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commandments of God; but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.
II. We proceed to prove, this doctrine.
1. Its truth may be argued from what the Scriptures teach concerning the two contrary principles of sin and grace, continually at war with each other in the believer. As in Gal. v. 17; "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. And more fully in the epistle to the Romans, chap. vii.; "I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know, that in me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God, after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." This epistle was written near thirty years after the conversion of Paul, and but a few years before his death; and he still found within him remains of sin which occasioned a continual warfare with the principle of grace implanted by the Spirit of God. Paul, thirty years after his conversion, knew nothing of sinless perfection. This is at least a presumptive argument, that it is not attainable by christians in the present life. For surely if perfection is attainable here, we would suppose that Paul would have attained to it, by the time that he wrote this epistle.
The great objection to the argument drawn from the experience of Paul in the passage just quoted, is, that the Apostle here spake of an unregenerate person, or of himself in an unregenerate state, while under conviction of sin. In answer to this we may observe that Paul, in this passage, used the first person I, and therefore plainly
spake of himself. "I am carnal. When I would do good, evil is present with me, &c. And he spake in the present tense, of his state as it then was when he wrote this epistle. Not I was, but I am carnal. That which I do I allow not, not that which I did I allowed not. In my flesh dwelleth, not dwelt no good thing; and so through the whole passage. Language could not more plainly teach that Paul, in this discourse, meant himself, and described his exercises as they then were when he wrote this, and when he evidently was, and long had been a christian. Besides in this passage he spake several things of himself which could belong to no one but a regenerate person. He spake of a principle within him opposed to sin, and leading him sincerely to will to do good; and he spake of himself as consenting to the law that it was good, as delighting in the law of God after the inward man, and as with his mind serving the law of God. From these considerations, we conclude that the Apostle in the passage quoted, spake of himself as a christian; and of his habitual exercises at the time he wrote this epistle, near 30 years after his conversion. Therefore the objection is not valid, and the argument from this passage against sinless perfection remains good.
2. We may further argue the truth of our doctrine from the Lord's prayer. This prayer, or the sentiments contained in it we ought daily, as long as we live, to offer up. Now, one of the petitions which in this prayer we are directed daily to offer up, is for the forgiveness of sins; "forgive us our debts, or trespasses." But if we were free of all sin, and perfect in holiness, there would be no propriety in continuing to offer up this petition, or to pray for the pardon of sin. But since we are daily to pray for the pardon of our sins, it is a clear evidence that we daily need pardon, and therefore daily break the law of God.
3. The same is clearly proved by the express declarations of Scripture; as in the following texts. "There is no man that sinneth not;" 1 Kings viii. 46. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one." Job xiv. 4. "What is man that he should be clean? And he which is born of a woman that he should be righteous ?" Job xv. 14. "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" Prov. xx. 9. "There is not a
just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not;' Eccl. vii. 20. "In many things we offend all;" Jam. iii. 2. And in our text the proof is most decisive; "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." These texts teach us as plainly as language can express, that there is no such thing as sinless perfection in the present life.
4. Further this doctrine is confirmed by the testimony of the most eminent saints, whose histories are recorded in the Scriptures. Job, David, Isaiah, Daniel, Paul, James, and John, all spake of their own imperfections. And they not only spake of themselves, but united with them, in general terms, all others. And with the experience of the saints of old, I believe the experience of the saints in every age has agreed; and that the more they have grown in knowledge, and grace, the more they have been convinced of their own sinfulness; and instead of being disposed to boast of their perfection in holiness, have been humbled under a sense of their daily sins. Let any one consider the law of God in its great extent, and as reaching in all its particulars to the thoughts, desires, intentions, and other exercises of the soul; and let him compare himself at any time with it, and I believe if he understands the law, and knows himself, and is candid, he will acknowledge that he comes far short of perfect conformity to the law.
