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II. Mahan’s Type Of Teaching
We have given more space to the earliest presentation of the Oberlin doctrine of perfection than it intrinsically deserves. This, partly, because it was its first presentation; but more because, despite its brevity and the colloquial looseness of its language, it was in more than a temporal sense the forerunner of a whole group of others which shortly followed it. For nearly two years, it is true, it stood alone. Then, at the close of 1838, The Oberlin Evangelist was founded to be, above everything else, the organ of the doctrine. And early in 1839 the book was published which has the best right of all to be considered the representative statement of the Oberlin Doctrine at this stage of its development. This is Mahan’s “Christian Perfection.”170 The nucleus of this book was a sermon first preached in Oberlin and afterwards widely published and especially printed by request in The New York Evangelist (in November 1838).171 The “series of discourses” of which it professes to be further made up were delivered in the Marlboro Chapel, Boston, where Mahan was supplying the pulpit during the illness of the pastor.172 The book ran through many editions and enjoyed a very wide circulation.173 During the same year Henry Cowles’ little booklet on “The Holiness of Christians in the Present Life” was reprinted “with some revision” from The Oberlin Evangelist; and in 1840 the much more considerable volume by Finney, entitled “Views of Sanctification” was reproduced from the same journal. A pamphlet by Charles Fitch, pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church at Newark, New Jersey, bearing the same title as Finney’s volume—“Views of Sanctification”—preceded that volume by a year (1839). It deserves to be included in this group of writings, because, although its author was not connected with Oberlin, he teaches the same doctrine as the Oberlin writers; and although he does this perhaps more attractively than they do themselves, he does it obviously in immediate dependence on them.174 All this group of writings not only teach the same doctrine, but teach it after the same fashion, employing common definitions, a common logical method, the same supporting Scriptures, expounded on the same principles and applied with the same argumentative peculiarities; there has clearly been the closest collusion between them. Each writer has an individuality of his own, of course, and shows it in his use of the common material. But this does not abate the essential oneness of their conception and mode of presentation. They all obviously come from one mint; and there seems good reason to believe that the dominant influence producing this uniformity was Mahan’s. It is only fair to speak of this phase of Oberlin Perfectionism, therefore, as the period of the ascendency of Mahan’s thought.
At this stage of its development, Oberlin Perfectionism would not be inaptly described as Wesleyan Perfectionism grafted on the stock of the New Divinity—Wesleyan Perfectionism so far modified as to adjust it to the paradigms of the New Divinity. As the New Divinity was primarily an ethical scheme and Wesleyan Perfectionism primarily a religious doctrine, this process might be not unjustly described as so far a process of “religionizing” the New Divinity. Mahan took the lead in this work. That was the significance of his rediscovery of the supernaturalness of salvation as already described; of his conjoint vision of Christ as the soul’s all in all and of the Spirit who baptizes the soul with power; of his suspension of everything on the simple act of faith. This was no ephemeral enthusiasm with him. It was a profound spiritual revolution which reversed all the currents of his being and determined the course of his subsequent life. From this time to the end of his life, a half a century later, he knew nothing but the twin doctrines he acquired in this moving religious experience—the doctrines of Christian Perfection and the Baptism of the Spirit; and he gave himself to their exposition and propagation with an unwearied constancy which his readers may be tempted sometimes to think wearisome persistency.175 He infected his colleagues with these doctrines; but they never took the place in their theology which they did in his. In the succeeding adjustments it became thus his function to emphasize the new doctrines to the utmost; it was the function of Finney, say, on the other hand, to see that in the engrafting of the new doctrines on the stock of the New Divinity the concepts of the New Divinity suffered no loss. This brings about a certain difference in tone—not exactly in teaching—between the two writers. Mahan’s “Christian Perfection” and Finney’s “Views of Sanctification” teach the same general doctrine, and they teach it with the same clearness of conviction. But in the one the main interest has shifted from the New Divinity to Perfectionism—though the concepts of the New Divinity are not abandoned; in the other it remains with the New Divinity—though the concepts brought in by Perfectionism are welcomed. Perhaps it would be too much to say that the emphasis differs: what differs is not so much the emphasis as the concernment, and that seems to be rooted less in a difference in the convictions than in the temperament of the two writers.
The perfectionism of this stage of Oberlin Perfectionism, as we have said, is fundamentally Wesleyan. It was not merely the “terms” which were retained from the Wesleyan doctrine, as Mahan tells us; but so far the thing.176 What was taught was the immediate attainment of entire sanctification by a special act of faith directed to this end. Justification was presupposed as already enjoyed. There were accordingly two kinds of Christians, a lower kind who had received only justification, and a higher kind who had received also sanctification. This is all Wesleyan, although, of course, it is not all that is Wesleyan.177 When this doctrine was transferred into a New Divinity setting, the primary effort was to adjust to the new setting the conception of the content of the perfection thus attained. The New Divinity was a Pelagian scheme; a scheme of ethics; it was therefore essentially legalistic and could not conceive of perfection otherwise than as perfect obedience to law—the law of God. It could not homologate therefore the Wesleyan idea of an “evangelical obedience,” graciously accepted of believers in lieu of the “legal obedience” they were not in a position to render. Of anything else, as constituting perfection, than complete obedience to the law of God, the Oberlin men would hear nothing. But they had their own way of reaching the same relaxing result which the Wesleyans had reached. They denned the content of the law, obedience to which constitutes perfection, as just “love”; and although this language meant with them something different from what it meant with the Wesleyans, it is not clear that they were able to give it any greater ethical content. Supposing them successful, however, in pouring into the concept of love, objectively, the whole content of righteousness ideally viewed, they did not in any case require this content for the love by which a man is made perfect. To be perfect, he does not require to love as God loves—in whose love all righteousness is embraced—or as the angels love, or as Adam loved, or even as any better man than he loves. He only requires to love as he himself, being what he is, and in the condition in which he finds himself, can love. If he loves all he can love in his present condition, he is perfect. No matter how he came into his present condition; suppose if you will that he came into it by a long course of vice, or by some supreme act of vice, it makes no difference. His obligation is limited by his ability; we cannot say, he ought to do more than he can do; if he does all he can do, he has no further obligation, he is perfect. The moral idiot—Finney does not hesitate to say it—is as perfect as God is: being a moral idiot, he has no moral obligation; when he has done nothing at all he has done all that he ought to do: he is perfect.178 God Himself cannot do more than all He ought to do; and when He has done all He ought to do, He is no more perfect than the moral idiot is—although what He has done is to fulfil all that is ideally righteous and the moral idiot has done nothing.
