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Ji VINDICATION OF THIS DOCTRINAL PROPOSITION; "THAT GOOD MEN, WHILE THEY REMAIN ON EARTH> "ARE NEVER FREE FROM SINFUL IMPERFEC"TION }" BEING A REPLY TO SOME OBJECTIONS MADE AGAINST THIS DOCTRINE IN MR. BANG:." FOURTH LETTER.
Mh. BANGS' Fourth Letter was designed to detect and refute the errors contained in my Fourth Sermon. The text of this Sevmon is Eccles. vii. 20: For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and einnet/t not. The doctrinal proposition which was supposed to be contained in the text ■ is this ; "That good men, -while they remain on the earth, are never free from sinful imperfection." In considering this doctrinal proposition, two things were attempted; I. To prove that good men are sinfully imperfect in this life: II. To show the consistency of this divine constitution of things, that it shotild be so.
To establish the point, that the saints are sinfully imperfect in this life, four arguments were introduced; 1. The religious experiences of the apostle Paul, who was one of the most eminent among the saints, and rot a whit behind the first of the apostles. .-^ The account given of the■t hrisiian warfare, as implying a strife between the flesh and the spirit; particularly as this warfare is described, Gal. v. 17. 3. The history ol the saints, both as to their inwaid exercises, and their outward conflict. 4. It was attempted to be established ty a few plain r.i,equi«vocal passages of scripture.
In srfcakirg of the consistency of this constitution © things, to wit, that the saints in this life should rennii* sinfully 5mp:-ifei t, it was shown, that this plan was calculated to uii.ke the saints eternally more penitent, humbic, thar.kiul, and every way meet for their heavenly inheritance; and also, that it was calculated to display ■Hie whole of the Redeemer's character to better advantage, wul thus to make him more precious tothera who believe.
Mr. B. complains in the beginning of this Letter, that I haic misrepresented their sentiments on the subject of Perfection. If I have done it, J■can say, with a t;ood conscience, I did not design to do it. If they do not hold to a sinless perjcclion in this life, I would ask; What did Mr. Bangs dispute about, on the 4th question in the public Debate? In my sermon on the sinful imperfection of the saints in litis life, I have this Note in the 103d page : " It has been doubted by some, whether the Methodists really hold to a sinless perfection in this life. But the niftier is put beyond doubt, that they <1o hold to such a perfection in this life, by the argument, which they use in their book of Discipline, against the power of death to sanctify. By this argument, the words of which are not recollected, it appears, ihey do hold that saints in this life are as sinless as they will bo in heaven." Mr. B. says, there is no such thing in the book to which I refer. The book to which 1 meant to refrr now lies before me, and is enti;led, "The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Ameiica." I have just been looking over all which it contains on the subject of Christian Fe.fection, und am led to think, that it must have been seme other book in which 1 found the argument referred to in the Note; for it is pretty fresh in my recollection, that the argument was managed in this way; —' That we cannot go to heaven without perfect sanclification ; but that a,i death is no sanctifier, we must be sanctified before death; and if ii may be a minute before death, it may be an hour, a day, a year, or any other period.' And tho' I do not find this argument thus extended> in the book now before me ; yet the ur
gument is most evidently imfilied. In p. 109, Eighth Philadelphia Edition, the question is put; " What is the point where we divide? An«. It is this: Should we 'expect to be saved from all sin before the article of death .?" On the next page, it is asked; " But how does it appear, that this is to be done before the article, of death?" It then proceeds to give reasons to induce us to believe, that the love of God will fill all the heart. so that there can be no sin there, before the article of death—that is, while the saints live here in this world. Now I would ask, If the Methodists do not mean to teach, that the saints do in this life arrive at the same sinless perfection as in heaven, why do they state, that the point which divides them from their brethren is this: "Should we expect to be saved from all sin before the article of death?" Does not this most obviously imply, that they hold to the same perfection before death, which their brethren hold to after death? Where then is the misrepresentation of which I have been guilty? There are a number of questions in the 126th page, which show, that I have not misrepresented their sentiments, their book being judge. "Does the soul's going out of the body effect its purification from indwelling sin?" This question must mean; Is not the soul as much freed from indwelling sin, before it leaves the body, as afterwards ?—i. e. Are not saints living in this world as free from indwelling sin, as they will be when they live in heaven ? If it does not mean this, it has no meaning at all which affects the contre"Versy between us ; for they cannot suppose, that we hold that death has any power to sanctify. They must know that it is ourbelief, that it is the Holy Spirit who begins, carries on, and perfects the work of sanctification. The question is, when the Holy Spirit perfects^ this good work, so that all indwelling sin is removed. There is nothing absurd in saying, that God has fixed upon the article of death, as the time to finish this work, any more than to suppose any other period fixed upon. The Methodists say, that sanctification becomes complete in this Uje. Would it be candid for me to assert, That the Methodists hold, that this life is a great sanctifier? But it would be as proper, as it is for them to represent
our doctrine as making "death act as a purifier i and 10 *
so to represent it, as tho' we hold to a " death purgatory."
