Please understand that Christian Perfection is a duty.
1. This is evident from the fact that God requires it, both under the law and under the gospel.
The Lord Jesus taught in Matthew 5:43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy.” 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
The command in the text, “Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.,” is given under the gospel. Christ here commands the very same thing that the law requires. Some suppose that much less is required of us under the gospel, than was required under the law. It is true that the gospel does not require perfection, as the condition of salvation. But no part of the obligation of the law is discharged. The gospel holds those who are under it to the same holiness as those under the law.
These words of warning are from the Lord Jesus, himself. Matthew 5:17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’
What is Christian perfection?
It is perfect obedience to the law of God. The law of God requires perfect, disinterested, impartial benevolence, love to God and love to our neighbour. It requires that we should be actuated by the same feeling, and to act on the same principles that God acts upon; to leave self out of the question as uniformly as he does, to be as much separated from selfishness as he is; in a word, to be in our measure as perfect as God is. Christianity requires that we should do neither more nor less than the law of God prescribes. Nothing short of this is Christian perfection. This is being, morally, just as perfect as God. Every thing is here included, to feel as he feels, to love what he loves, and hate what he hates, and for the same reasons that he loves and hates.
God regards every being in the universe according to its real value. He regards his own interests according to their real value in the scale of being, and no more. He exercises the same love towards himself that he requires of us, and for the same reason. He loves himself supremely, both with the love of benevolence and the love of complacency, because he is supremely excellent. And he requires us to love him just so, to love him as perfectly as he loves himself. He loves himself with the love of benevolence, or regards his own interest, and glory, and happiness, as the supreme good, because it is the supreme good. And he requires us to love him in the same way. He loves himself with infinite complacency, because he knows that he is infinitely worthy and excellent, and he requires the same of us. He also loves his neighbour as himself, not in the same degree that he loves himself, but in the same proportion, according to their real value. From the highest angel to the smallest worm, he regards their happiness with perfect love, according to their worth. It is his duty to conform to these principles, as much as it is our duty. He can no more depart from this rule than we can, without committing sin; and for him to do it would be as much worse than for us to do it, as he is greater than we. God is infinitely obligated to do this. His very nature, not depending on his own volition, but uncreated, binds him to this. And he has created us moral beings in his own image, capable of conforming to the same rule with himself. This rule requires us to have the same character with him, to love as impartially, with as perfect love – to seek the good of others with as single an eye as he does. This, and nothing less than this, is Christian Perfection.
2. Christian Perfection is a duty, because God has no right to require any thing less.
God cannot discharge us from the obligation to be perfect, as I have defined perfection. If he were to attempt it, he would just so far give a license to sin. He has no right to give any such license. While we are moral beings, there is no power in the universe that can discharge us from the obligation to be perfect. Can God discharge us from the obligation to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength? That would be saying that God does not deserve such love. And if he cannot discharge us from the whole law, he cannot discharge from any part of it, for the same reason.
3. Should any one contend that the gospel requires less holiness than the law, I would ask him to say just how much less it requires.
If we are allowed to stop short of perfect obedience, where shall we stop? How perfect are we required to be? Where will you find a rule in the Bible, to determine how much less holy you are allowed to be under the gospel, than you would be under the law? Shall we say each one must judge for himself? Then I ask, if you think it is your duty to be any more perfect than you are now? Probably all would say, Yes. Can you lay down any point at which, when you have arrived, you can say, “Now I am perfect enough; it is true, I have some sin left, but I have gone as far as it is my duty to go in this world?” Where do you get your authority for any such notion? No; the truth is, that all who are truly pious, the more pious they are, the more strongly they feel the obligation to be perfect, as God is perfect.
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