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The goodness, tender love, and wonderful condescension of the Savior are also manifest, and acted out in his constant and kind attendance on believers, though they be so imperfect and sinful, and offend in so many things, and are constantly guilty of that which would be sufficient to provoke him to give them up to sin and ruin, were he not infinitely good and kind. There is much more opportunity to exercise and discover this goodness and condescending grace, forbearance, and long-suffering, than if they were perfectly innocent and holy from the time of their conversion. This remark is illustrated by the character and conduct of the true disciples of Christ, when he was on earth, in the human nature, and his goodness, condescension, and forbearance towards them. They had, and discovered much selfishness and pride, worldliness, ingratitude, stupidity, and unbelief. They were slow of heart to believe, to learn, and get understanding, under the teaching of Christ, and in his school, while he was so abundant in his labors with them. They were honest and true friends to their master, but did not improve the advantages which they had, as they ought to have done, and in many instances grossly abused them; yet Christ did not leave off his kindness to them, but bore with them in all their dulness and wickedness, and loved them unto the end, and took effectual methods to cure all of them of their great moral disorders, and prepare them to enter into a state of perfect holiness at death, except Judas the traitor, who never was a true disciple. Had they been perfectly holy from the time they commenced his disciples, or at any time while he was with them, there would not have been such occasion and opportunity for Christ to exercise and discover such condescending grace and long-suffering towards them.
Thus he treats all his true disciples while in this life. Their imperfections and sins, and froward dispositions, by which they abuse him in all his goodness to them, call for infinite conde. scension, grace, and forbearance, in the continuance of his loving-kindness to them. They are, in some measure, sensible of this while in this world, and lament their sinful defects and great wickedness, and admire the goodness and patience of the Redeemer, in bearing with them, and not casting them into hell; but still continue very far from what they know they ought to be. But in heaven they will see this in a more clear light, and forever remember, and with the most sensible gratitude admire and adore the condescension and wonderful
grace, which the Savior exercised towards them while they were so stupid, perverse, and abusive. This could not take place, were real Christians perfectly holy in this life.
The truth and faithfulness of the Redeemer are also, by this, tried and made conspicuous. He promises that he will never leave nor forsake, or cast out them who come to hiin, and enter into covenant with him. And he fulfils his word, and is faithful to them, though they are in such an awful and provoking degree perverse and abusive. Though they fall, they shall not be utterly cast down; for the Redeemer upholdeth them with his hand. (Ps. xxxvii. 24.) When they transgress, he often visits their sin with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes. He chastiseth them for their profit, that they may be partakers of his holiness; yet he will not utterly take away his loving-kindness from them, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail. (Ps. Ixxxix. 30–33.)
Thus the wisdom and goodness of God appear, in ordering it so that no man, even the greatest saint, shall be perfectly holy in this life; but all the redeemed shall, in this world, be very imperfect and sinful, from the reasons which have been mentioned, and the ends which are answered hereby. More might be thought of and mentioned, and there is no reason to think that the one half are discerned by us now. A clear and full view of the wisdom and goodness of God in this is reserved to the future state, when the redeemed will review all the dispensations of Heaven, and the wise counsel and works of him who is “wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working” towards themselves and the church, with wonder, gratitude, and everlasting joy, “ Saying, with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever.” (Rev. v. 12, 13.)
But though the wisdom and goodness of God appear in ordering it so that no man in this life shall attain to sinless perfection, and that the church on earth should, by passing through a state of discipline, trial, and temptation, be trained up for a perfectly holy and happy state in heaven, and that this shall be the common lot of Christians; yet, for equally • wise reasons, there are some exceptions with respect to the latter. Some are taken out of the world immediately, or soon after their conversion, and are made perfectly holy, without passing through a scene of trial, temptation, and sinful imperfection. The thief who was converted on the cross is an instance of this. And how many are converted on their deathbed and just before they pass into the invisible world, cannot be certainly determined by us, while in this state; and all the infants who are saved are instances of this.
It has been a question with some, whether Christians ought
to pray that they may be perfectly holy in this life. Some have thought this question must be answered in the aflirmative, and that believers may, and ought to, pray for perfect holiness while in this world, since it is their duty to be perfectly holy, and it is desirable, and, therefore, ought to be desired; and, consequently, they may and ought to pray for it.
ANSWER. It is, in itself considered, desirable to be perfectly holy; and this must appear desirable to all Christians, viewed in and by itself. But as God has determined and declared this shall not be, that any man shall be without sir in this life; and, therefore, it is known that it is not, on the whole, best that any man should be perfectly holy in this world; in this view of it, it is not desirable, nor ought any to pray for it. An event which is contrary to the known will of God that it should take place, is not desirable, in this view of it, and no one ought to pray that it may take place; for such a desire and prayer is opposition to the declared will of God, and carries in it real rebellion against him. No man ought to pray for any thing without an entire resignation to the will of God: therefore, he ought not to pray for any thing but on supposition that it is agreeable to the will of God. But no such supposition can be made, when God has already declared it is not agreeable to his will to grant it. It has been proved, that God has revealed that it is not his will that any man shall he perfectly holy in this life; therefore, no man can, in this view of it, pray for perfect holiness while in this life, with resignation to the will of God; and, therefore, ought not to pray for it. This would be praying for that which is known not to be desirable, and not wisest and best that it should take place, and is opposition to the known will of God, which is oppesition to God.
