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In this respect, it is in religion as in other things. In the different branches of learning, to use the language of another, “ he who knows nothing, or knows but little, is confident and eager; while he who seriously enters on the pursuit, soon loses bis presumption. He acquires, by degrees, a new standard of judging. New views present themselves. The circuit continually widens around him. The point of perfection moves further off. And after years of patient study, he still sees that he has acquired but very little, in comparison with the unbounded field which stretches itself before him."
And thus it is in the pursuit of personal holiness. The worldly man knows nothing of the subject, and of course if he speaks of it, he will betray his ignorance. The young Christian knows but little, and must therefore be an incompetent judge. But the experienced Christian, who has been long in the school of Christ, and has been growing there, uniformly finds his confidence in biniself to diminish, in proportion as his spiritual attainments increase. He sees more of the extent and purity of God's law. He feels more deeply the defilement and guilt of sin.
He sees more clearly the beauty and excellency of holiness. His spiritual senses become more acute.
He daily finds new sources of evil discovering themselves, and new points of duty calling for attention. And thus, while he is improving in all goodness, he seems to himself often to be deteriorating. He seems to remain at a vast and increasing distance from that point of perfection to which his heart aspires. The beautiful language of Pope, on another subject, is so illustrative of this, that I shall be excused for quoting it:
“ So pleased, at first, the tow'ring Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
The fact here illustrated, viz. that the greater the advances which Christians make in holiness, in this life, and the nearer they approach to the point of sinless perfection, the further they seem to themselves to be from it, is to my own mind indubitable. And if it be so, it stamps as utter delusion all those pretences to perfection which are sometimes made.
6 I've seen an end of what they call perfection here below.” There is no such perfection here.
Nor are these pretences to perfection a harmless delusion. Their influence on the heart and character is uniformly hurtful.
The man who thinks himself already perfect will, almost of necessity, be led to lower down the standard of duty. He may not intend to do it, but he will.* The law of God will not appear to him, as it did to David, to Paul, and to President Edwards. It will receive such modifications in his hands, that he can easily bring himself up to what he conceives to be the measure of its requisitions. He will also be a self-confident, self-righteous man.
He will be strong in his own strength, and will look down with pity, perhaps with scorn, on those whose attainments he deems inferior to his own. He will be disposed to find fault with other Christians; to judge of them censoriously; and to withhold from them the hand of christian fellowship.
A connection has commonly been observed between a fancied perfection, and wild enthusiastic notions. After Mr. Wesley began to preach the doctrine of perfection, and a considerable number of his followers in London had attained to that state, he complains that, in spite of him, “enthusiasm broke in. Two or three began to take their own imaginations for impressions from God, and thence to suppose that they should never die. The same persons, with a few more, ran into other extravagancies, fancying that they could not be tempted—that they should feel no more pain—that they had the gift of prophecy, and of discerning of spirits. At my return among them,” adds Mr. Wesley, “ some stood reproved; but others had got above instruction.”+
Persons who fall under the delusion of which we speak are usually led to undervalue christian ordinances, and religious means. The Sabbath, the house of God, sacraments, and set times of prayer, may be needful for those who are struggling under the bonds of sin ; but what necessity have the perfect
* Mr. Wesley did not intend, perhaps, to depress the standard of duty ; but he held to the repeal of “the Adamic law," and thought it very consistent with persection that persons should fall into great errors and faulls. See his Plain Account, pp. 93, 54.
# Plain Account, p. 76.
for any of those things ? Every day is to then, a Sabbath, and every place a temple, and every breath as the incense of hea
For persons in this state, ordinances are low and carnal things.
In short, I have no hesitation in saying, that those who think themselves perfect in the present life, are the subjects of a miserable, hurtful delusion. Instead of perfection, they too often manifest to all around them, in their tempers and their lives, that they are exceedingly imperfect — far gone in error and in sin*—and have need to have their eyes opened, and their hearts humbled, and to come back, in penitence and sorrow, upon the ground of salvation, as offered in the gospel.
I must not be understood, in anything I have here written, as excusing or palliating the imperfections of Christians. For their imperfections admit of no good excuse. They feel this ; they are sensible of it; and this is that which humbles them in the sight of God.
Nor must I be understood as discouraging the desires, and prayers, and endeavors of Christians to get forward in the divine life, and press toward the mark of sinless perfection. For such desires, and prayers, and efforts, are an essential element of the christian character. No person, who is not conscious of them, can have any real evidence that he is a child of God.
