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« Not us though I had already attained, either were already
perfect.” Philippians iï. 12.
1. THERE is scarce any expression in holy writ, which has given more offence than this. The word perfect is what many cannot bear. The very sound of it is an abomination to them; and whosoever preaches perfection, (as the phrase is,) that is, asserts that it is attainable in this life, runs great hazard of being accounted by them worse than a heathen man or a publican.
2. And hence some have advised, wholly to lay aside the use of those expressions; “ because they have given so great offence.” But are they not found in the oracles of God? If so, by what authority can any Messenger of God lay them aside, even though all men should be offended? We have not so learned Christ; neither may we thus give place to the devil. Whatsoever God hath spoken, that will we speak, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear; knowing, that then alone can any Minister of Christ be “pure from the blood of all men,” when he hath “not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God.”
3. We may not, therefore, lay these expressions aside, seeing they are the words of God and not of man. But we may and ought to explain the meaning of them ; that those who are sincere of heart may not err to the right hand or left, from the mark of the prize of their high calling. And this is the more needful to be done, because, in the verse already repeated,
se Christia shall endest those who hem who
the Apostle speaks of himself as not perfect: “Not," saith he, “ as though I were already perfect.” And yet immediately after, in the fifteenth verse, he speaks of himself, yea, and many others, as perfect: “Let us,” saith he, “ as many as be perfect, be thus minded."
4. In order, therefore, to remove the difficulty arising from this seeming contradiction, as well as to give light to them who are pressing forward to the mark, and that those who are lame be not turned out of the way, I shall endeavour to show,
First, In what sense Christians are not; and,
I. 1. In the first place, I shall endeavour to show, in what sense Christians are not perfect. And both from experience and Scripture it appears, First, that they are not perfect in knowledge: They are not so perfect in this life as to be free from ignorance. They know, it may be, in common with other men, many things relating to the present world; and they know, with regard to the world to come, the general truths which God hath revealed. They know, likewise, (what the natural man receiveth not ; for these things are spiritually discerned,) “what manner of love" it is, wherewith “the Father” hath loved them, “ that they should be called the sons of God:” They know the mighty working of his Spirit in their hearts; and the wisdom of his providence, directing all their paths, and causing all things to work together for their good. Yea, they know in every circumstance of life what the Lord requireth of them, and how to keep a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward man.
2. But innumerable are the things which they know nota Touching the Almighty himself, they cannot search him out to perfection. “Lo, these are but a part of his ways; but the thunder of his power, who can understand?". They cannot understand, I will not say, how “there are Three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these Three are One;” or how the eternal Son of God “ took upon himself the form of a servant;”—but not any one attribute, not any one circumstance, of the divine nature. Neither is it for them to know the times and seasons when God will work his great works upon the earth; no, not even those which he hath in part revealed by his servants and Prophets since the world began. Much less do they know when God, having “accom