Therefore, it is not to be supposed that a Christian does ever pray that he may be perfectly holy in this life, while he has a full conviction in his mind that it is contrary to the revealed will of God that this should ever take place in any instance. But a Christian may not have attended to the evidence there is from the Bible, that no man is to be perfectly holy in this life; or through some prejudice not be convinced that this is there revealed, and consequently may pray that he may be perfectly holy while in this world, and not know or believe that he asks for that which is contrary to the will of God to grant. In this case his sin consists in not properly attending to what God has revealed concerning this, or in not believing it, though the evidence be clearly set before him.
And as the Christian is not omniscient, and sees not every truth at once, or with equal clearness and constancy, of which
he has been convinced in theory and speculation, and one thing has a vastly greater impression on his mind than another, and at different times the same truth may have much more of his attention than at another, and make a more sensible impression; it is, therefore, possible that he should have such a clear view and great and sensible impression of his own sinfulness, of the evil of sin and the hatefulness of it, and of the desirableness of deliverance from it, and of being perfectly holy and conformed to Christ, as earnestly to pray that, if it be consistent with the will of God, he may be freed from all sin, and live a perfectly holy life for time to come; not at that time reflecting, that God has revealed that no man shall be so in this life, or thinking any more of it than if it were not true: and yet he cannot be said to disbelieve it; for as soon as it comes into his view, and he reflects upon it, he believes it, and withdraws his petition. This is doubtless possible, and may have taken place in many instances, and perhaps is not sinful."
* Perhaps the prayer of the Redeemer may well be accounted for in this way, when he said in the garden, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. xxvi. 39.) The human mind of Christ had such a view and sense of the sufferings which were before him, that it was in a degree overborne and swallowed up with the dreadfulness of them, and the impossibility of his going through them without more divine assistance than he then experienced. And it was so ordered by God, that the absolute necessity of his suffering thus should not then be in view, his mind being wholly arrested by the view and sense of his sufferings, and the dreadfulness of the cup which was then set before him, and the human nature did, in a sense, shrink back at the view of it; and in this situation of mind, he prayed as above. It was wise and important that the human nature of the Redeemer should be placed in such a situation at this time, for two reasons. First. That he might have the best opportunity to discover his disposition, and how he would act under this severe trial, when his sufferings were set before him in all the greatness and dreadfulness of them. The dreadful cup was set before him, that he might have the clearest sight of it; and, in this situation, discover what he chose, and whether he was willing to drink it, if necessary for the glory of God and the salvation of the elect, and make the choice in the sight of all worlds, that he might be, and appear to be, perfectly voluntary, and take this suffering upon himself, when he was in a situation to have the clearest view and greatest sense possible of the evil to be suffered, of the dreadful ingredients of the bitter cup. In this most trying situation, he voluntarily gave himself up to this dreadful suffering, if this were necessary and the will of his Father: the latter not being present and so impressed on his mind as the former, as a certain reality; and so was in a measure out of view, and did not demand his particular attention, in consequence of a particular divine influence on his mind at that time. Secondly. By this, the necessity of the Redeemer's suffering as he did, in order to the pardon and salvation of sinners, and the impossibility of their being saved in any other way but by his making atonement for their sin by his own blood, and being made a curse in their stead, was set in a most clear and striking light. Since the infinitely worthy Redeemer, the only begotten, well beloved Son of God did not consent to suffer on any other supposition, and earnestly prayed that he might not suffer, if it were possible for him to be released from it, consistent with the glory of God and the salvation of sinners, his petition would have been granted, if it were possible that he should not suffer and yet these ends be answered.
I. From the subject of this section, we may be certain that they are not real Christians who say or think they are arrived to such a perfect state as to live without sin. A Christian may, through the prejudices of education, ignorance, or otherwise, think that some Christians may, and actually do, attain to sinless perfection in this life; but he can never think himself to be without sin. His acquaintance with the law of God, in the spirituality and extent of it, and with his own heart, is such, that by keeping these in view, and comparing them with each other, his own sinfulness stares him in the face; and he condemns himself before God as very far from what he ought to be, and exceeding guilty and vile. And the higher he rises in holy exercises, and the more circumspect and watchful he is, the greater light and discerning he has to see the defects and corruptions of his own heart; and the more painful is the view of his own character, and he is disposed to exclaim with the apostle Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” (Rom. vii. 24.)
The apostle John decides this point in most express terms. He
says, “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John i. 8.) He does not mean, “ if we say we never did sin,” because this is contrary to his express words, which are in the present time, if we say we hare no sin now, at this present time. According to this, no man can with truth say, at any time of his life, “ I have no sin, or I am without sin, and perfectly holy." Therefore, no real Christian will say it, or can think this of himself; none but those who are deceived about themselves to such a degree as is inconsistent with their being the children of light and of the day, can say, or even think, this of themselves. This apostle, in the next verse but one, speaks of the time past, and says, “ If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." This is a different proposition from the foregoing; it respects what they had been and done. If they had no sin now, and this could be said with truth, they could not say they had never sinned, without contradicting the whole gospel, which declares all men to be sinners, and so making God the Savior a liar. But the other proposition respects what they were at that time, or should be in any future time, while in this world; so that none who is not deceived, and has embraced the truth, can ever say or think, while in this life, that he now has no sin. There have been, and now are, those who say they have no sin. By this they declare they