* In illustration of what is here said, I cannot forbear quoting a few Bentences from Mr. Wesley's “ Plain Account” of some of his perfect followers in London. Some," says he, “are wanting in gentleness. They resist evil, instead of turning the other cheek. If they are reproved or contradicted, though mildly, they do not take it well. They behave with more distance and reserve than they did before. If they are reproved or contradicted harshly, they answer it with harshness; with a loud voice, or with an angry tone, or in a sharp or surly manner. They speak sharply or roughly, when they reprove others, and behave roughly to their inferiors.
"Some are wanting in goodness. They are not kind, mild, sweet, amiable, soft, and loving at all times, in their spirit, in their words, in their looks and air, in the whole tenor of their behavior. They do not study to make all about them happy. They can see them uneasy-perhaps make them so; and then wipe their mouths and say, It is their own fault.
"Some are wanting in fidelity, or a nice regard to truth, simplicity, and godly sincerity.” “ Some are wanting in meekness, composure, evenness of temper.” “ Some are wanting in temperance,” etc. pp. 113, 114. SECOND SERIES, VOL. I. NO. I.
But I would discourage Christians from vainly pretending that they have arrived at the point of sinless perfection, when this is not the case. I would discourage them from thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think ; — from dattering themselves that they are rich, and increased in goods, and in need of nothing, when they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
If Christians would be safe in this respect, let them study faithfully and prayerfully the law of God. They must carry it always with them. They must keep it ever before them, in all its extent, its spirituality, its strictness, its purity. Let them keep up the standard high, where God has set it; and labor to bring themselves up to the standard, instead of laboring to bring the standard down to them. In this way, while they are ever active, and growing, and fervent; they will be ever humble, penitent, and contrite. While they are gaining new conquests over the world and sin, and advancing nearer and nearer to the standard, the standard may seem to recede faster than they approach, and they may think themselves further from it than ever. In the measureless distance which lies before them, they will think little of the way over which they have already travelled. In their zeal to get forward, they will forget the things which are behind. And thus will they go on, from strength to strength, and from attaininent to attainment, to the end of their mortal conflict — till they lay down their bodies in the dust of death; and then will the last remains of sin be overcome, and their triumphing souls will be set at liberty. Then will they lay aside their armor, and cease from all their toils and sufferings, and enter into glorious rest.
THE WRITINGS OF John Foster.
By Rev. Daniel Butler, Dorchester, Ms.
Among the theological writings of the present age, few have obtained a wider circulation, or gained for their author a more lasting fame, than the volumes of John Foster. I grant, indeed, that if we estimate this writer merely by the number and size of his works, he will be lightly esteemed in comparison with many of his contemporaries. While their buge octavos, in shining array, occupy the lower shelves of every respectable library, his three or four small duodecimos are thrust away on the upper shelf, content to stand beside Annuals, Almanacs, and books simplified, or made extremely simple, for children. But if, on the other hand, we regard the truth he has given us, the just views he has taken of many important subjects, the valuable ideas he has suggested, the new fields of thought he has opened to view, and the tone of piety which pervades all his writings, we are bound to assign him a high eminence among those whose productions have blessed the world.
One of Foster's most prominent characteristics is his originality. This is displayed even in the selection of his topics for discussion. Several of them are new altogether, and of a nature which would seem, at first sight, to repay but poorly the labor of investigation.
But the originality of the selection is not more conspicuous than that displayed in the treatment of his subjects. He follows no leader. He does not content himself with dressing up anew shapes borrowed from preceding writers. As the subjects are his, so the treatment is eminently all his own.
He seems a spark struck out from the seventeenth century, that antiquated period, when men were content to think their own thoughts.
It is another excellence of this writer, that he displays a mastery of his subject. If he has chosen themes seldom considered, he has not done so without a full understanding of their nature. His mind is deeply imbued with them, and displays its fulness in every line. Successive views are taken, and the great question appears to be, not what shall be said, but what omitted. Like the successful adventurer to distant lands, who, on bis return, unable to bring all his wealth, casts his eye doubtfully along the glittering heaps, uncertain which to leave ; so he, from bis rich stores of thought, seems laboring to select, where all is too valuable for omission.
As a consequence of this fulness, he is all the time making progress in his subject. He does not grasp, in conscious poverty, every idea presented to his mind, and hold it up again and again, under different aspects. Like the sun in its progress round the world, no sooner has he poured light upon one part, than he hurries forward to illuminate regions yet in darkness. You feel,