In this conception the law of God, complete obedience to which is perfection, is made a sliding scale.179 It is not that perfect rule, which as the Greeks say, like a straight-edge, straight itself, measures both the straight and the crooked; but a flexible line which follows the inequalities of the surface on which it is laid, not molding it, but molded by it. Obligation here is interpreted in terms of ability with the result that each man becomes a law to himself, creating his own law; while the objective law of God, the standard of holiness in all, is annulled, and there are as many laws, as many standards of holiness, as there are moral beings. To object on this basis to the Wesleyan doctrine of “evangelical obedience” on the ground that it supposes a relaxation of the universal obligation of the law, is fatuous. There is no such thing as a universal obligation of the law to be relaxed; or indeed as a universal law, binding on all alike, to create a universal obligation. Each man’s obligation is exhausted in the law which his own ability creates for him; and as soon as the Wesleyans remind us that in their view “evangelical obedience” is accepted primarily because it alone is within the capacity of men to render—“legal obedience” being beyond their power—the Oberlin objector is dumb; that is just his own doctrine. Except for this—that, not content with this general adjustment of the requirements of the law to the moral capacity of sinful men, he pushes the principle to such an extreme as to adjust them in detail to the moral capacity of each individual sinner, all the way down to moral idiocy; with the effect of making our sin the excuse for our sin, until we may cease to be sinners altogether by simply becoming sinful enough. Of course he does not really believe this. If he had really believed it, we should not have found Finney troubling to argue—as we have found him arguing180—that the ingrained habit of evil need not inhibit the attainment of perfection—that would be a matter of course; or that men may become so wicked that they cannot be saved—that would be absurd. He would only have needed to point out that the acquisition of unconquerable habits of evil, by progressively destroying obligation, renders perfection ever easier of acquisition by constantly reducing the content of the perfection to be acquired; and that one of the surest roads to salvation is therefore to become incurably wicked.
One of the most striking features of these earlier presentations of the Oberlin doctrine—though not of them only—is the strenuousness with which they insist that they are not arguing for the “actual attainment” of “entire sanctification,” “perfection,” but only for its “attainability.” An unpleasant impression is sometimes produced that an attempt is being made to escape from the real question at issue by a logical trick. The contention made this impression on its New England critics, and called out from them, from that point of view, somewhat sharp words of rebuke. Nobody, they say, doubts the attainability of perfection; the only question in dispute is whether it is ever attained. We have already seen this position taken up by Enoch Pond in criticising Finney’s “Lectures to Professing Christians.” “The question between us,” he says,181 “is simply one of fact. The perfectionist asserts, not only that Christians ought to be perfect in the present life, but that they often are so;—not only that perfection is metaphysically attainable, but that, in frequent instances, it is actually attained.” N. S. Folsom, in reviewing Mahan’s “Christian Perfection” goes so far as to express a sense of outrage at the impression, created by his mode of stating the question, that none but the Oberlin men believe in “the attainableness of entire sanctification in this life.” This doctrine, he asserts, is, on the contrary, admitted on all hands. The editor of The New York Evangelist in remarking on Mahan’s primary perfectionist sermon, when it was first printed in that journal, allows it; Enoch Pond has just expressed his agreement with it. At the basis of every exhortation to be holy, lies “the metaphysical truth that perfection in holiness is attainable.” To give the impression that anybody doubts this, is not to argue fairly; it is to play the sophist.182 Leonard Woods, in his comprehensive discussion of the Oberlin arguments up to the date of his writing, echoes this protest.183 He and his friends, he declares, hold as decidedly as Mahan does—he takes Mahan as his example—“that, in the common acceptation of the term, complete holiness is attainable in the present life.” “When we assert that a thing is attainable, or may be attained,” he explains, “our meaning is, that a proper use of means will secure it; that we shall obtain it, if we do what we ought; and that, if we fail of obtaining it, truth will require us to say we might have obtained it, and that our failure was owing altogether to our own fault.” There surely is not included in the assertion of the attainableness of anything the assertion that we have done all we ought and therefore have actually attained it; attainability and actual attainment are different things and the proof of the one has no tendency to prove the other. Whatever was the purpose of the Oberlin men, then, in their insistence that they were contending not for the actual attainment but only for the attainability of perfection, it actually had the controversial value to them that it threw their New England opponents into confusion.
The ultimate ground of this confusion cannot, however, be laid at the door of the manner in which the Oberlin men preferred to frame their argument. It lay in the ambiguities of the New England doctrine of “natural ability.” Accordingly W. D. Snodgrass184 very properly criticizes Woods’ use of language in representing perfection as “attainable,” only never “attained.” This language is founded on the current New England distinction between “natural” and “moral” ability; and is intended to assert that we are commanded to be perfect, that full provision for our perfection is made, that it is our duty to be perfect, and that there is no reason why we are not perfect except that we will not strive to be perfect with the energy requisite to attain it. This is supposed to be justly expressed by saying that perfection is attainable, but will never actually be attained. Perhaps the words may bear that sense. It is not their natural sense. Snodgrass very justly says that to say that perfection is attainable is just to say that it is practicable for us to be perfect; and yet those who employ this language fully recognize that it is not practicable for us to be perfect. Say that nothing but a “will not” stands in the way. This “will not” is a fixed, an unvarying, incorrigible “will not.” It is really a “can not”; and a perfection to which we cannot attain is not an attainable perfection. He might have added that Woods himself knew perfectly well that the “will not” affirmed in the case is really a “can not.”185 If he denies a “natural inability,” he confesses a “moral inability,” an inability which “results from moral causes”; and he is unable to deny that this is a real inability.186 God, he himself says, with the emphasis of italics, “cannot lie” (p. 475); “the unrenewed sinner cannot call forth the affection of love to God, and so be subject to his law” (p. 477). Assuredly he is right, then, in saying that there is an important sense in which men “cannot obey” God (p. 478); and if he contends at the same time that there is also an important sense in which they can obey God, we will not fail to observe that he is compelled to allow that their moral inability to obey “prevents obedience as certainly and effectually as a natural impossibility could” (p. 482). In these circumstances it would seem to be eminently misleading to speak of things as attainable, on the ground of “natural ability,” the attainment of which is inhibited by “moral inability.”
