended? We have not so learned Christ; neither may we thus give place to the devil. Whosoever God hath spoken, that will we speak, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear: knowing that then alone can any minister of Christ be pure from the blood of all men, when he hath not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God.
3. We may not therefore lay these expressions aside, seeing they are the words of God, and not of man. But we may, and ought to explain the meaning of them; that those who are sincere of heart, may nct err to the right-hand or to the left, from the mark of the prize of their high calling. And this is the more needful to be done, because in the verse already repeated, the apostle speaks of himself as not perfect : not, saith he, as though I were already perfect. And yet immediately after, in the fifteenth verse, he speaks of himself, yea and many others, as perfect. Let us, saith he, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.
4. In order therefore to remove the difficulty arising from this seeming contradiction, as well as to give light to them who are pressing forward to the mark, and that those who are lame be not turned out of the way, I shall endeavour to shew,
First, In what sense Christians are not, and,
I. 1. In the first place I shall endeavour to shew, in what sense Christians are not perfect. And both from experience and scripture it appears, first, that they are not perfect in knowledge: they are not so perfect in this life, as to be free from ignorance. They know, it may be, in common with other men, many things relating to the present world; and they know, with regard to the world to come, the general truths which God hath revealed. They know likewise (what the natural man receiveth not for these things "are spiritually discerned) what manner of love it is, wherewith the Father hath loved them, that they should be called the sons of God" they know the mighty working of bis Spirit in their hearts, and the wisdom of his providence, `diNo. X. 3 Y
recting all their paths, and causing all things to work together for their good. Yea, they know in every circumstance of life, what the Lord requireth of them, and how to keep a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward man.
2. But innumerable are the things which they know not. Touching the Almighty himself, they cannot search him out to perfection. Lo, these are but a part of his ways; but the thunder of his power, who can understand?" They cannot understand, I will not say, how "there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one;" or how the eternal Son of God took upon himself the form of a servant but not any one attribute, not any one circumstance of the divine nature. Neither is it for them to know the times and seasons, when God will work his great works upon the earth; no, not even those which he hath in part revealed, by his servants and prophets, since the world began. Much less do they know, when God having accomplished the number of his elect, will hasten his kingdom: when the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat."
3. They know not the reasons even of many of his present dispensations with the sons of men: but are constrained to rest here, tho' clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his seat. Yea, often with regard to his dealings with themselves doth their Lord say unto them, What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. And how little do they know of what is ever before them, of even the visible works of his hands? How he spreadeth the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing? How he unites all the parts of this vast machine by a secret chain which cannot be broken? So great is the ignorance, so very little the knowledge of even the best of men.
4. No one then is so perfect in this life, as to be free from ignorance. Nor, secondly, from mistake, which indeedis almost an unavoidable consequence of it: seeing those who know but in part, are ever liable to err, touching the things which they know not. 'Tis true, the children of God do not mistake, as to the things essential to salvation.
salvation. They do not put darkness for light, or light for darkness, neither seek death in the error of their life. For they are taught of God, and the way which he teaches them, the way of holiness, is so plain, that the wayfaring man, tho' a fool, need not err therein. But in things unessential to salvation, they do err, and that frequently. The best and wisest of men are frequently mistaken, even with regard to facts: believing those things not to have been, which really were, or those to have been done,, which were not. Or suppose they are not mistaken as to the fact itself, they may be, with regard to its circumstances ; believing them, or many of them, to have been quite different, from what in truth they were. And hence cannot but arise many farther mistakes.. Hence they may believe either past or persent actions, which were, or are evil, to be good; as such as were, or are good to be evil. Hence also they may judge, not according to truth, with regard to the characters of men: and that not only by supposing good men to be better, or wicked men to be worse than they are; but by believing them to have been, or to be good men, who were, or are very wicked: or, perhaps, those to have been, or to be wicked men, who were, or are holy and unreprovable.
5. Nay, with regard to the holy scriptures themselves, as careful as they are to avoid it, the best of men are liable to mistake, and do mistake day by day; especially with respect to those parts thereof, which less immedi ately relate to practice. Hence even the children of God are not agreed, as to the interpretation of many places in holy writ: nor is their difference of opinion any proof that they are not the children of God on either side. But it is a proof, that we are no more to expect any living man to be infallible, than to be omniscient.
6. If it be objected to what has been observed under this and the preceding head, that St. John speaking to his brethren in the faith, says, Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things', 1 John ji. 20. The answer is plain. "Ye know all things that are needful for your soul's health." That the apostle never designed to extend this farther, that he could not speak it in an absolute sense, is clear first from hence, that otherwise he would describe the disciple as above his master seeing Christ 3 Y 2
himself, as man, knew not all things.-Of that hour, saith he, knoweth no man, no not the Son, but the Father only. It is clear, secondly, from the apostle's own words that follow, These things have I written unto you concerning them that deceive you as well as from his frequently repeated caution, Let no man deceive you: which had been altogether needless, had not those very persons, who had that unction from the Holy, One been liable not to ignorance only, but to mistake also.
7. Even Christians therefore are not so perfect, as to be free either from ignorance or error. We may, thirdly, add nor from infirmities. Only let us take care. to understand this word aright. Only let us not give that soft title to known sins, as the manner of some is. So, one man tells us, "Every man has his infirmity, and mine is drunkenness :" another has the infirmity of uncleanness; another that of taking God's holy name in vain. And yet another has the infirmity of calling his brother, Thou fool, or returning railing for railing. It is plain, that all you who thus speak, if ye repent not, shall with your infirmities, go quick into hell. But I mean hereby, not only those which are properly termed bodily infirmities, but all those inward or outward imperfections, which are not of a moral nature. Such are weakness or slowness of understanding, dullness or confusedness of apprehension, incoherency of thought, irregular quickness or heaviness of imagination.
Such (to mention no more of this kind) is the want of a ready or ret entive memory. Such in another kind are, those which are commonly in some measure consequent upon these namely, slowness of speech, impropriety of language, ungracefulness of pronunciation: to which one might add a thousand nameless defects, either in conversation or behaviour. These are the infirmities which are found in the best of men, in a larger or smaller proportion. And from these none can hope to be perfectly freed, till the spirit returns to God that gave it.
8. Nor can we expect till then, to be wholly free from temptation. Such perfection belongeth not to this life. It is true, there are those who being given up to work all uncleanness with greediness, scarce perceive the temptations which they resist not, and so seem to