Samuel Chadwick, Christian Perfection
There is probably no subject Christian teachers touch so reluctantly as that of Christian perfection. This is due partly to the difficulties of definition, and partly to the fact that it lays one wide open to misunderstanding. A sharp shaft of ridicule may be more damaging than logic. An argument can be met, but there is no answer to a sneer, and the fear of being thought a Pharisee has silenced many on the subject of perfection. A still deeper reason for reluctance is the conscious gulf that lies between the doctrine and experience. It is not easy to urge others to perfection while our own lives fall short; and it is easy to take refuge in the differences and inconsistencies of those who profess it, and hold our peace. Such silence is neither courageous nor guiltless; for while there may be but little hope of agreement in definition, there can be no doubt that the Scriptures speak of a perfection that is both attainable and imperative.
The Scriptures command perfection, promise perfection, and give examples of perfection. God does not mock us with impossible commands. For every demand He makes there is adequate grace supplied. A command is the reverse side of a promise, and a promise the reverse side of a command. Every obligation is a privilege, and every privilege an obligation. Noah, Abraham, and Job are all spoken of as perfect before God, and St. Paul exhorts the perfect in his Epistle to the Philippians. It will readily be objected that these men were far from perfect. Noah got drunk, Abraham told lies, and Job said some bitter things in his affliction, though he held to his integrity with remarkable tenacity. Even St. Paul in the same chapter where he speaks of the perfect, says of himself, “Not that I have already attained, or am already made perfect.”
There is an imperfect perfection. All perfection is relative, except the perfection of God. Christian perfection does not indicate ﬁnality but ﬁtness. A thing may be very imperfect as compared with its ultimate development, and yet be perfect in its present stage. Noah, we are told, was perfect in his generation, and it would be unfair to judge him by any other. The Sermon on the Mount corrects the deliverance of Sinai, but the law of Sinai was perfect for its time and work. A child may be perfect as a child, but very imperfect judged by the manhood it will ultimately reach. In the endless progression of the Christian life every goal is a fresh starting point. Christian perfection is neither absolute nor angelic, and to complete the orthodox round, neither is it Adamic, but Christian.
The Meaning of Perfection
Much of the difficulty concerning the subject has arisen from a confusion of terms. There is a perfection that is future and ﬁnal, and there is a perfection that is practical and present. In the original Scriptures the two kinds of perfection are distinguished by the use of different words, but the English unfortunately has but one word for both. Our conceptions of the practical and present perfection will be simplified if we study the word in its non-doctrinal application. The Jewish law required of traders, “a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure.” That is plain enough. Every purchaser believes in perfection behind the counter. In the Old Testament it is said of several kings that they did right, but not with a perfect heart. Their righteousness fell short of the standard measurement, and in every case their deficiency arose from lack of moral and spiritual qualities. The heart was divided.
In the New Testament one of the words translated perfect is used of mending nets, adjusting worlds, arranging harmony in music, repairing a fault, ﬁtting to parts, and supplying deficiencies. The ﬁsherman has no difficulty in understanding perfection as applied to his nets. They must be made ﬁt for their purpose. The engineer knows the need for perfection in ﬁtting part to part, if his machinery is to do its work. The musician understands the necessity for balance and proportion in the preparation of harmony. The pedestrian needs limbs perfect in their soundness, and must have the dislocated joint put right if he is to walk. The whole body has to be perfectly jointed if it is to do its work, and nothing can be perfect while any lack remains. To make perfect, therefore, means to make ﬁt, to put in order, adjust, adapt, arrange, and equip, so as to secure effectiveness and efficiency for the result to be achieved. Whatever is perfect must be without deficiency, without division, without admixture of alien elements.
The meaning is the same when applied to Christian life and experience. It is the adjustment, cleansing, and equipment of man’s nature for all the purposes of the life in Christ. It is nothing more than making ﬁt in every part to do the will of God. Everything that hinders and dislocates is taken away, the powers of mind, heart, and body are restored to their true order; and every need of grace and power is supplied. There is no deficiency, no disorder, no discord ; the man of God is made perfect for, and in the will of, God. Wesley’s definition is short, simple and scriptural, “Pure love alone reigning in the heart and life, this is the whole of Christian perfection.”