Let us remind ourselves moreover that the matters which fall under discussion here are of the order of what the Bible calls “things of the Spirit,” things which are not to be had at all except as imparted by the Holy Ghost; and that it is therefore peculiarly infelicitous to speak of them as “attainable,” merely on the ground of “natural ability.” In so speaking of them, we seem gravely in danger of forgetting the dreadful evil of sin as the corruption of our whole nature, and the absolute need of the Spirit’s free action in recovering us from this corruption. The unregenerate man cannot believe; the regenerate man cannot be perfect; because these things are not the proper product of their efforts in any case but are conferred by the Spirit, and by the Spirit alone. It is good to see Mahan in some degree recognizing this fundamental fact; and indeed founding one branch of his argument upon it. It is not enough, however, to say that perfection is attainable only “through the Spirit.” Mahan says that, and then goes on to give it the Pelagianizing turn that the believer nevertheless “attains” perfection, by employing the Spirit to do this work for him. The Scriptures do not thus subordinate the Spirit’s action to that of man; they do not think of the gifts of the Spirit as “attained,” but as “conferred.” Snodgrass is incapable of such a bêtise and rightly emphasizes the supernatural nature of sanctification, as of regeneration, and of salvation at large. We do not sanctify ourselves by our own power; we do not even sanctify ourselves by using the Spirit as the instrument by which alone we can accomplish this great result. It is God who sanctifies us; and our activities are consequent at every step on His, not His on ours. Though he fails to rise to the height of the Scriptural supernaturalness of sanctification, however, Mahan’s reference of it to the Holy Spirit, acting at the behest of man, nevertheless recognizes the supernaturalness of the actual process of the sanctifying work; and enables us to see what he and (so far as they shared his views) his colleagues meant when they spoke of the attainableness of perfection. They were not thinking in terms of “natural ability”; they were prepared to assert that the so-called “natural ability” of the New England divines is no ability at all. They were not arguing for a “metaphysical attainability” of perfection; they were talking religion, not metaphysics. They were clear, to be sure, that any perfection which should ever be achieved by any man must be achieved through his “natural ability,” that is to say through the action of those powers which belong to him as a moral being and are inseparable from him as a moral agent; but they were equally clear that no man of himself would ever employ those powers with the energy, and diligence and singleness of purpose requisite to reach the high goal of perfection, and that therefore actual perfection is the product of the Spirit of God. They had no interest in affirming and arguing the “attainability” of perfection in the sense in which their New England critics took the phrase. They were as free as those critics were to declare that that “attainability” did not infer attainment, and was a barren notion unillustrated by a single case of attainment under it. What they were interested in affirming was that God in His grace had made provision in the Gospel of His Son and the baptism of the Spirit to transmute that natural “will not” which, despite the so-called “natural ability” results in every child of man in a real “can not,” into a glorious “can.” What they were concerned to assert was a real practicable “attainability” due to the provisions of God’s grace which placed within the reach of every believer at his option an actualized perfection. And the establishment of this attainability rightly seemed to them a much greater fact than the establishment of the actual attainment of perfection by these or those. They did not fail to assert this actual attainment of perfection. Perhaps the establishment of the attainability of perfection would have been difficult had there been no “samples” to adduce. But they sought to keep the evidence for actual attainment in the subordinate position of an additional argument for its attainability. If it has been actually attained, it will be hard to deny that it is attainable.
There is a noticeable difference among the several Oberlin writers in the relative interest they show in the different elements which enter into their common teaching. Finney, to whom the New Divinity was the Gospel, dwelt proportionately more fully on the conception of “natural ability,” which constituted the basis on which any and all holiness must be built. Mahan, who had come to see the Gospel in the supernaturalness of salvation, naturally threw the stress of his discussion on it. Henry Cowles writes with such brevity as to discourage seeking to ascertain the niceties of his particular way of looking at the common doctrine. It is perhaps enough to note that he states it with some sharpness of outline. The vital question to which he addresses himself, he declares to be, not “whether any mere man on earth has ever attained absolute and confirmed perfection,” but “has God given us such moral powers and made such provisions in Providence and Grace for our aid, that real death to sin, victory over the world, and living by faith in constant obedience to all the known will of God, are objects of rational effort, the duty and privilege of every Christian.”187 There are many loose ends left in this statement and the matter is not bettered when a little later,188 repeating it, he proceeds to reduce the notion of perfection which he is ready to affirm to be attainable. It is no heavenly perfection, but an earthly one, including “such service and obedience as man is able to render in the present state.” On this purely relative holiness he lays the greatest stress, and brings his discussion to a close, accordingly, by remarking189 that his object in writing is to express his full conviction that “God has made provision for the attainment in the present life of all the holiness which he requires, and which the present state admits.” That says so little that it practically says nothing at all. God has only made provision for the attainment of this holiness: He does not secure its attainment—that is left to us. And the holiness attainable is only what “the present state admits of.” That might be said of the devils in hell. The only point of interest is, not whether we may attain “all the holiness our present state admits of”—that might be no holiness at all. It is whether we may be holy.
To these propositions little more than hinted at by Cowles, Finney gives the definiteness of dogmatic statement. When he comes, in his “Views of Sanctification,” to the point where he discusses the attainableness of “entire sanctification,”190 he lays down the fundamental proposition “that entire and permanent sanctification is attainable in this life.” This he at once pronounces “self-evident”—on the ground of “natural ability.” “To deny this,” he affirms, “is to deny that a man is able to do as well as he can.” And, he declares, “the very language of the law” bears out the assertion, because, in requiring us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and the rest, it levels “its claims to the capacity of the subject, however great or small.” If there were a moral pigmy, he would be required to love God up to his pigmy strength. If we morally mutilate ourselves, we may no doubt be answerable for doing it; but having thus reduced our powers, we would have lessened our responsibility to the law, and could be entirely sanctified on this lower ground. “An angel is bound to exercise an angel’s strength; a man, the strength of a man; and a child, the strength of a child.” “Now,” he sums up, “as entire sanctification consists in perfect obedience to the law of God, and as the law requires nothing more than the right use of whatever strength we have; it is of course forever settled that a state of entire and permanent sanctification is attainable in this life on the ground of natural ability.” This he says is New School doctrine and necessary New School doctrine. Ability limits obligation, hence there is no obligation where there is no ability—hence (it is but an identical proposition) it is possible for every man to do all that is required of him (not all that may be required of another man); and that is to be perfect. After all this exploitation of “natural ability,” however, Finney turns and says that we have on this line of reasoning arrived at only an abstract possibility. Whether this abstract possibility is ever realized in fact, must be the subject of further inquiry. A second proposition is therefore laid down.191 It is this: “The provisions of grace are such as to render its actual attainment [entire and permanent sanctification] in this life the object of reasonable pursuit.” This proposition he transmutes into the question, “Is this state attainable as a matter of fact before death; and if so, when, in this life, may we expect to attain it?”—and submits the inquiry to the arbitrament of the Scriptures. Thus even Finney suspends the actual attainment of entire sanctification on grace, not nature; and seeks the evidence for it therefore in Scripture.
