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ENTIRE CHRISTIAN SANCTIFICATION.
This great subject is at present occupying, to a remarkable extent, the attention of the Transatlantic churches. Among the means of awakening a spirit of inquiry, we have the pleasure of recognising a small work, by President Mahan, of which the title is given below.* The first ten editions were issued from the Methodist press in the city of Boston; but it is gratifying to learn that, as the esteemed author does not belong to our own community, so the circulation and approval of his Treatise are limited to no denomination and to no section of his important country. The English edition has our cordial welcome.
There are two objections (says Mr. Mahan, in his introductory Address to the British churches) to the doctrine set forth in these discourses, which demand a passing notice. The first objection rests upon the past experience of the church. “I have read your work with much interest,” said my former venerable biblical instructer, the Rev. Moses Stuart, to me, on a visit to Andover, Massachusetts, just before I left my native country, _“I have read your work with much interest, and find but little in it against which I object; and those objections rest mainly upon the experience of the church.” The same objection was presented to me by a Minister of the Gospel in this country, a Minister whose name is, and ought to be, “in all the churches," on both sides of the Atlantic. In reply to this objection, it is enough to say, that it reverses the entire order of investigation on this as well as on all other subjects. The meaning of the Bible should not be determined by the experience of the church ; but the character of that experience should be tested by the Bible. Suppose the question arises,-llas the church yet attained to the full enjoyment of her revealed privileges ? Has she attained to those full and high forms of experience to which she may rationally hope to attain?-how can this question be properly answered ? By an appeal to the Scriptures, and in no other way. “To the law, and to the testimony:" if the experience of the church “ speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in it.” Hence the great wisdom of an additional remark of Professor Stuart, during the interview :-“Christians, when they find themselves very near eternity, as I now cannot but suppose myself to be, are accustomed to rely less upon their own former speculations, and more implicitly upon the revealed provisions and promises of grace.”
The other objection is this :- This is a new doctrine. Suppose that it is a new doctrine,—and yet, on careful inquiry, we find it to accord with “the law and the testimony,” the Word of God,-shall we reject it because it has now, for the first time, been ascertained to be a clearly revealed truth of God? “God forbid.” But this, reader, is not a new doctrinefar from it. I feel myself fully prepared to prove, by an appeal to undeniable facts of history, that this was the standing faith of the church, from the days of the Apostles, down to the time of Augustine in the fourth century; and that, from that period to the Reformation, almost all great revivals of religion in the church occurred in connexion with this
* The Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection, with other kindred Subjects, illustrated and confirmed in a Series of Discourses designed to throw Light on the Way of Holiness. By Rev. Asa Mahan, President of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, Ohio, United States. From the Tenth American Edition. With an Introductory Preface, by John Stevenson, A.M. London: Partridge and Oakey.
doctrine, and under the influence of those who held it. In investigating the claims of this doctrine, our attention is turned equally in two opposite directions,-to“ the old paths,” in which the inspired Apostles and the primitive church "walked with God," on the one hand; and to those everlasting mountains, on the other, on which the feet of the church, according to inspired prophecy, are hereafter to be planted—those everlasting mountains where her “sun shall no more go down, neither shall her moon withdraw itself,” where “God shall be her everlasting light, and the days of her mourning shall be ended.”
We are now prepared (says the author) to look once more at the question, whether the great doctrine maintained in these discourses accords with the mind of the Spirit, by whose inspiration the Scriptures were written. Here permit me to present a few considerations, bearing upon this question, which naturally suggest themselves from the train of thought which we have pursued.
1. The first is a fact which can hardly have failed to impress the mind of the attentive reader. It is this: Whenever I have had occasion to give a full and definite expression of any sentiments upon this subject, no phraseology conceivable has been found to be so perfectly adapted to that object, as the simple, unadorned, and most frequent phraseology of the Holy Spirit, as found in the sacred Scriptures. Can it be, reader, that the Holy Spirit has dictated a phraseology so perfectly adapted to convey one sentiment, and only one, when His design was to convey precisely the opposite sentiment
2. It was just as easy for Christ to make such provisions, and to give the Holy Spirit to Christians in such measures, as to render their perfect as practicable as their partial holiness. Of what conceivable use can sin be as an element of Christian character, that Christ should have left it as an inseparable element of that character ?
3. That Christ should have made provision for the entire sanctification of believers, and given His Spirit in such measure to them as to render that state attainable, best accords with His infinite love, and the absolute perfection of all His other attributes and works. Why should He leave this, the last and greatest of all His works, thus imperfect?
