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The question stood thus-Do any in this life arrive to such a state of perfection as to keep the moral law.* To say that a man lives without sin, and leave it in this indefinite manner, has a tendency to misguide the hearer; because, as I have before stated, when a christian is viewed in relation to the Adamic law, he certainly sins ; although when considered in relation to that under which the gospel dispensation places him, if he enjoy its privileges, he does not commit sin, agreeably to the language of scripture, Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin. The above passage, viewed with its context, will be found in perfect conformity to this sentiment. In the 7th verse he declared that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. To this, the Gnostics especially, (who held that all religion consisted in knowledge, and therefore if they attained to abstract knowledge, however vicious their lives, that were sufficient,) might object, and say they did not stand in need of this blood.To refute this error, the Apostle observes, in ver. 8. If we say that we have no sin, that is, as he expresses it in ver. 10, If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. say this, that we never have so sinned, or are not at the present in such a sense sinners as to need the merits of Christ, we thereby set aside the great and prominent truth of the gospel respecting Christ's atoning merits. The argument of the Apostle appears to be this-Christ died for sinners; but if we were not sinners, if we have not sinned, there was no need of his death. Those therefore who assert that they have not sinned, do the same as to say Christ never died for them. That the Apostle neyer designed to declare the impossibility of a deliverance from sin in this life, is fully manifest from the 9th verse, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all
* It is generally taken for granted, that it is impossible for christians to keep the moral law, or ten commandments. But this must be owing to inattention to the subject. What necessity is there for one whose heart is purifled by faith, to worship any other God besides the God of heaven: to set his affections on the world, and thus be an idolater, or literally to bow down to images ? What necessity is there to violate the Sabbath, by attending to secular concerns—to take the nume of God in vuin-to dishonour futher or mother-to kill—to commit adultery--to steal-to bear fulse witness—to covet that which is not our own. An unconverted man may refrain from breaking any of these precepts in his external conduct. And when the heart is changed by grace, and purified by the eternal Spirit, the christian has an internal conformity to this law. It would seeni, moreover, that a sanctified christian must not only obey this law, but he must do more than the letter of the law requires--he must love his enemies, feed the poor, clothe the naked, &c. according to his ability. To say that never any one came up to these requirements, is saying more than can be proved. The grace of God is sufficient for all these things. The moral law is a rule of justice : but we are commanded to be merciful.-Go, said Christ, and learn what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. If any contend that this is all implied in the moral law, I have no disposition to dispute them ; because, be it so or not, christians are certainly required to love their enemies, &c. and there. fore they are required to do more than the letter of that law enjoins.
unrighteousness. Here the Apostle demolishes your doctrine of the necessity of sin in the heart, at a. stroke, and strongly asserts the doctrine of holiness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins-here is pardon-and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness—here is the perfection for which we plead. How any one can take into consideration the leading design of the apostle, and then impartially examine the context, and yet suppose that he meant to support the doctrine of the . necessary continuance of sin in the hearts of believ
ers all the days of their lives, is difficult to conceive.
11. You add one more passage," p. 87. is James iii. 2. In many things we offend all.. All is the nominative to the verb offend. If this is true, then none are sinless." Pray sir, have you any doubt of its truth? Letting this pass, I cannot but remark your method of quoting scripture, without paying any attention to what precedes, or what follows. By this injudicious method, we may make the inspired writers say any thing, however absurd. To take an insulated passage of scripture in this way, without considering the context, and without paying a proper regard to the particular design of the writer, is as unfair as to judge of a man's goodness from the length of his prayers, or of his wisdom from the number of his sermons. If
had attended to these things, you never could have inferred that the apostle James designed to defend the doctrine of “indwelling sin.” My brethren, says he,
be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all, James iii. 1, 2. Who does not see that the Apostle designed to correct, or to prevent an abuse in the church, of their being many masters, of every one's dictating for himself and others; and that, if this practice were not avoided, as it violated the established order of God, we, that is, those who followed that evil practice should receive the greater condemnation. Can we suppose that James meant to say, that all christians in every age must in this manner sin, by aspiring to be dictators; and as a consequence, that all must receive the greater condemnation! If all are to receive the greater condemnation, what shall become of the elect, who you suppose were eternally justified in the mind of God. For in many things, we who act thus out of our place, offend all, or all offend; for your grammatical criticism was quite unnecessary, as it does not alter, nor mend the sense any. That the Apostle did not mean to pass an indiscriminate censure upon all christians, is evident from what follows in ver. 2. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Here then he admits the possibility, and teaches the necessity of a man's not offending even in word, and who is therefore a perfect man.
This text, therefore, is as little to your purpose as the former. From what has been said, we may conclude that your doctrine of “sinful imperfection” has no support in the sacred scriptures.
II. 1. Having thus cleared the way, by rescuing the sacred scriptures from the “unholy service (to borrow the words of an eminent author) into which they were pressed against their will,” I shall attempt to prove our doctrine of evangelical perfection, by an appeal to “ unequivocal” texts of holy writ. And let it be remembered, that the point in debate is not whether we are as perfect in this life, as are the glorified spirits ; nor whether we may be so perfect as to keep the Adamic law; but whether a Christian may arrive to such a state of perfection as to keep the gracious law under which the gospel of Christ places him, so as, in this sense to be delivered from sin. It ought furthermore to be observed, that no man since the introduction of moral evil into our world, is under the Adamic law, (which was a law of works) for justification and salvation. Neither is it a rule of life or of judgment: This point is so clear that it is needless to spend time to prove it. Taking it for granted, therefore, that we are under the law of liberty, established by Jesus Christ, I undertake to prove that a Christian, whose heart is thoroughly changed by the Spirit of God, does and must, in order to enter into life, keep it.
2. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a just man, and PERFect in his generation, and Noah walked with God, Gen. vi. 8, 9. It may be asked, Why was Noah just and perfect ? Because he found grace in the sight of God. It was not therefore from obedience to the Adamic,