The vigor with which the Oberlin men asserted that they were primarily interested in the attainability, not in the actual attainment, of perfection, not only led to misunderstanding, but sometimes, it must be acknowledged, has an odd appearance in itself. To the man in the street the affirmation of the attainability of perfection seems to derive all its value from the promise it holds out for its actual attainment. And it is very clear that the Oberlin men were not contending for the barren attainability of the New Divinity, unillustrated by examples of attainment and indeed incapable of being so illustrated. Theirs is an attainability, they said, which can be realized in fact; and which, they affirmed, had been, is, and will be realized in numerous cases in fact. What they affirmed was, not that we must posit merely an inoperative attainability in order to ground accountability for the universal non-attainment of perfection; but that we must assert an operative attainability which realizes itself constantly in attainment. They have advanced here beyond the New Divinity; and they have it chiefly at heart to validate their difference from it, which becomes the main matter at issue precisely because it carries with it the affirmation of attainment as its corollary. The Oberlin men thought themselves to have laid their hands on a factor in the problem, which, as they said, had been neglected by the New Divinity, and which, in their view, transformed the barren “attainability” which served no other purpose than to ground accountability, into an operative “attainability” of possible and ready accomplishment.
This new factor was nothing less than the factor of grace. The New Divinity, they said, operated with “natural ability” only; and, as obligation is, as it taught, limited by ability, was bound to affirm that the perfection required of man is “attainable” by him; otherwise he would not be obligated by it, and would be perfect, that is, all that he could be required to be, without it. But this “attainability” is only the postulate of accountability and affirms only that man could be perfect if he would, leaving the undoubted fact that he will not untouched—and in strict logic this will not ought to be expressed in terms of can not. In point of fact, man, standing in the conditions in which he finds himself, with an ingrained disposition to evil governing his conduct, can not be perfect, despite all the underlying “natural ability” to be perfect which can be ascribed to him. You may prefer to say that this “cannot” is only a “certainly will not,” but this choice of soft words to express it does not alter the hard fact.
Now, the Oberlin men were altogether willing to say that this attainability never passes into attainment. This was not the attainability for which they were contending and which they looked upon as the issue at stake. Mahan says plainly enough, one would think,192 that “our natural ability … may exist in all its fulness, with the absolute certainty that no attainments at all in holiness will be made.” “This is in fact,” he adds, “true of all fallen spirits, and with all mankind in the absence of the influence of the grace of the gospel.” There is, he says, another kind of “attainability,” however, over and above that grounded in “natural ability,” and that is what they are contending for, and the appearance of logomachy given to their reasoning by their opponents rests on neglect to note this fact. They are contending for a real, concrete, and not merely a theoretical, abstract attainability; not common to all men, but peculiar to those under “the influence of the gospel.” The opponents of the Oberlin teaching have uniformly assumed that there were but two parts to the question brought into debate. Is perfect holiness attainable? Is it actually attained? As both parties agreed in an affirmative answer to the first question, they declared the only issue concerned the second. Stop, said the Oberlin men; the first question is ambiguous and hides in it two separate ones, on one of which we are agreed and on the other not. And the question hidden in it, on which we are not agreed, is the crux of the whole matter. What do you mean by saying that perfect holiness is attainable? Do you mean that we have “natural ability” to obtain it if we will—though most certainly we will not? Or do you mean that perfection has now in the gospel been brought by the grace of God within our practicable reach, and relying on that grace we may in the power of Christ through His Spirit actually attain it? There are in point of fact, says Mahan at this place,193 three, not two questions raised: “1. What is the natural ability of men? or, have men natural ability to yield perfect obedience to the commands of God?… 2. Are we authorized, in view of the provisions and promises of divine grace, together with the other teachings of inspiration, to expect to attain to a state of perfect holiness in this life? 3. Do the Scriptures teach us that any have attained, or will attain to a state of entire sanctification in this life?” The opponents of the Oberlin doctrine, he now adds, overlook entirely the second question, “in respect to which we are at issue.”
It is precisely on this second question, however, that the Oberlin men lay the whole stress of the argument, says Mahan. “Every thing is said as a means to one end—the determination of the great question, To what degree of holiness do the Scriptures authorize us to expect to attain in this life? That which is practicable to us on the ground of our natural ability, is in one sense attainable. That which is rendered practicable, not on the ground of natural ability, but by the provisions of divine grace, is attainable in a different and higher sense of the term. It is in this last sense, that the term is used by me.” The reaction here from the Pelagianizing conceptions which ruled the New Divinity we have already called attention to, but it is good to dwell on it. An appeal is made from nature to grace.194 An attempt is made to ground a doctrine of perfection in the great fact that grace overcomes the disabilities of nature, and to point to the sufficiency in Christ for what “natural ability” cannot do. Thus the debate is carried away from the natural powers of men, to the provisions of the gospel, and becomes at once a purely Biblical one. Do the Scriptures represent God in Christ as providing for the immediate sanctification of his people? That becomes the sole question of real interest, and as such the Oberlin men treat it. It would be inexplicable, of course, if such provision has been made, that it should be illustrated by no single example. It becomes important therefore to show that there have been, are and will be perfect saints in this world. But this takes the secondary place of illustration and verification.195 The main matter remains the witness of Scripture to the gracious purpose of God. And the whole matter being thus referred to the Scriptures, the Oberlin men adduce the provisions made in the Gospel for the attainment of perfection, the promises of perfection given to Christians, the commands to them to be perfect, the prayers for their perfection which are recorded, and the like—a very impressive showing, which beyond question proves what Mahan, indeed, declares it is solely intended to prove—that Christians are to seek after perfection “with the expectation of obtaining it.” The mistake that Mahan makes lies in his supposing that this means that perfection may be attained by any Christian, at any time, all at once; that it lies at the disposal of Christians, to be had for the taking; and not rather that it may be and is attainable only through so long a curriculum of preparation that a lifetime may well be none too long for its accomplishment. We are to seek it with the expectation of attaining it; he that seeks it will certainly find it; but the attainment is a great task—and it delays its coming. The attainment of perfection in other words, is not an act but a work: and this is the real point of difference between the parties to the debate—whether the perfection which is provided for, promised, commanded, urged to, is a gift received all at once, or an attainment acquired through a long-continued effort. That it is supernatural, not natural, in its origin and nature was a great discovery for the Oberlin men to make in the Pelagianizing atmosphere in which they were immersed. But its supernatural origin and nature do not in the least prejudice the question whether it comes all at once or only as the final crown of a life of “working out our salvation in fear and trembling.” We are brought here, however, to perceive the important part played in the early Oberlin scheme by the doctrines of “Sanctification by faith,” and the “Baptism of the Holy Ghost.”
