What Saith the Scripture?


Fellow ship > An Urgent Call to Christian Perfection (Part I) Unrealistic Idea of Perfection?

An Urgent Call to Christian Perfection
An Exposition of the Doctrine of Christian Perfection

by Tom Stewart

"Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; For I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).


The things which we both have seen and known from the beginning about the LORD Jesus Christ are the things which I must share with you. Even as we "have tasted that the LORD is gracious" (1Peter 2:3) and "our hands have handled, of the Word of life" (1John 1:1), even so these things that I am writing, I write because I desire to have fellowship with you: "and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1John 1:3).

Why am I writing to you about the doctrine of Christian perfection?

First, because I desire to be like the Master. I do not wish to be superior to my Master, but I want to be like Him.
"The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master" (Luke 6:40).

Second, because Christ prayed for our unity.
"I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfect in One" (John 17:23).

Third, because if you are reading this, you have, most likely, demonstrated faith in Christ. I write to you, not as though you have not demonstrated saving faith, but
"we speak wisdom among them that are perfect" (1Corinthians 2:6).

Fourth, because I desire to promote the unity of our faith unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. Likewise, with whatever degree of gift that I can minister, I am writing this
"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 fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-13).

Fifth, because I desire to present you perfect in Christ Jesus. Unapologetically, I must preach to you Christ, The Hope of Glory,
"warning every man in all wisdom that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Colossians 1:28).

Sixth, because I desire that you may know the Word of God more perfectly, that you may do all the will of God. I encourage you to search the Scriptures to see whether the things I write to you are so (Acts 17:11), because
"all Scripture is given by inspiration of God... That the man of God may be perfect" (2Timothy 3:16,17). Not only may he be perfect, but he will be perfect. The place of his perfection is not simply in Heaven, but on earth where Christ prayed for it: "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

And finally, I write this because Christ insists upon our perfection here and now. After all, the only reason why we ought to insist upon any doctrine is because our LORD and Teacher insists upon it.
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

I am well aware that our beloved brother Paul plainly warns us as he did Timothy:
"If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our LORD Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness; from such withdraw thyself" (1Timothy 6:3-5). I, too, desire to consent to wholesome words and to the doctrine which is according to godliness.

For this reason, I am writing to you to set forth the doctrine of Christian perfection (or, entire sanctification). Simply put, Christian perfection is to appropriate Christ by faith in all of His offices, capacities, and relations to meet our every need in life...
"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:20, Who "shall supply all [our] need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19), Who is our "Jehovah Jireh" (Genesis 22:14) (literally, the LORD will provide).

I. Unrealistic Idea of Perfection? or, Are We Compassed About With So Great a Cloud of Witnesses?

  A. Andrew Murray: Be Perfect: A Devotional Study of Christ's Command (1893)

In 1893, Andrew Murray wrote a devotional study of Christ's command for Christian perfection. Appropriately, he entitled it Be Perfect. Listen to the heart of this man of God (p.8):

"Jesus said,
'If any will do [His will]... he shall know' [John 7:17]. The same principle holds good in all human attainment. It is only he who has accepted in adoring submission and obedience the command 'Be perfect' [Matthew 5:48] who can hope to know what the perfection is that God asks and gives. Until the Church is prostrate before God, seeking this blessing as her highest good, it will be no wonder if the very Word, instead of being an attraction and a joy, is a cause of apprehension and anxiety, of division and offense."

  B. John Wesley: A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1767)

You can see that nothing we discuss about Christian perfection is
"done in a corner" (Acts 26:26) when we can reach back into church history and find so eminent a testimony as that of John Wesley. Truly we are "compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) who affirm the doctrine of Christian perfection. Read Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (p.106):

"There is such a thing as perfection; for it is again and again mentioned in Scripture... It is not absolute. Absolute perfection belongs not to man, nor to angels, but to God alone... It does not make a man infallible; none is infallible while he remains in the body... Is it sinless? It is not worth while to contend for a term. It is 'salvation from sin'... It is
'perfect love' (1John 4:18). This is the essence of it: its properties, or inseparable fruits, are, rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks (1Thessalonians 5:16,etc.)... It is improvable. It is far from lying in an indivisible point, from being incapable of increase... It is amissible, capable of being lost."

  C. Charles G. Finney: Finney's Systematic Theology (1846)

Another man of God, Charles G. Finney, recorded in his book (1846), Finney's Systematic Theology (pp.355-356):

"It has been common for Christians to suppose, that a state of entire consecration is attainable; but while they believe in the sinfulness of their natures, they would not of course call even entire sanctification, entire sanctification... Call it what you please, Christian perfection, heavenly mindedness, the full assurance of faith or hope, or a state of entire consecration; by all these I understand the same thing. And it is certain, that by whatever name it is called, the thing must be aimed at to be attained. The practicability of its attainment must be admitted, or it cannot be aimed at. And now I humbly inquire, whether to preach any thing short of this is not to give countenance to sin?"

As I read Brother Finney's statement above, I noticed a passage directly preceding it (p.355) where he quotes Barnes' Notes on 2Corinthians 8:1. Brother Finney begins:

"It has long been maintained by orthodox divines, that a person is not a Christian who does not aim at living without sin- that unless he aims at perfection, he manifestly consents to live in sin; and is therefore impenitent. It has been said, and I think truly, that if a man does not, in the fixed purpose of his heart, aim at total abstinence from sin, and at being wholly conformed to the will of God, he is not yet regenerated, and does not so much as mean to cease from abusing God. Barnes' Notes upon 2Corinthians viii.1, we have the following: 'The unceasing and steady aim of every Christian should be perfection- perfection in all things- in the love of God, of Christ, of man; perfection of heart, and feeling, and emotion; perfection in his words, and plans, and dealings with men; perfection in his prayer, and in his submission to the will of God. No man can be a Christian who does not sincerely desire to be perfect as God is, and who does not make it his daily and constant aim to be as perfect as God, may set it down as demonstrably certain that he has no true religion.'"

Thus far we have only the testimony of men-
"so great a cloud of witnesses"- concerning the doctrine of Christian perfection. They are... "being dead yet speaketh" (Hebrews 11:4). We, however, as those who are "of full age" (literally, perfect) (Hebrews 5:14) require the testimony of the "strong meat" of the Word of God, because only then can we by "reason of use have [our] senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14). "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). Beware what you believe! Take care to build your doctrine ONLY upon "What saith the Scripture?" (Romans 4:3).

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