All the Elements of Christian Character
Are Set Forth in the Scriptures
As Capable of Perfection
The elements that make up Christian character are Faith, Hope, Love; and each of these may be perfect.
“Night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face, and may perfect that which is lacking in your faith.” Their faith was deficient. It lacked something, but whatever it was in which they fell short, it was capable of being supplied. It is not unlikely the apostle anticipated this perfecting in the prayer: “And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it” (1 Thess. v. 23, 24). “Thou seest that faith wrought with his works and by works was faith made perfect” (Jas. ii. 22). The point common to both these passages is that faith may be perfect. It may be made perfect by instruction, as in the case of the Thessalonians, or by works, as in the teaching of St. James. Whatever the process of perfecting, the perfect is possible. Life may be lived without doubt, without wavering, and without unbelief. At all times and in all things, the heart may be fully assured in the truth and will of God.
“Be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter i. 13). In ver. 21, faith and hope are joined together, but hope comes after faith. Faith plants its feet securely upon the certainties of the Word. It examines, proves, and stakes everything upon assured truth. It builds on the rock. Hope gives wings to the soul. It dwells in the future. Its home is within the veil. Though billows and darkness be on every side, hope soars above them all, and out-ﬂying the storm, dwells in the calm of eternal day. It is not riotous, unbridled imagination, but a sure and certain hope born of a clear and proved conviction of the soul. We are begotten “unto living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to lie revealed in the last time.” This living hope may be set perfectly on the grace that is to be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ. An unquenchable, eternal, perfect hope!
“Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath punishment: and he that feareth is not made perfect in love.” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” “Above all things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.” Love made perfect! Heart, soul, and mind cleansed from every defilement, united and harmonized, every part enthused with holy fervor and reverent devotion! When love is perfect there is no fear because there is no sense of guilt, no unrest because no strife, no coldness because no sin. The soul made perfect in love is delivered from all that separated it from God and divided man’s nature against itself. It is restored and sanctified, renewed and adjusted, cleansed and ﬁlled with the presence of God. Love reigns, love radiates, love inspires, love transforms. Love is the sum of duty and the inspiration of life.
Perfect faith; perfect hope; perfect love; these make the perfect man in the stature of the fullness of Christ.
This perfection is guaranteed as a deﬁnite and present experience. It is not the consummation of the Christian life, but its condition. The perfecting of the saints at Christ’s appearing is an altogether different matter. That is the end of our faith; this is its preparation for the life of obedience in the will of God. It is the sanctification, adjustment, and equipment of man’s nature that he may be a ﬁt temple of an indwelling God, made meet for a life of holy fellowship, and an efficient instrument for holy service; and since the Christian life has to be lived in the present world, the perfection is for present experience and work. It is not ﬁnal but initiatory, not beyond the possibility of development but essentially progressive. Surely no man will say God is not able to cleanse perfectly, renew entirely, and endue completely, every part of man redeemed by His grace, and surrendered to His will. We have a Savior who “is able to save to the uttermost,” and “to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything may abound unto every good work.” He is a perfect Deliverer; Jesus Christ is a perfect Savior, and the Spirit is a perfect Sanctifier, Sustainer, and Strengthener in the heart of man. Perfection is possible because it is the work of the perfect and inﬁnite God.
Experienced in the Heart
is Manifest in the Life
“By their fruits ye shall know them.” True perfection of faith, hope, and love bears fruit unto perfection in the graces of the Christian life. The ﬁtness of machinery is proved in its working. The profession of efficiency must be tested by results. Does the perfecting of grace in the soul result in perfection in the practical outworking of the daily life? Here again the meaning of the term must be kept in mind. Christian perfection does not mean faultlessness but blamelessness. It does not mean that a thing has reached the excellence beyond which there is no possibility of improvement, but that the work is perfect in motive, and perfect according to the capacity of the worker. That an act is perfect in this sense implies that it is simple in aim, and faithful in execution. So with the Christian graces in the man made perfect. They lack no essential quality, and are adequate to the strain that is put upon them. Every exercise develops and improves them, but they are sufficient for immediate demand.