It appears that the whole body of the Oberlin teachers of perfection were entirely at one, from the start, in declaring that sanctification is by faith. Time was required, however, to bring them into even measurable harmony in their conceptions of how faith brings about this sanctification which is to be had only “by” it. Finney himself seems inclined at first to represent faith as the immediate producing cause of sanctification. No doubt his fundamentally Pelagian type of thinking was peculiarly embarrassing to him when he came to deal with a thing like faith, which, in its very nature, looks outward from self and seeks something from another. Even in his early teaching faith is the indispensable condition, he would say, of the “reception of Christ,” “the eternal life,” “the holiness of the soul.” But at this early stage of his teaching this language seems merely the repetition of a shibboleth. There seems no particular reason why “Christ” should be “received,” and certainly no reason why “the holiness of the soul” should wait for His “reception.” For faith, according to Finney, is itself a holy exercise, both in kind and degree all the confidence of the heart, working by love, that God does or can require. That is to say, like all other holy exercises, it is a perfectly holy exercise; and, as there is nothing about us, morally considered, but our exercises, in exercising faith we are perfectly holy. We are already therefore perfectly holy before Christ is received, who is nevertheless designated “the holiness of the soul.” And as S. B. Canfield196 pertinently asks, if we may previously to the reception of “the holiness of the soul,” put forth one holy exercise, and that one perfectly holy, why may we not put forth two, or three, or ten thousand? If we may enter into perfection without Christ, why may we not abide in it without Christ? The fact seems to be that Finney’s fundamentally Pelagian mode of thinking, already run to seed in his doctrine of “the simplicity of moral action,”—the origin of which it is customary (apparently erroneously) to date in 1841—has betrayed him here into a conception of man which makes him sufficient for himself, and leaves no need for either Christ or the Holy Spirit to make him perfect. The doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit appear thus as only ornamental superstructures to the system. How he employs them as such may be illustrated by a remark like this: “Faith would instantly sanctify your heart, sanctify all your doings, and render them, in Christ Jesus, acceptable to God.”197 What is the effect of the insertion of the words “in Christ Jesus?” If our heart and all our doings are already sanctified, are they not already acceptable to God? “They are,” remarks Canfield,198 “(by the supposition) as free from moral defilement … as Christ’s own ‘doings.’ ” Since faith “instantly” sanctifies our heart and all our doings, ex opere operato, what place is left for the sanctifying Christ? The instantaneousness of the sanctifying action of faith, is much insisted on and should not be passed by unmarked.199 If you will only believe, says Finney, “this will at once bring you into entire sanctification.”200 The exercise of faith is manifested holiness; holiness is not a subsequent result flowing from faith—it and faith are the same thing. “Let it be distinctly noted, then,” Canfield comments,201 “that according to the principles of ‘Oberlin Perfectionism,’ entire sanctification is conditioned on previous perfection. To become sinlessly perfect, you must go to the Saviour already perfect.” It cannot even be said that, though we make ourselves perfect, we must depend on Christ to keep us perfect. He does not, according to “Oberlin Perfectionism,” keep us perfect—we may fall. And if we continue perfect that is because we preserve our faith: permanent entire sanctification is conditioned on permanent faith, just as simple entire sanctification is conditioned on simple faith. We must keep ourselves perfect as a condition of Christ’s keeping us perfect. “Permanent, entire sanctification is conditioned (according to this view) on itself! You shall be perfect as long as you shall continue to be perfect.”202
Approaching the subject in another passage from a different angle—in the midst of a long description (there are thirty-five numbered affirmations) of what entire sanctification is not203—Finney tells us that “entire sanctification does not imply the same degree of faith” in everybody. It does not, for example, imply the same degree of faith in us, sinners, “that might have been exercised but for our ignorance and past sin.” It requires a lower degree of faith to make a sinner perfectly holy than is required to make a saint perfectly holy: and the worse sinners we are the lower is the degree of faith that is required to make us perfectly holy. It does not resolve this paradox to observe that Finney is obviously confusing here the degree of faith exercised, and the amount of knowledge which is possessed of the object on which faith rests. What he really means to say, however, is that the less knowledge we have of God and divine things, the less faith is required of us that we may be perfect. The proposition on which he relies for support runs: “We cannot believe any thing about God of which we have no evidence or knowledge,” and therefore, “entire sanctification implies … nothing more than the heart’s faith or confidence in all the truth that is perceived by the intellect.” The deflecting influence here is derived from his doctrine that as obligation is limited by ability, he who does all he can (being what he is) is as perfect as God Himself. On this ground he declares that: “Perfection in a heathen would imply much less faith than in a Christian. Perfection in an adult would imply much more and greater faith than in an infant. And perfection in an angel would imply much greater faith than in a man, just in proportion as he knows more of God than man.” Our attention is attracted for the moment by the suggestion that perfection is conceivable in a heathen. This is not a slip. Finney fully means it. “The heathen,” he explains, “are not under obligation to believe in Christ, and thousands of other things of which they have no knowledge.” Not being under obligation to believe in Christ, of course they can be perfect without believing in Him. If they have “heart’s faith or confidence in all the truth that is perceived by their intellect,” they will not be kept from being perfect by lack of faith in Christ of whom they have no knowledge. Perfection clearly is not conceived as the product of Christ in the heart and life of him who believes in Him. It is not Christ but faith that makes us perfect, and it apparently does not much matter what the object is on which the faith rests. The faith of a fetich-worshipper (provided it embraces all he knows) is as efficacious to produce perfection in him as the faith of a John or a Paul. We see how loosely Finney sits to the fundamental proposition for which, under Mahan’s influence, he argues, that the effective attainability of perfection is a gift of God in the provisions of the gospel.