4. This view of the subject best accords with the relations which Christians sustain to Christ, and to the world around them.
They are Christ's witnesses to testify to the world, from their own experience, the truth of the “exceeding great and precious promises” of Divine grace; promises, many of which are conditioned upon a state of entire consecration to Christ. How infinitely absurd is the supposition that Christ has so arranged the dispensations of His grace and Spirit, that He shall never have a witness upon earth who can bear full testimony to the truth of His promises !
Christians are also constituted of Christ "the light of the world,” by reflecting upon it His image. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Who can believe that Christ has definitely arranged the dispensations of His grace and Spirit, so that His own image, as reflected through the character of His own people, shall be always presented to the world in a deep and dark eclipse ?
Again, Christians are Christ's representatives—His ambassadors --labourers together with God in the great work of saving lost men. Who can conceive a greater absurdity than this, that God has so arranged His
dispensations toward His people, that all who are co-operating with Him in this work shall be but partially devoted to the duties of their sacred calling?
Once more, Christians are the “members of Christ's body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” Reader, can you believe that Christ has made no provision, but that the members of His own body shall be in a state of disease and moral death? Dare you cast such an imputation upon the Lord Jesus Christ?
5. This doctrine leads the soul directly to Christ as a certain remedy for sin, and for all temptations to sin, and tends to induce the most vigorous efforts after pure and perfect holiness. The opposite doctrine tends directly to weaken confidence in Christ as a Saviour from sin, and to paralyse efforts after holiness.
6. This doctrine meets a changeless demand of our being, a state of perfect moral rectitude, and tends to inspire the mind with life and peace. The opposite doctrine fails to meet that demand; and thereby covers the mind, that is hungering and thirsting after righteousness, with thick gloom. What can be more gloomy to such a mind than the thought that he is to be perpetually wounding his Saviour in the house of His friends?
7. Finally, this doctrine has all the internal evidence in its favour, that the Bible itself, or any doctrine of the Bible, has. What higher internal evidence can be adduced, in favour of any doctrine, than this—that it tends directly to moral virtue, and meets fully the changeless laws of our being ; while the tendency of the contrary doctrine is precisely the opposite in both respects ? Say the opposers of this doctrine, If it is untrue, its tendency must be bad. The same might, with equal propriety, be said of the Bible, and of every doctrine of the Bible. When we speak of the tendency of a doctrine, we then look away from the question whether it is true or false, to what is intrinsic in the doctrine itself. When we try the doctrine under consideration by this principle, we find it to have all the evidence in its favour that any Divine truth can have.
No! reader : in embracing this doctrine, “ we have not followed cunningly-devised fables.” We have followed the plainest teachings of the Spirit and Word of God. In taking our stand upon this doctrine, we are standing upon the “ foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone." In looking with humble faith to “the very God of peace,” that He may “sanctify us wholly,” and “ * preserve our whole spirit, and soul, and body” “ blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we only look to Him for a fulfilment of one of His own “exceeding great and precious promises.” “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.”
Reader, “ believest thou this?” And will you now come to Christ, to have this promise, in all its fulness, accomplished in your own blessed experience? “Now the just shall live by faith ; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” “ Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside
every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith ; who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
In drawing my remarks to a close, (says the President of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, I will, in conformity with the desires of my own
mind, and the suggestions of some brethren, in whose judgment Í place much confidence, give the reader a short account of the manner in which I was led to adopt the sentiments maintained in these discourses. In regard to my early experience as a Christian, I would say, that that experience was marked by a desire, inexpressibly strong, to be freed from all sin in every form, and to be entirely consecrated to the love and service of God, in all the powers and susceptibilities of my being. Nor can any one conceive the gloom and horror that covered my mind, when older Christians assured me that that was a state to which I should never in this life attain; that my lusts would not be perfectly subdued or subjected to the will of Christ; and that one of the brightest evidences of my conversion and growth in grace consisted in new discoveries of the deep and fixed corruptions of my heart,-corruptions from which I was never to be cleansed till death should deliver me from my bondage. Notwithstanding all the impediments thrown in the way of my progress in holiness, I continued to press forward for a succession of years, till I could say, in the language of another,-“I do know that I love holiness for holiness' sake.”
In this state I commenced my studies as a student in college. Here I fell, and fell, by not aiming singly at the “prize of the high calling." I subsequently entered a theological seminary, with the hope of there finding myself in such an atmosphere that my first love would be revived. In this expectation, I grieve to say, I was most sadly disappointed. I found the piety of my brethren apparently as low as my own. I here say it, with sorrow of heart, that my mind does not recur to a single individual connected with the “school of the Prophets," when I was there, who appeared to me to enjoy daily communion and peace with God.