1. The ﬁrst-fruit of the threefold perfection of Faith, Hope, and Love is Patience.
“Let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.” In 1 Thess. i. 3, the patience of hope follows the work of faith and the labor of love. Patience is the child of the three graces. The secret of patience is love, hopefulness and conﬁdence. Where any one of these elements is lacking, patience will be wanting, but where these are, patience will have its perfect work; and surely we have need of patience.
The Christian made perfect in faith, hope, and love will be perfect in his patience with God. Jonah is not the only servant of the Lord who has got angry with his God. Neither is the impatient zeal of James and John which would invoke the consuming ﬁres of heaven unknown among us. The long-suffering forbearance of God provokes earnest souls to impatience. The utter absence of divine interference with tragedy and suffering and the apparent indifference of the Eternal to helpless anguish, wring the cry from the heart, Where is God? As the earnest reformer broods over the appalling scenes that confront him, and listens to heartbreaking stories of cruelty and blood, he is driven to wonder how God can sit in the heavens and witness such wretchedness and suffering. The massacre of helpless women and the butchery of little children; treachery, bloodshed, hypocrisy and devilry lie open to His omniscient gaze. We look up to the stars from the weltering mass of moaning humanity, and wonder why He does not step out from the heavens and break the forces of wickedness in pieces. We would. Who has not clenched his ﬁst in the presence of monstrous iniquity and vowed what he would do if he were God? He is mercifully patient with our impatience, and when our anger is spent, and we have sobbed out our grief, He lulls the disquieted soul to rest like a tired child. Then faith returns to its moorings, hope spreads its wings again, and love waits in patience for the coming of the Lord. Though the kingdom of God come slowly and all things seem to continue as they were, we know that He who cannot lie has sworn to His Son that He shall have the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession; and though we see not yet all things subjected to Him, we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor. In that vision faith rests, hope sings, and love waits.
In every lot we have need of patience. St. James exhorts us to take the prophets “for an example of suffering and of patience,” reminding us that we call them blessed which endured, and have seen the end of the Lord, how that He is full of pity, and merciful. There were times when even men of faith could not sing. They hanged their harps on the willows of their grief. But they always had hope. They hung up their harps but they did not break them, nor sell them, nor ﬂing them away: they simply hung them up till their hearts could sing again. Things are hung up to be taken down again. You cannot bear the music to-day, but the song will return, and you will yet praise Him Who is the health of your countenance and your God. In such seasons “let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised.” It is in patient endurance that the soul is won and the promise received. There is no interpreter of life’s mysteries like patience. To them that wait upon the Lord, that do not hurry in their impatience, there shall be given strength and light, and joy. Grace will enable them to be patient under provocation that is malicious and unjust. Read the words of St. Peter: “For what glory is it, if when ye sin and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently? But if ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” When people are unreasonable, unjust, and ungrateful, when the more you try the more they grumble, the perfect life is patient even then. The crowning mark of the perfection of the patience of the life made perfect is in the passage: “Walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all power according to the might of his glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks unto the Father.” Patience and longsuffering with joy and thanksgiving! That surely is the hallmark of perfect patience.
2. Perfect Obedience to the Will of God.
Holiness is the objective of grace. Adjustment and cleansing, divine indwelling and inworking are all for the purpose of holiness of heart and righteousness of life. Goodness is the goal of all God’s working. Faith is made perfect by its works; hope purifies by its vision; and love not only keeps the commandments but sets them to music. “That ye may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” “Every Scripture inspired of God is also proﬁtable teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete (A. V. perfect), furnished completely unto every good work.” “Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep with the blood of the eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Perfect and fully assured in all the will of God; perfect, furnished completely unto every good work; perfect in every good thing to do His will. Christian perfection means that a man lives in the assurance of God’s approval, that he is equipped and abounds in good works, and that his outward life is inspired and energized by an indwelling and inworking God. He not only does the will of God; he revels in it; it is his meat and drink. He not only abstains from evil, he abounds in goodness. He not only attains to holiness, but in his virtue there is the spontaneity of life and the ease of power. Beware of all teaching of perfection divorced from obedience. Faith that makes void the law, hope that does not purify, and love that does not keep the commandments, are a blasphemy and a lie. The soul made perfect in grace dwells in God and obeys His will. Business, friendship, home, pleasure, and all else are adjusted to His mind and maintained according to His pleasure. Such perfect obedience is only possible to perfect faith, perfect hope, and perfect love; but to faith, hope, and love all things are possible.