All this leaves us quite in the dark as to how faith sanctifies us. That faith sanctifies us wholly, and that instantaneously on our exercising it, quite independently of what we believe, whether much or little (so only it be all we know), we are told with some emphasis. But we are not told how faith does this extraordinary thing. Henry Cowles offers himself to us for this time of need.204 He has a chapter on “the Bible doctrine concerning faith as a means of holiness,” in which he describes in a very attractive way the sufficiency and richness of the provision in Christ for the believer’s sanctification. But he does not deal with the matter exhaustively, and what he omits is unfortunately the gist of the matter. He does not tell us that it is by faith that we are united with Christ, and, having received forgiveness of sin and a title to eternal life, are granted the Holy Spirit as a power within us, not ourselves, making for righteousness. He deals in his next chapter with the work of the Spirit as Sanctifier; and does not there mention the reception of Him as a result of our faith. But though he does not give an exhaustive account of the part played by faith in our sanctification, what he does say is true and important, and errs only by defect—although it is by a great defect. There is a two-fold function ascribed to faith in our sanctification. Through it we obtain true and vivid views of what Jesus is—and are sanctified “by the influence of his character contemplated.” And by it we turn to Him for His “aid in the divine life,” and so take “the attitude of suppliants, and recipients at his feet, and he does sustain us.” If the concluding clause here seems to promise relief from the bald Pelagianizing of the rest, we are the more disappointed to discover that promise unfulfilled in a later passage. We walk by faith, we there read; we live by faith; and “ ‘the life which I now live in the flesh, I live,’ not by self-moved holy impulses, but ‘by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’ ” The unnecessary opposition of “self-moved holy impulses,” and “faith” may seem to point to a mystical doctrine of the indwelling Christ superseding our activities. But no—Cowles explains thus: “My belief that the Son of God did thus love me, and give himself for me, works love in my soul, and constrains me to live to him who thus lived and even died for me.” There is nothing supernatural about it, then, at all. “Christ lives in me by faith,” means only that a belief in Christ lives in me; and it is not Christ but this belief which is the dynamic of my activities. Accordingly Cowles proceeds at once to say that what Paul teaches is that “Christ lived within him,” “in this sense, viz.: his belief of certain great truths in respect to Christ, through the Spirit impressing those truths upon his heart [we wish we knew how he supposes the Spirit to do this!], constrains him to live wholly for Christ.” “Love of Christ, produced through the Spirit [how?] by believing these things, now reigns in his soul, and controls his life.” Has not the phrase, “through the Spirit” an awkward appearance here? Somehow, we know not how, it was in some way, we know not in what way, “through the Spirit,” that the love of Christ was produced “by believing these things”; and this love which we have to Christ constrains us to follow after Him. Pelagius himself could scarcely have said less.
That some such ideas as these were present to the mind of Finney also seems to be implied in a passage in the “Lectures on Systematic Theology.”205 His fundamental contention,” he says, “are by faith alone”—meaning that both are attained by faith alone.” “Both justification and sanctification,” he says, “are by faith alone”—meaning that both are surely enjoyed by the believer, but that each is attained by an act of faith of its own. He is no longer prepared to assert, however, that the faith by which sanctification is attained is itself the immediately producing cause of sanctification. On the contrary he proceeds to guard against that notion. “But let me by no means be understood,” he writes, “as teaching sanctification by faith, as distinct from and opposed to sanctification by the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Christ, or which is the same thing, by Christ our sanctification, living and reigning in the heart.” Again and with even more precision of statement: “Faith is rather the instrument or condition, than the efficient agent that induces a state of present and permanent sanctification. Faith simply receives Christ, as king, to live and reign in the soul. It is Christ, in the exercise of his different offices, and appropriated in his different relations to the wants of the soul, by faith, who secures our sanctification.” This assertion is the direct contradiction of what we have formerly seen Finney affirming. In the former affirmations, faith was the immediately producing cause of our sanctification. In this it only entrusts the production of our sanctification to Christ, and Christ Himself undertakes and carries through the work of our sanctification. How He does it is explained in the following words: “This he does by Divine discoveries to the soul of his Divine perfections and fulness. The condition of these discoveries is faith and obedience.” Our sanctification, secured by faith and obedience, is wrought by Christ, whose offices in working it are the precise thing that we secure by faith and obedience.
We ought not to neglect to notice the intrusion of the words “and obedience” into this statement. It is unexpected—and unauthorized. We had just been told that “the state of sanctification is attained by faith alone.” We are now told that it is secured by “faith and obedience.” We had just heard faith alone designated the “condition” of our sanctification. We now hear that its “condition” is “faith and obedience.” And we are a little puzzled to understand how obedience can be the condition of obedience—for sanctification in Finney’s definition of it is nothing but obedience. We are again very near to saying: We can become holy by becoming holy. All this, however, by the way. The main affirmation here is that the way in which Christ, who it is that sanctifies us, sanctifies us is—by making discoveries to the soul of His divine perfections and fulness. The real efficient agent of our sanctification is then no more Christ than faith; one is as little the “condition or instrument” of it as the other: the immediate, effective cause of our sanctification is the vision of the glory of Christ granted the soul. We are told, it is true, that Christ lives and reigns in the souls of those who receive Him by faith, and, living and reigning in them, exercises His different offices there: but nothing is meant beyond His making Himself known to these souls in His glory, and in His relations to the soul’s varied wants. And nothing happens until the soul, moved by this great vision into action, sanctifies itself. Christ does nothing to it except make Himself known to it. We are sanctified by revelation, not by renewal: Christ brings instruction, not power. The efficiency of the inducement here particularly intimated is now argued206 on the ground that man, as sinner, is the victim of a one-sided development of his sensibilities. He is lob-sided. All he needs is that the spiritual world should be revealed and made real to him. This can be done only by the Holy Spirit who takes the things of Christ and shows them to us. What we need in order to become entirely sanctified may be summed up in three things. We must have “natural ability” to do the whole will of God—and that we all have. We must have sufficient knowledge to reveal to us our whole duty—and that also we all have, because nothing is duty until we know it as such. But we must have also “sufficient knowledge or light,” “to reveal to us clearly the way or means of overcoming any and every difficulty or temptation that lies in our way.” This “is proffered to us upon condition that we receive the Holy Spirit, who offers himself as an indwelling light and guide, and who is received by simple faith.” Our sanctification is here conditioned on faith in the Holy Spirit and is wrought by Him as “light and guide”—we need only to have the way pointed out, we are quite competent of ourselves to walk in it. There is a long list of the functions of the Holy Spirit as “light and guide”: nothing is intimated but various forms of “knowledge.”