As soon as the author of the Letters had exclaimed; "O sir, is it fair, is it consistent with that charity which hopeth all things, thus to misrepresent a body of people l" and had also introduced a part of my Note already referred to, he adds; " And pray sir, do you believe in the power of death to sanctify? It would seem so by this observation of yours, as also from what you say about Paul's desiring to die, because death would put an end to that body of sin under which he groaned." p. 152. Now, I would ask, whether we need go any farther for proof, that Methodists do hold, that there are saints who in this life are as perfect, as they will be in heaven ? Does not Mr. Bangs'objection just bi ought, evidently imply, that in his opinion death would make no differer.ee in Paul's state, as sin was respected : for if he believed that Paul became more sinless when he [eft this world, than while he continued in it, what objection could he have to my representation of the cause of his desiring death I I know that the Methodists hold, that the suims are not, in every sense, perfect in this )]fe, as they vviil be in heaven. They state in their book, that " they are not perfect in knowledge. They are not Irec from ignora7ice, no, nor from mistake," &c. Discipl. p. 101. However much of this kind of imperfection belongs to the saints, it did not concern my subject. It was only the sinful imperfection of the saints, of which my text led me to treat.
I know that Mr. Wesley, in the book of Doctrine and Discipline referred to, and as quoted by Mr. B. says: "Therefore sinless perfection is a phrase I never use, lest I should seem to contradict myself." Doct. and Discip. p. 1U. If Mr. Wesley did not use the phrase, unless perfection, it is evident that he held to the doctrine. Among other proofs of this, take these two; the first is, p. 104: "Now it is evident, the apostle, here speaks of a deliverance wrought in this world. For he sauh not, The blood of Christ will cleanse (at the hour of death, or in the day of judgment; but it cleanseih at the time present, us living christians,./TMTM all sin. And it is equally evident that if any sin remain, we are not cleansed from all tin. If any uiuishJeousncss remsun in the soul, it is not cleansed from all unrighteousness." The other proof is in the 112th page. "What i9 Christian,Perfection? Ans. The loving God with all our heart, mind,■soul and strength. This implies, that no wrong temper, none contrary to love remains in the soul," kc.
If Mr. B. does not hold to a tinltss perfection in this life, why has he written me a Letter in opposition 10 my sermon on the sinful imperfection of the snints in this life? Commenting on Isa. vi. 7, he says, "Does not this text undeniably prove the doctrine of a deliverance from sin? Equally in point are the words of the Psalmist, Psal. ciii. 12. As far as. the east is from the west, su fur hath he removed our tran&g reunions from us. Observe that this is not spoken in anticipation of what shall be done at death; but it asserts what had already been accomplished." p. 18*. Mr. B. knows it is our belief, that the dominion of sin is put down in the hearts of bcr lievers, and that all their sins are forgiven theva for Christ's sake; when therefore he demands, " Does not this text undeniably prove the doctrine of a deliverance from sin?" He must undoubtedly intend afull and complete deliverance from sin. If he did not intend this, itwould be nothing more than he knows we also believe. Mr. B. calls our doctiine an " unholy doctrine" and a doctrine" in favor of sin." See pp. 2 11, 25 1. But the only reason for calling it so, is because we believe, that while the people of God live on the earth, they are not free from sinful imperfection. If Mr. B. views this an unholy doctrine, then it follows, that he does not himself believe in it, but in the contrary doctrine of a sinless perfection in this life. This is all, which at present, we wish to prove. Viewing this difference of sentiment as actually existing between us, I shall proceed to confirm the doctrine, laid down in the sermon, viz. That good men, while they remain on eqrth, are never freejrom sinful imperfection.
Let us first look at the proofs of the doctrine which were exhibited in the sermon, and see whether they are fairly taken out of our hands. Mr. B. seeks to get rid of the force of the text which was thought to furnish the above doctrine, by saying, that Solomon either meant, that "there were rene but that sinned against