From the foregoing arguments we confidently conclude, that the doctrine is true, that "No mere man, since the fall, is able, in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily break them, in thought, word, and deed."
III. We shall now endeavour to defend the doctrine from some objections, which are brought against it.
1. It is objected that some of the saints of old are said in Scripture to have been perfect men. Thus of Noah it is recorded, "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations;" Gen. vi. 9. Of Job we read, "That man was perfect and upright, and and one that feared God and eschewed evil;" Job i. 1. Hezekiah, in his sickness prayed unto the Lord, "Remember now how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart;" 2 Kings xx. 3. And of Zacharias and Elizabeth, it is recorded, "They were both
righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless;" Luk. i. 6. On these passages I would observe that perfect as applied to these persons, is to be understood as signifying something short of an entire freedom from sin, and a complete conformity to the law of God. For the testimony of the word of God respecting these persons, and the testimony of some of them themselves prove that by perfect here, is not meant a sinless perfection. Besides, the testimony of the word of God against sinless perfection of any of God's people in this life, being express and ample, if these texts which speak of the perfection of some persons, can, consistently with the use of the word, in the sacred volume, be explained in any other sense, the harmony of the Scriptures requires us thus to explain them. But it is certain that the word perfect does not always in Scripture signify without sin. Of this we have a plain proof, Phil. iii. 12, 15. "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded." In these two verses it cannot be that the word perfect means the same thing; for then the Apostle would have contradicted himself, most palpably, in the same breath. In the former verse where the Apostle declared himself not perfect, a sinless perfection is evidently meant. In the latter verse therefore, where he spake of himself with other saints as perfect, it must be understood of something short of a sinless perfection. The word may mean sincere as opposed to hypocritical; or it may be taken in a comparative sense to denote a greater degree of sanctification; as the Apostle spake of babes and children in Christ, and also of those who had arrived at the stature of perfect men in Christ to denote their greater advances in holiness. In one of these senses, or in some sense short of sinless obedience, may we understand the word perfect as applied to the persons abovementioned; and we are authorized thus to understand it by the use of the word in other parts of Scripture; and the harmony of the Scriptures absolutely requires that we should thus understand it.
2. Another objection to the doctrine we are defending, is drawn from those texts of Scripture in which we are exhorted to perfection; such as the following: "Walk before me and be thou perfect ;" Gen. xvii. 1.
therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect;" Mat. v. 48. "Perfecting holiness in the fear of God;" 2 Cor. vii. 1. In answer to this objection, we may observe, that the word in these and similar texts may be used in the same sense, in which we have shown it is sometimes used in Scripture, as signifying something short of sinless obedience. But if we are here to take the word in its most proper and highest sense, which is probably the case, still these texts do not prove, that any do perfectly obey these exhortations, and perfectly keep the commandments of God. For God has a right to command us to be perfect, and it is our duty thus to be, though through the depravity of our hearts, we are morally unable to do our duty. Thus notwithstanding the natural enmity of men to God, it is their duty as much as it ever was, to love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and strength and mind, and their neighbour as themselves, and God still commands them to do it.
3. Another objection to our doctrine may be drawn from 1 John iii. 6, 8, 9; "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not whosoever sinneth hath not seen him neither known him. He that committeth sin is 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." This text if it proves any thing in favour of the objector, proves too much; for if strictly taken it will prove, not merely that some of the regenerate have arrived at sinless perfection, but that they all, without a single exception, live without sin; for it equally applies to them all, "Whosoever," without any exception, "is born of God doth not commit sin." But the objector himself will not allow this, and therefore a sinless perfection cannot be meant in this text. And that it is not meant is evident from the declaration of the same Apostle in our text, "if we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." The Apostle can therefore, in the passage from which the objection is drawn mean nothing more, than that a regenerate person does not live in the commission of any allowed sin. The principle of grace implanted in his heart in regeneration, abiding within him, renders it impossible that he should allow himself in a course of known sin, and continue therein.