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An Introduction to Benjamin B. Warfield’s Studies in Perfectionism

I am delighted to announce that I have made available for free download something freely offered nowhere else (as far as I am aware) on the web: the classic and crushing review, analysis, and critique of perfectionism by Benjamin B. Warfield, his two volume Studies in Perfectionism, volumes 7-8 of the ten volume set of Warfield’s works! You can read and download the volumes here. Copyright laws have been honored because the two volumes are compilations of earlier journal articles that Warfield wrote, and these articles are in the public domain.  So, technically, I have not posted the two volumes per se, as these are still within copyright time limits, but I have grouped together and posted the content of the journal articles, which are no longer under copyright, and which are identical in content to the two volumes.  The chapters of his work are:

VOLUME SEVEN: Perfectionism: Vol. 1

1. Albrecht Ritschl and His Doctrine of Christian Perfection (art. 1)
2. Albrecht Ritschl and His Doctrine of Christian Perfection (art. 2)
3. “Miserable-Sinner Christianity” in the Hands of the Rationalists (pt. 1)
4. “Miserable-Sinner Christianity” in the Hands of the Rationalists (pt. 2)
5. “Miserable-Sinner Christianity” in the Hands of the Rationalists (pt. 3)
6. “Die Heiligungsbewugung” – “The Fellowship Movement”
7. The German “Higher Life Movement” in Its Chief Exponent

VOLUME EIGHT: Perfectionism: Vol. 2

1. Oberlin Perfectionism
I. The Men and the Beginnings
II. Mahan’s Type of Teaching
III. The Development of the Oberlin Teaching
IV. The Theology of Charles G. Finney
2. John Humphrey Noyes and His “Bible Communists”
I. The Environment
II. The Beginnings
III. The Structure
IV. The Doctrine
3. The Mystical Perfectionism of Thomas Cogswell Upham
I. Upham and His Second Conversion
II. Upham and the Quietists
III. Upham’s Doctrinal Teaching
4. The “Higher Life” Movement
5. “The Victorious Life”

Warfield’s set is just about as timely and relevant today as it was when he wrote it, as perfectionism still troubles the Lord’s church, the wider realms of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and Christendom in general.  The baneful influence of the Oberlin theology of Charles Finney and Asa Mahan is yet a plague harming many churches, and the Higher Life and Victorious Life perfectionisms of Hannah W. Smith, William Boardman, Charles Trumbull, Keswick, and their associates has likewise profoundly affected–and troubled–numberless churches.  Indeed, dear reader, you are almost certain to have been exposed to the Higher Life theology in one form or another if you are an American and a Baptist, fundamentalist, or evangelical. You consequently would do well to read this two-volume set to strengthen your Biblical doctrine of sanctification and so that you can both avoid for yourself and help others avoid the snares of perfectionist error.

Of course, Warfield was not infallible, and you would do well to avoid his TULIP Calvinism, his openness to various forms of evolution, his embrace of the Greek critical text and lower criticism, and his Presbyterian ecclesiology. These errors, while you need to be on guard against them, do not remove the great value of his Studies in Perfectionism, which approach the topic from what is a very close to a Biblical, historic Baptist view of the doctrine.

Advocates of the Higher Life and Victorious Life movements that Warfield demolishes have never successfully critiqued or refuted his work – instead, what many of them do is affirm that he misunderstood the movements that he was analyzing. This provides them a way to ignore his work and continue to teach their perfectionist errors. However, the claim that Warfield or other prominent Higher Life critics did not really understand the movements they were critiquing is simply false – as demonstrated here, they understood what they were doing very well. No one has successfully demonstrated that Warfield twisted or distorted the movements he analyzed. In fact, information that was not accessible in the Princeton theologian’s day, but is available in ours (for example, see here and here) demonstrates that the roots of the Keswick movement are even worse than Warfield knew.

In conclusion, Benjamin B Warfield’s Studies in Perfectionism is precise and accurate scholarship that honors the Lord and advances the work of His kingdom by promoting a Biblical view of sanctification and exposing and refuting baneful errors that are still harming the people of God today. You would do well to read and carefully consider the contents of his classic work.

Go to the table of contents of Studies in Perfectionism.

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More Resources on Soteriology: The Biblical Doctrine of Salvation