3. A Perfect Tongue.
“If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man.” “Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle,” says Michael Angelo. Perfection in all God’s work extends to all the minutia of His operations. He takes the same inﬁnite pains over an insect’s wing as in the making of a planet. The test of perfection is in its perfection of ﬁnish. The perfection of the perfect man ﬁnds its test in his speech. The tongue reveals the heart. It gives form and expression to the hidden things of the soul,-”Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Who can keep his tongue? The hasty, thoughtless, idle, false, and ﬁery words slip off so easily. It is a little member, but it has tremendous power, and is very difﬁcult to control. It can only be cleansed and kept from within. A clean tongue is possible only to a clean heart, and a perfect tongue only to a perfect man. Here, again, salvation is in faith, hope, and charity. Evil speaking is a special snare to those who have received special gifts of grace. Censoriousness is the besetting sin of the sanctified. A watch, therefore, should be set upon the lips, for no man is perfect whose tongue is not kept from evil. Christian perfection magnifies the grace of God that is able to keep from stumbling in word as well as in deed.
4. Perfect Peace.
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.” What a promise! Perfect peace! Who can fathom its depth and meaning? And yet, it is the natural result of adjustment, adaptation, and power. What is peace but the stillness of harmony, proportion, and balance? When there is peace it means that all the varying forces have been so blended as to become a unit. It is the stillness and stability which is the perfection of energy. The earth is still because of its velocity. Its stability is in its speed. So in the man made perfect. His nature is uniﬁed and harmonized with God. All the forces that center in the heart are so subjected, balanced, uniﬁed, and kept, that there is unbroken, eternal, and perfect peace. Perfect peace! No friction, no controversy, no strife, no shrinking, no strain, no coercion, no condemnation! Peace, perfect peace! It is a blessed cloudless life of unbroken harmony. Peace for all time and all the time, so perfect that neither earth nor hell can disturb it, as unchanging and abiding as the God of peace from Whom it comes. This also is the fruit of perfect faith, perfect hope, and perfect love. Without these there can be no peace, but where these are perfect, perfect peace abides.
“If Thou Wouldest Be Perfect!”
For such a life among the redeemed who has not sighed and prayed? Not only for perfection, which shall be ours when we see Jesus face to face in the Father’s house, but for the life of patience, obedience, victory, and peace in this present life, our hearts have cried with agony and tears. To-day the Savior looks and challenges us to perfection. The very “if,” assumes the possibility. He takes no low views of the possibilities of grace. His call is to perfection. How then may we attain unto a life so glorious? We must remember that it is not by law. “The law made nothing perfect.” Neither is it by anything we offer to God. Gifts and sacrifices cannot make the worshiper perfect. Perfection is neither by the law of Moses, nor by the law of the sanctuary. It is the work and gift of God, and can only become ours by Consecration,
Cleansing and Indwelling
1. “If thou wouldest be perfect, go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” That is the ﬁrst great commandment of the perfect life: absolute and unconditional surrender of the whole life to God.
2. “Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of ﬂesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” After surrender, cleansing. The temple of the Lord must be clean before it can be ﬁlled with the glory of His presence.
3. “Now the God of peace …. make you perfect in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.” “Christ liveth in me.” After cleansing, indwelling. The life is not the life of the perfect man, but of the perfect Christ who dwells and works in the soul by His Spirit. It is God’s work. “The God of all grace …. shall himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you.” It is the work of the perfect Worker, and every one whom He perfects shall be as his Master. “Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it,” and when He has done it, we need not proclaim it, for perfection, above all things, cannot be hid.