After completing my course under such circumstances, I entered the ministry, proud of my intellectual attainments, and armed, as I supposed, at every point with the weapons of theological warfare, but with the soul of piety chilled and expiring within me. Blessed be God, the remembrance of what I had been remained, and constantly aroused me to a consciousness of what I was. I looked into myself, and over the church, and was shocked at what I felt and what I saw. Two facts, in the aspect of the church and the ministry, struck my mind with gloomy interest. Scarcely an individual, within the circle of my knowledge, seemed to know the Gospel as a sanctifying or peace-giving Gospel. In illustration of this remark, let me state a fact which I met with in the year 1831 or 1832. I then met a company of my ministerial brethren, who had come together from one of the most favoured portions of the country. They sat down together, and gave to each other an undisguised disclosure of the state of their hearts; and they all, with one exception—and the experience of that individual I did not hear—acknowledged that they had not daily communion and peace with God. Over these facts they wept, but neither knew how to direct the others out of the thick and impenetrable gloom which covered them; and I was in the same ignorance as my brethren.
I state these facts as a fair example of the state of the churches, and of the ministry, as far as my observation has extended ; and that has been very extensive. I here affirm that the great mass of Christians do not know the Gospel, in their daily experience, as a life-giving and peace-giving Gospel. When my mind became fully conscious of this fact, I was led to compare my own, and the experience of the church around me, with that of the Apostles and primitive Christians, and with the “path of the just,” as portrayed in the sacred Scriptures. I found the two in direct contrast.
Hence the great inquiry arose in my mind, What is the grand secret of holy living? How shall I attain to that perpetual fulness and peace in Christ, which, for example, Paul enjoyed ? Till this secret was fully disclosed to my mind, I felt that I must be disqualified, in one fundamental respect, to “ feed the flock of God.” While the Gospel was not life and peace to me, how could I present it in such a manner that it would be life and peace to others? I must myself be led by the Great Shepherd into the “green pastures,” and “beside the still waters," before I could lead the flock of God into the samne blissful regions. For years, this one inquiry pressed upon my thoughts; and often, as I have looked over a company of inquiring sinners, have I said within myself,- I would gladly take my place among those inquirers, if any individual would show me how to come into possession of the “riches of the glory of Christ's inheritance in the saints." But clouds and darkness covered my mind in respect to this, the most momentous of all subjects.
In this state of mind, I became connected with the Institution at Oberlin, and continued to press my inquiries with increasing interest upon this one subject, till the fall of 1836. At that time, during a series of religious meetings held in the Institution, a large number of the members of the church arose and informed us that they were fully convinced that they had been deceived in respect to their character as Christians, and that they were now without hope, and appeared as inquirers, to know “what they should do to be saved.” I now felt myself, as one of the “ leaders of the flock of God,” pressed with this great inquiry, with greater interest than ever before. I set my heart, hy prayer and supplication to God, to find the light after which I had been so long seeking.
In this state I visited one of my associates in the Institution, and disclosed to him the burden which had weighed down my mind for so many years. I asked him if he could tell me the secret of the piety of Paul, and tell me the reason of the strange contrast between the Apostle's experience and my own. In labouring for the salvation of men, I observed, that my feelings often remained unmoved and unaffected, while Paul was constantly “constrained” by the love of Christ. Our conversation then turned upon the passage,
“ The love of Christ constraineth us,” &c. While thus employed, my heart leaped up in ecstasy indescribable, with the exclamation, “I have found it! I have now, by the grace of God, discovered the secret after which I have been searching these many years.” I understood the secret of the piety of Paul, and knew how to attain to that blissful state myself. Paul's zeal all arose from one source exclusively—a sympathy with the heart of Christ in His love for lost man. To attain to that state myself, I had only to acquaint myself with the love of Christ, and yield my whole being up to its sweet control.
Immediately after this, I came before the church, and disclosed to them what I then saw to be the grand defect in my ministry :-1. Christ had been but as one chapter in my system of theology, when He should have been the sun and centre of the system. 2. When I thought of my guilt, and need of justification, I had looked to Christ exclusively, as I ought to have done : for sanctification, on the other hand, to overcome the “ world, the flesh, and the devil,” I had depended mainly upon my own resolutions. Here was the grand mistake, and the source of all my bondage under sin. I ought to have looked to Christ for sanctification, as much as for justification ; and for the same reason. The great object of my being now was, to know Christ, and, in knowing Him, to be changed into His image. Here