There is an appearance at a little later point,207 it is true, that something more may be acknowledged. “The Holy Spirit sanctifies us,” we are here told, “only by revealing Christ to us as our sanctification. He does not speak of himself, but takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us.” It is Christ who is our real Sanctifier, or rather our Sanctification. And Finney proceeds now to magnify Him in this office. He does not, to be sure, admit that Christ “does something to the soul that enables it to stand and persevere in holiness in its own strength”; “He does not change the structure of the soul.”208 This language is only Finney’s customary way of denying that Christ does what He Himself says He does—make the tree good that the fruit may be good. In point of fact Christ does precisely what is intended to be denied here. He does do something to the soul that enables it to stand and persevere in holiness in its own strength—though not all at once. The sanctified Christian will do holiness in his own strength in the same sense that a holy angel does—or that the sun attracts the earth in its own strength, or that it is with its own sweetness that honey is sweet. But sanctified Christians in this full sense do not exist on earth; and no creature of God is independent of Him, in whom we all live and move and have our being. What Finney means is to reject altogether all “physical” sanctification; although “physical sanctification” is of course all the sanctification that is real sanctification. Permit him, however, to repudiate that, and he seems willing to go pretty far—if we can speak of anything as far which falls short of that. Christ, he says, “watches over” the soul—but that is sufficiently external. He also, however, he says, “works in it to will and to do continually”—and now we begin to take notice. This is less, to be sure, than that transforming of the soul’s ethical character which the Scriptures ascribe to Him; but it appears at least to imply control. It seems to ascribe to Christ not merely a plying of the soul with motives, but a determining of its action under these motives. And when we read: “He rules in and reigns over the soul,” “in so high a sense, that he, as it were, develops his own holiness in us,”—we are almost ready to rejoice with trembling. We do not quite know what the words “develops his own holiness in us” are intended to mean; as indeed Finney himself did not, as the qualifying “as it were” seems to imply. The words may bear the perfectly good sense that Christ produces in us a holiness just like His own. They may become, however, a rather crass mystical suggestion, as if Christ transferred His holiness to us or shared it with us. And there is other mystical language employed in the context. We read that He “swallows us up, … enfolds, if I may so say, our wills and our souls in his.” What is it to have not only our wills but our very souls “swallowed up,” “enfolded” in Christ’s? Our souls swallowed up in His soul, enfolded in His soul! This language, however, is not only qualified by the inserted “if I may so say,” suggesting that it is not really meant, but is incorporated into a sentence which wholly empties it of the meaning that it might seem naturally to carry. What is said is, that Christ “as it were swallows us up, so enfolds, if I may so say, our wills and our souls in his, that we are willingly led captive by him.” (The italics are ours.) We drop at once from the mystical heights, and discover that all that is intended is that “we will and do as he wills within us”—that is, obey Him. And having started to drop, we drop still lower when we read the next sentence, which reduces again the working in us to will and to do to a mere matter of inducement: “He charms the will into a universal bending to his will.” Control has become only a “charming.” And now comes the end: “He becomes our sanctification only in so far forth as we are revealed to ourselves, and he revealed to us, and as we receive him and put him on.” “What! has it come to this!”—we borrow this exclamation from Finney with our apologies—that after all the apparent promise of a real sanctifying operation in us—after all the even mystical language employed to describe it—we have nothing left in our hands but “revelation”? Christ reveals us to ourselves and Himself to us; and then, we, induced by this revelation, “receive him,” and “put him on.” What Christ gives is revelation; we do the rest.
Despite all this elaborate relegation of the whole sanctifying work to ourselves, Finney continues strenuously to insist that sanctification is by faith alone; as truly so as justification. His meaning apparently is that the “revelation” under the inducement of which we sanctify ourselves, is secured by faith, so that ultimately it is through faith that we are sanctified. He is willing to allow accordingly one difference between the relation of justification and sanctification respectively to their procuring acts of faith. Both are “brought about by grace through faith”; but “it is true, indeed, that in our justification our own agency is not concerned, while in our sanctification it is.”209 This somewhat notable admission of the part played by our own activities in the process of sanctification, need not be, but is, a recognition of sanctification as self-wrought. It affirms therefore a very great difference in the relations of justification and sanctification to their respective procuring acts of faith. In the one case faith secures from God a decree of justification. In the other faith secures from God only inducements under which we sanctify ourselves. Meanwhile Finney speaks now and again in very misleading language of the relation of sanctification to works “of law.” Whatever is said to an inquirer, he says on one occasion,210 “that does not clearly convey the truth, that both justification and sanctification are by faith, without works of law, is law, and not gospel.” There can, of course, be no such thing as sanctification “without works of law.” In Finney’s own phrase, sanctification is just “obedience, for the time being, to the moral law.” How can “obedience to law” take place “without works of law”? Justification can be “without works of law” because justification is not law-keeping on our own part, but acceptance of us as righteous by God: and when it is said to be without “works of law,” what is meant is that the ground of our acceptance as righteous is found not in our own obedience to the law, but in that of another rested on by us in faith. When, on the other hand, it is said that sanctification is by faith “without works of law,”—that, to speak frankly, is mere nonsense. The phrase might have meaning if what was intended were that, as sanctification is an issue of justification, and justification is by faith without works of law, we obtain our sanctification ultimately by faith “without works of law.” That is true; but what we obtain in sanctification is just “works of law”—for sanctification is, as Finney rightly tells us, obedience to the moral law. This obedience to the moral law, now, cannot possibly be, in any case, the immediate effect of faith. We do not obey by faith, but by works. Faith by its very nature, rests on something outside of ourselves; obedience is the product of something which works within us. Another’s righteousness can form the basis of our pardon; another’s righteousness cannot form the content of our holiness. Another can supply the ground of our acceptance with God: another cannot supply our personal conformity to the requirements of the law. We may entrust our sanctification to another, just as we entrust our justification to another. We do. But the effect is wrought differently in the two cases: in the one case without us and in the other within us. And unless we are willing to admit that Christ works in us, conforming us to the law, we cannot speak of sanctification as by faith: and even in that case we cannot speak of it as “without works of law.” It is not secured by “works of law,” but it consists of “works of law,” apart from which it does not exist.
