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That entire sanctification is attainable in this life.
1. It is self-evident, that entire obedience to God's law is possible on the ground of natural ability. To deny this, is to deny that a man is able to do as well as he can. The very language of the law is such as to level its claims to the capacity of the subject, however great or small that capacity may be. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength" (Deut. 6:5). Here then it is plain, that all the law demands, is the exercise of whatever strength we have, in the service of God. Now, as entire sanctification consists in perfect obedience to the law of God, and as the law requires nothing more than the right use of whatever strength we have, it is, of course, forever settled, that a state of entire sanctification is attainable in this life, on the ground of natural ability.
This is generally admitted by those who are called moderate Calvinists. Or, perhaps I should say, it generally has been admitted by them, though at present some of them seem inclined to give up the doctrine of natural ability, and to take refuge in constitutional depravity, rather than admit the attainableness of a state of entire sanctification in this life. But let men take refuge where they will, they can never escape from the plain letter, and spirit, and meaning of the law of God. Mark with what solemn emphasis it says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength" (Deut. 6:5). This is its solemn injunction, whether it be given to an angel, a man, or a child. An angel is bound to exercise an angel's strength; a man, the strength of a man; and a child, the strength of a child. It comes to every moral being in the universe, just as he is, where he is, and requires, not that he should create new powers, or possess other powers than he has, but that such as his powers are, they should all be used with the utmost perfection and constancy for God.
2. The provisions of grace are such as to render its actual attainment in this life, the object of reasonable pursuit. It is admitted, that the entire sanctification of the church is to be accomplished. It is also admitted, that this work is to be accomplished, "through the sanctification of the Spirit and the belief of the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). It is also universally agreed, that this work must be begun here; and also that it must be completed before the soul can enter heaven. This then is the inquiry, Is this state attainable as a matter of fact before death?
I come now to consider the question directly, and wholly as a Bible question, whether entire sanctification is in such a sense attainable in this life, as to make its attainment an object of rational pursuit.
1. It is evident from the fact, expressly stated, that abundant means are provided for the accomplishment of this end. "He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph. 4:15-19). Upon this passage I remark:
(1.) That what is here spoken of is plainly applicable only to this life. It is in this life that the apostles, evangelists, prophets, and teachers, exercise their ministry. These means therefore are applicable, and so far as we know, only applicable to this life.
(2.) The apostle here manifestly teaches, that these means are designed and adequate to perfecting the whole church as the body of Christ, "till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). Now observe:
(3.) These means are for the perfecting of the saints, till the whole church, as a perfect man, "has come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." If this is not entire sanctification, what is? That this is to take place in this world is evident from what follows. For the apostle adds, "that we henceforth be no more tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:14).
(4.) It should be observed, that this is a very strong passage in support of the doctrine, inasmuch as it asserts that abundant means are provided for the sanctification of the church in this life. And as the whole includes all its parts, there must be sufficient provision for the sanctification of each individual.
(6.) If this passage does not teach a state of entire sanctification, such a state is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. And if believers are not here said to be wholly sanctified by these means, and of course in this life, I know not that it is anywhere taught that they shall be sanctified at all.
(7.) But suppose this passage to be put into the language of a command, how should we understand it? Suppose the saints commanded to be perfect, and to "grow up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13), could anything less than entire sanctification be understood by such requisitions? Then by what rule of sober criticism, I would inquire, can this language, used in this connection, mean anything less than I have supposed it to mean?
2. But let us look into some of the promises. It is not my design to examine a great number of scripture promises, but rather to show, that those which I do examine, fully sustain the positions I have taken. One is sufficient, if it be full and its application just, to settle this question for ever. I might occupy many pages in the examination of the promises, for they are exceedingly numerous, and full, and in point. But my design is at present to examine somewhat critically a few only out of the many. This will enable you to apply the same principles to the examination of the scripture promises generally.
(1.) I begin by referring you to the law of God, as given in: "And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?" (Deut. 10:12). Upon this passage I remark:
(c.) Continued obedience to this requirement is entire sanctification, in the sense in which I use those terms.
"And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live" (Deut. 30:6). Here we have a promise couched in the same language as the command just quoted. Upon this passage I remark:
It promises just what the law requires. If the law requires a state of entire sanctification, or if that which the law requires is a state of entire sanctification, then this is a promise of entire sanctification. As the command is universally binding upon all and applicable to all, so this promise is universally applicable to all who will lay hold upon it. Faith is an indispensable condition of the fulfillment of this promise. It is entirely impossible that we should love God with all the heart, without confidence in Him. God begets love in man in no other way than by so revealing Himself as to inspire confidence, that confidence which works by love.
Now here there is no perceivable reason why we should not understand the language of the promise as meaning as much as the language of the command. This promise appears to have been designed to cover the whole ground of the requirement. Suppose the language in this promise to be used in a command, or suppose that the form of this promise were changed into that of a command; suppose God should say as He does elsewhere, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deut. 6:5), who would doubt that God designed to require a state of entire sanctification or consecration to Himself? How then are we to understand it when used in the form of a promise? If His bountifulness equals His justice, His promises of grace must be understood to mean as much as the requirements of His justice. If He delights in giving as much as in receiving, His promises must mean as much as the language of His requirements.
This promise is designed to be fulfilled in this life. The language and connection imply this: "I will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul." This in some sense takes place in regeneration, but more than simple regeneration seems here to be promised. It is plain, I think, that this promise relates to a state of mind, and not merely to an exercise.
This promise as it respects the church, at some day, must be absolute and certain. So that God will undoubtedly, at some period, beget this state of mind in the church. But to what particular individuals and generation this promise will be fulfilled, must depend upon their faith in the promise.