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THE TRUE CHARACTER OF GOOD MEN DELINEA
ROMANS vii, 18. For to will is present with me; but how to perform
that which is good, I find not.
HAVING shown in the preceding discourse, that it is the desire of saints to be perfect--that notwithstanding this desire they are still imperfect--and that their imperfection consists in positively sinful exercises, it only remains to improve the subject, by drawing a number of inferences from it.
INFERENCE I.-If the imperfection of saints consists in the inconstancy of their holy exercises, then it is their duty to become absolutely perfect. It appears from what has been said, that there is nothing to pre.. vent their reaching perfection in this life, but their own free, voluntary, sinful exercises. They would be en tirely sinless, if they would only continue to exercise just such holy affections as they sometimes do exercise. If they are able to have one good affection, why not another, and another, without intermission? And if they are able to have a constant series of good affections, why are they not under moral obligation to have such a series, and to be uniformly holy? No reason can be given, why they should not be perfect, which will not be as good a reason, why they should voluntarily commit sin. But who can believe, that saints ought to commit the least iniquity? Though no man has been absolutely perfect in this life, and though it is very evident, that no man ever will be so in the
present state; yet this affords not the least excuse for the least moral imperfection. It is the indispensable duty of all saints to keep themselves always in the love of God, and to be holy as he is holy, and perfect as he is perfect. They cannot fall short of moral perfection, without exercising positively sinful affections, which must be condemned by the divine law, and by their own enlightened consciences.
Inference 2.-If the present imperfection of saints consists in the inconstancy of their holy exercises, then it is easy to conceive how, they will all be equally perfect in a future state. : The Scripture assures us, that all true believers will be perfectly pure, as soon as they are absent from the body and present with the Lord. We read, "There shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie.” Those, who have already reached the mansions of the blessed, are called “the spirits of just men made perfect.” And the Apostle tells us “When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." But how can all true saints be. come thus equally perfect, the moment they arrive at the kingdom of glory? They will enter into the regions of light with unequal capacities, with unequal knowledge, and with unequal reasons of gratitude and praise. These inequalities must lay a foundation for an inequality of holiness to all eternity. How, then, can they all be equally perfect, while they are unequally holy? T'he answer to this is easy, if, their imperfection will cease, the moment their sinful exercises cease; and, if, their perfection will commence, the moment their holy exercises become constant and uninterrupted. : And this will certainly be the case, if their present imperfection wholly consists in the inconstancy of their holy exercises. We must suppose, that all their positively sinful exercises will cease, before they are admitted into the immediate presence of God, and as soon as these cease, their holy affections will of course become constant; and that constàncy.of perfectly holy exercises, must constitute sinless perfection. In this way the least saint will be as perfect as the greatest; and the greatest will be as perfect, the first moment he enters the gates of Paradise, as he ever will be, in any period of eternity. : Though all the inhabitants of heaven will incessantly make advances in holiness, yet none will make advances in perfection, which essentially and necessarily consists in the constant exercise : of holy affections. 1. INFERENCE' 8.-If the imperfection of saints be owe ing, not to the weakness, but to the inconstancy of their holy exercises; then there is a propriety in their being called perfect, notwithstanding they are far from being free from moral corruption. The Scripture both directly and indirectly represents all good men as perfect. We read, “Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generations.” It is said of Job, "That man was perfect and upright.” We are told, “God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil do. ers.”. The Psalmist says, “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.” Solomon observes, “The upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it.” He says again, "The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way: but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness."
That the word perfect, is here used in a strict and proper sense, appears from other texts, in which saints are represented as having a perfect heart. We read, “Asa's heart was perfect all his days.” . Hezekiah pleads the perfection of his own heart before God. “I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart." The Prophet also says, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him."
Now, if all good men have some holy exercises, which are entirely pure and free from sin; there is a strict propriety in calling them perfect, notwithstand, ing all their remaining impurity and imperfection. Their perfectly holy affections render it as proper to call them perfect as their totally sinful affections render it proper to call them imperfect. Since they have some entirely right affections, they may be truly called blameless, harmless, sincere, undefiled, and pure in heart. But if their holy affections were always too low and languid, or were always mixed with moral impurity, then no moral perfection could belong to their character. And if this were true, there could be no propriety in calling them perfect, or in using any expressions, which convey this idea. But if all their moral exercises are perfectly holy, except those which are totally sinful, then it is altogether proper, that they should be characterized by their best affections, which constitute their moral beauty and real perfection.
INFERENCE 4...If the imperfection of saints consists in the inconstancy of their holy exercises, then it is
easy to account for their spiritual declensions. It is no uncommon thing for good men to go backward, instead of going forward in religion. This is generally ascribed to the languor and weakness of their gra. cious exercises, or to the want of strength and vigor in their gracious principle. But it is extremely difficult to account for such coldness and barrenness in christians, if all their moral exercises are pure and ho
ly, or if they have always a principle of grace, upon which divine objects must always make some good impression. It is, therefore, much more reasonable to suppose, that their spiritual declension is owing to the increase of positively sinful exercises. For, as these increase, gracious exercises must necessarily decrease. They cannot love God, while they are loving the world; they cannot serve God while they are serving mammon; and they cannot mind spiritual, while they Are minding earthly things. Spiritual declension ought, in all cases, to be ascribed entirely to the fewness of gracious exercises. As natural coldness in winter is not owing to the distance of the sun from the earth, but to the feroness and oblique direction of its rays which fall upon it; so spiritual coldness, formality, and deadness in religion is not owing to the languor of holy exercises, but to the feroness and interruption of right affections. Saints know by experience, that while their attention is fixed on divine objects and not diverted, and while their holy affections continue uniform and uninterrupted, they find the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment in the duties of devotion. But while they mind earthly things, and eagerly pursue worldly objects and enjoyments, they find their graces languish, and they grow cold and dead to every thing of a spiritual and divine nature. As they generally grow warm and lively in religion, as fast as their holy exercises increase; so they generally grow cold and dull : as fast as their love to God is interrupted by their love to the world. They never stand still, but always go either forward or backward in their religious course. When they go forward, they go forward of fehoice; and when they go backward, they go backward of choice. Their declension is altogether voluntary, and entirely owing to their positively sinful exercises. It