An Urgent Call to Christian Perfection
An Exposition of the Doctrine of Christian Perfection
by Tom Stewart
believe that when the Apostle John wrote to his "little children", he desired that they understand more perfectly those things that they had already heard. The doctrine of Christian perfection was no stranger to John, because he taught it. "But whoso keepeth His Word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him" (1John 2:5).
Let me share with you the yearnings of a great and good man, who like the Apostle Paul, travailed in birth until Christ was formed in his hearers (Galatians 4:19). Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) was an American lawyer who was converted to Christ at the age of 29. He preached in revivals throughout his life and spent many years as a teacher at Oberlin College. His early evangelistic messages can still be read from his book Revival Lectures. An account of his life is recorded in Charles G. Finney: An Autobiography; however, it lacks the last element, i.e., Finney's Systematic Theology, of how this man has been used of God to touch other generations with benefits without their "knowing the source whence they have sprung" (Charles G. Finney: An Autobiography, p.477).
Charles Grandison Finney
The following have been excerpted from Finney's
Systematic Theology (originally published in 1846).
hat this state [entire sanctification or Christian perfection] may be attained in this life, I argue from the fact, that provision is made against all the occasions of sin. Men sin only when they are tempted, either by the world, the flesh, or the devil. And it is expressly asserted, that, in every temptation, provision is made for our escape. Certainly, if it is possible for us to escape without sin, under every temptation, then a state of entire and permanent sanctification is attainable.
"Full provision is made for overcoming the three great enemies of our souls, the world, the flesh, and the devil.
(1.) The world-- 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith' [1John 5:4]. 'Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ' [1John 5:5].
(2.) The flesh-- 'If ye walk in the Spirit, ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh' [Galatians 5:16].
(3.) Satan-- 'The shield of faith shall quench all the fiery darts of the wicked' [Ephesians 6:16]. And, 'God shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly' [Romans 16:20]." [p. 352]
"A denial of this doctrine has the natural tendency to beget the very apathy witnessed in the Church. Professors of religion [i.e., professing Christians] go on in sin, without much conviction of its wickedness. Sin unblushingly stalks abroad even in the church of God, and does not fill Christians with horror, because they expect its existence as a thing of course. Tell a young convert that he must expect to backslide, and he will do so of course, and with comparatively little remorse, because he looks upon it as a kind of necessity. And being led to expect it, you find him, in a few months after his conversion, away from God, and not at all horrified with his state. Just so, inculcate the idea among Christians, that they are not expected to abandon all sin, and they will of course go on in sin with comparative indifference. Reprove them for their sin, and they will say, 'O, we are imperfect creatures; we do not pretend to be perfect, nor do we expect we ever shall be in this world.' Many such answers as these will show you the God- dishonoring, soul- ruining tendency of a denial of this doctrine.
"A denial of this doctrine prepares the minds of ministers to temporize, and wink at great iniquity in their churches. Feeling as they certainly must, if they disbelieve this doctrine, that a great amount of sin in all believers is to be expected as a thing of course their whole preaching, and spirit, and demeanor, will be such as to beget a great degree of apathy among Christians, in regard to their abominable sins." [p.354]
"Total abstinence from sin must be every man's motto, or sin will certainly sweep him away as with a flood." [p.358]
"The great and fundamental sin, which is at the foundation of all other sin, is unbelief. The first thing is, to give up that-- to believe the Word of God. There is no breaking off from one sin without this. 'Whatsoever is not of faith is sin' [Romans 14:23]. 'Without faith it is impossible to please God' [Hebrews 11:6]. Thus we see, that the backslidder and convicted sinner, when agonizing to overcome sin, will almost always betake themselves to works of law to obtain faith. They will fast, and pray, and read, and struggle, and outwardly reform, and thus endeavor to obtain grace. Now all this is vain and wrong. Do you ask, 'Shall we not fast, and pray, and read, and struggle? Shall we do nothing but sit down in antinomian security and inaction? ' I answer, you must do all that God commands you to do; but begin where He tells you to begin, and do it in the manner in which He commands you to do it; that is, in the exercise of that faith that works by love [Galatians 5:6]. Purify your hearts by faith [James 4:8]. Believe on the Son of God [1John 3:23]. And say not in your heart, 'Who shall ascend into heaven, that is to bring Christ down from above; or who shall descend into the deep, that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead. But what saith it? The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that is, the Word of faith which we preach' [Romans 10:6-8]. Now these facts show, that even under the Gospel, almost all professors of religion [professing Christians], while they reject the Jewish notion of justification by works of law, have after all adopted a ruinous substitute for it, and suppose, that in some way they are to obtain grace by their works." [p.373]
"It is Christ, in the exercise of His different offices, and appropriated in His different relations to the wants of the soul, by faith, Who secures our sanctification. This He does by Divine discoveries to the soul of His Divine perfections and fulness. The condition of these discoveries is faith and obedience. He says, John xiv. 21-23: 'He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him. Judas saith unto Him, (not Iscariot,) LORD, how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love Me, he will keep My Words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.'" [p.376]
"I have often feared, that many professed Christians knew Christ only after the flesh; that is, they have no other knowledge of Christ than what they obtain by reading and hearing about Him, without any special revelation of Him to the inward being by the Holy Spirit. I do not wonder, that such professors [professing Christians] and ministers should be totally in the dark, upon the subject of entire sanctification [or, Christian perfection] in this life. They regard sanctification as brought about by the formation of holy habits, instead of from the revelation of Christ to the soul in all His fulness and relations, and the soul's renunciation of self and appropriation of Christ in these relations." [pp.380-381]
"When we sin, it is because of our ignorance of Christ. That is, whenever temptation overcomes us, it is because we do not know and avail ourselves of the relation of Christ that would meet our necessities." [p.382]
"It has been to my mind a painful and serious question, what I ought to think of the spiritual state of those who know so little of the blessed Jesus. That none of them have been converted, I dare not say. And yet, that they have been converted, I am afraid to say. I would not for the world 'quench the smoking flax, or break the bruised reed', [Matthew 12:20] or say anything to stumble, or weaken the feeblest lamb of Christ; and yet my heart is sore pained, my soul is sick; my bowels of compassion yearn over the church of the blessed God. O, the dear church of Christ! What does she in her present state know of the Gospel- rest, of that 'great and perfect peace' [Isaiah 26:3] which they have whose minds are stayed on God?" [p.413]
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