Home > Systematic Theology > Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Perfection- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 7

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Perfection- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 7

Book Seventh



The process of sanctification, which is continued during the present life, is completed when the subjects of it are perfectly fitted for the service and enjoyments of heaven. In this work of the Spirit, the resurrection of the body is included, and the fashioning of it like the glorious body of Christ. Having been predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son,[227] the purposed work of grace is not completed until we appear in glory, with our bodies like the glorious body of the Redeemer. For this perfect conformity, the saints on earth long, and to it they look as the consummation of their wishes and hopes: “then shall I be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness.”[228] This was the object of Paul’s earnest desire, the prize for which he put forth every effort. He refers to it in these words: “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead: not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”[229]

The work of grace will not be completed until the second coming of Christ: “He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”[230] Then the last change will be made, which will fit us for the eternal service and enjoyment of God, in his high and holy place. “Then we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” “Now we know in part; but then we shall know even as also we are known.” “Then that which is perfect will have come;” and until then every saint must say with Paul: “Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect.”

Besides this final perfection, to which the saints are taught to aspire, there are stages in their progress to which the name perfection is, in a subordinate sense, applied in the Holy Scriptures. The disembodied saints, now in the presence of God, though they have not attained to the resurrection of the body, are nevertheless called “just men made perfect.”[231] They are free from the body of death, free from sin, free from all the tribulations and sorrows of this world, and are present with the Lord, and in the enjoyment of his love.

Even in the present life there are stages in the Christian’s progress to which the term perfection is applied. When they have attained to an enlarged knowledge of divine truth, they are said to be perfect, or of full age, to distinguish them from those who have learned only the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.[232] Men who make a full and consistent exhibition of the religious character, by a godly life, are called perfect. So Job was “perfect and upright, fearing God and eschewing evil.”[233] To Christians generally the term “perfect” appears to be applied, in the exhortation of Paul: “Let us, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.”[234] He here includes himself among the perfect; and yet, in the same chapter,[235] he affirms that he was not already perfect. It is clear, therefore, that the words are used in different senses in the two places.

No perfection to which the people of God attain in the present life, includes perfect freedom from sin. Job, though a perfect man, said, “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me. If I say, I am perfect, it also shall prove me perverse.”[236] Paul, though numbering himself among the perfect, said, “When I would do good, evil is present with me.”[237] “I am carnal, sold under sin.”[238] John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves:”[239] and Solomon, “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.”[240] With these declarations of God’s word, the experience of Christians in all ages has agreed; and they have found need for daily prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

In the precept, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect,”[241] we may take the term in its highest sense. As we are commanded to love God with all the heart–to be holy because he is holy; it is our duty to be perfectly free from sin; and to come up to this standard, should be our constant aim and effort. We cannot attain to a perfect knowledge of God in the present life; but we may follow on to know him.[242] So we cannot attain to a perfect likeness in holiness, yet we may be “changed into the same image from glory to glory.”[243] Progress in the divine life is full of reward, and full of encouragement, even while we are fighting the good fight of faith, and before we obtain the victor’s crown. The promise of grace to help in every struggle, of continued success in every conflict, and of final victory, is sufficient encouragement to put forth every effort. We should ever press toward the mark, ever keep the high standard of perfection in view, and aim to reach it. “Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”[244]

The indication is fearful when a man excuses sin in himself, on the ground that perfection is not attainable in the present life. A true Christian may have a besetting sin; but any one who has an indulged, allowed, or excused sin, has reason to fear that the love of sin has never been crucified in his heart. And he who satisfies himself with any standard below absolute perfection in holiness, is so far allowing sin in himself, and giving the indication which ought to alarm him.

In the spiritual warfare, of which every believer is conscious, the love of God in the heart is in conflict with other affections which are not duly subordinated to it. Growth in grace implies an ascendancy of the holy affection over those with which it contends. That gains strength, and those grow weaker, as the house of David waxed stronger, and house of Saul weaker,[245] in their struggle for dominion over Israel. It is therefore our duty, that we may grow in grace, to cherish the holy affections, which rise heavenward, and to mortify the carnal affections, which are earthward in their tendency. No man on earth can justly claim that the affections of his heart are perfectly regulated according to the high standard of God’s law. The internal conflict between the law in the members and the law in the mind, does not cease till God calls away the spirit from its union with the mortal body. The phrase “law in our members,”[246] does not imply that our sin belongs properly to our material bodies; but it nevertheless apparently suggests that the conflict between the law in the members and the law in the mind, may be expected to continue as long as the members and the mind have their present relation to each other. Just men are made perfect[247] when they become disembodied spirits. When absent from the body, they are present with the Lord;[248] and they are then holy; for without holiness no man shall see the Lord.[249]

We should not attribute to death the efficiency of our final deliverance from sin. It is only an instrument which the Holy Spirit uses in his work, just as he has used the many afflictions which have preceded death, and of which death is the termination. As this is the last suffering which the righteous will endure, the last enemy which remains to be destroyed, it is appropriately used as the last instrumentality which the Holy Spirit will employ in his work. And it is a most suitable instrumentality. Death introduces us into the full knowledge of God, which is necessary to the perfect love of him. It opens to our view the unseen things of the eternal world, that they may have their full and proper influence on our minds. It separates us for ever from the things of earth, to which our affections have been so strongly inclined to cleave. The death of a beloved friend has often been blessed as a means of our sanctification: but when we die, all our surviving friends die to us at once. The loss of property has weaned us from the world: but at death we lose all our earthly possessions at a single stroke. God may have burned down our dwellings and consumed in the flames the coffers which contained our gold, when he graciously designed to direct our thoughts to the house not made with hands, and to the treasure which cannot be consumed. What, then, when the earth itself, which he has given for the habitation of men, and all therein which he has given them to enjoy, shall be burned up in the last conflagration; or shall be shown to us as prepared to be cast into that funeral fire? This is well adapted to eradicate from the heart the love of the things that perish. This fit instrumentality the Spirit employs in completing his work of sanctification. Yet, as in all our afflictions, the efficiency is not in the means employed,, but in the divine power which employs them to fulfil his gracious purpose.

[227] Rom. viii. 29.

[228] Ps. xvii. 15.

[229] Phil. iii. 11, 12, 13.

[230] Phil. i. 6.

[231] Heb. xii.23.

[232] Heb. vi. 1; v. 14.

[233] Job i. 1.

[234] Phil. iii. 15.

[235] Phil. iii. 12.

[236] Job ix. 20.

[237] Rom. vii. 21.

[238] Rom. vii. 14.

[239] 1 John i. 8.

[240] Eccl. vii. 20.

[241] Matt. v. 48.

[242] Hosea vi. 3.

[243] 2 Cor. iii. 19.

[244] 2 Cor. vii. 1.

[245] 2 Sam. iii. 1.

[246] Rom. vii. 23.

[247] Heb. xii. 23.

[248] 2 Cor. v. 8.

[249] Heb. xii. 14.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

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