Into this closed circle of Pelagian conceptions Mahan breaks with his assertion of the supernaturalness of salvation. It is as an assertion of the supernaturalness of the whole of salvation, that he understands the declaration that our sanctification as well as our justification is by faith, by faith alone. Faith, in its very nature, is a commitment, an entrusting to another; and its results must be brought about therefore by the action of this other. Sanctification by faith is thus only another way of saying sanctification by Christ through His Spirit, on whom it is that faith rests. This is the precise contradictory of sanctification by our own activities, and it is only paltering in a double sense, according to Mahan, to explain that Christ, through His Spirit, sanctifies us, by presenting the motives to sanctification to us so strongly as to call out our self-activities effectively to that end. The motives which induce us to commit our sanctification to Christ would induce us to sanctify ourselves if that were possible to us under the mere influence of motives: in point of fact they do induce us to sanctify ourselves, in the only way in which we can sanctify ourselves, namely by committing our sanctification to Christ. The committal of our sanctification to Christ in faith is a confession that we cannot sanctify ourselves; and the prescription of this method of sanctification by the Scriptures is their testimony that we cannot sanctify ourselves. The main facts in the case accordingly are that we are incapable of sanctifying ourselves, and that it is precisely because we are incapable of sanctifying ourselves that sanctification is by faith, that is to say, by Christ in response to the commitment of it to Him. Here we have the foundation of Mahan’s reasoning. Some of the corollaries which he draws from it are, that because this sanctification is wrought by Christ alone, it may be and is immediate, instantaneous and complete. His perfectionism is thus distinctively a supernatural perfectionism. Christ’s people may be perfect, precisely because it is Christ the Lord who makes them perfect, and not they themselves.
There are some passages in Mahan’s “Christian Perfection” which seem to imply that Christ’s sanctifying work211 is conceived by him as accomplished simultaneously with the act of justification and in response to the same exercise of faith by which justification is obtained. In one of these,212 he represents it as “the grand mistake, into which the great mass of Christians appear to have fallen, in respect to the gospel of Christ,” that they expect “to obtain justification, and not, at the same time, and to the same extent, sanctification, by faith in Christ.” Attention is naturally attracted, first of all to the phrase “to the same extent”—a mode of speech repeated elsewhere, as, for instance in the sentence:213 “If Christ should justify, and not to the same extent sanctify his people, he would save them in, and not from their sins.” It seems at first sight to be implied that justification like sanctification is a progressive work, and that the two proceed pari passu, and therefore always coexist in the same measure: we are always sanctified just so far as we are justified and cannot be justified beyond the measure in which we are sanctified.214 Closer scrutiny makes it clear, however, that this is not Mahan’s meaning. He is not insisting that justification must be as progressive as sanctification; but, just the contrary, that sanctification must be as instantaneously complete as justification. He means to say that it is absurd to suppose that we are completely justified all at once—as we certainly are—and not to suppose that we are completely sanctified at the same time: and it is as wicked as it is absurd, since then we should be asserting that we are saved in and not from our sins. This, however, is all the more strongly to assert the absolute coetaneousness of justification and sanctification in its completeness; and compels us not only to give its full validity to the phrase “at the same time,” but to throw a strong emphasis upon it. Justification and sanctification in its completeness are thus affirmed in the most uncompromising way to take place together.
It is of course true that it is by one and the same act of faith that we receive Christ both as our justification and as our sanctification, and that we cannot have Him as the one without having Him as the other: we cannot take Him in one of his offices as our Mediator, and reject Him in another. Had that been Mahan’s assertion he would have been only repeating an elementary teaching of the universal Reformed faith. When he asserts, however, that by this single act of faith we not only obtain both justification and sanctification, but obtain them both at once in their utmost completeness, he asserts more than either the Reformed faith or his own better judgment permits. On the ground here taken, if the believer be not perfectly sanctified from the very moment of his justification, that is, of his believing, he is, in the sense here conveyed, saved in his sin. If he has a single sin remaining, and that the tiniest that a sin can be and yet remain a sin—he is saved in his sin. What is really declared then is that every believer is perfect, in the sense that he is freed from all sin from the moment of his believing. That carries with it the consequence that no one is a believer—that no one is justified—that no one is saved in any sense, to whom there clings a single, even the tiniest sin. Christ’s salvation is from sin and never in sin. Now Mahan does not in the least believe that. He is only for the moment caught in the meshes of his own chop-logic, and is reasoning on a submerged premise, assumed not only without but against proof—that sanctification takes place all at once and occupies no time. If sanctification occupies time, then it does not follow that because sins still occur in a Christian’s life, he is not in Him who saves from sin and not in sin; it follows only that his salvation from sin is not yet completed. At the moment Mahan is commenting on Rom. 8:3, 4—“that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.” “To have this righteousness fulfilled in us,” he comments, “implies, that it be perfectly accomplished in us, or, that we are brought into perfect conformity to the moral rectitude required by the law. This is declared to be one of the great objects of Christ’s death.” Nothing truer could be said. But then he adds: “Such conformity, then, is practicable to the Christian, or Christ failed to accomplish one of the prime purposes of his redemption.” And at once the submerged premise confuses the reasoning and vitiates the conclusion. Both too little and too much is said. It is too little to say that perfect conformity to the moral rectitude required by the law is practicable to the Christian. It is assured to him. He not only may have it; he certainly will have it. There is no question of Christ’s failing to accomplish this prime purpose of His redemption. It will be accomplished. But too much is said when it is implied that the Christian can enjoy this prime purpose of redemption, in its absolute completeness, at any moment he wishes, without regard to its nature, or the method—the laws if you will—of its conference. This is a blessing in the conference of which time is consumed; and it is not to be had without the expenditure of time-consuming effort. To suggest that the Christian is warranted in concluding that Christ has failed to accomplish one of the prime purposes of His redemption, if he finds himself not yet in possession of this blessing in its fullest extent, is a sad piece of reasoning. To intimate that we may have all that Christ has purchased for us, in all its fulness, all at once, at the moment of believing, is not merely to confound all human experience, but to go beyond what Mahan has found it possible to believe himself. For after all, Mahan does not believe what he here asserts—that all who believe in Christ are immediately in that act of faith both perfectly justified and perfectly sanctified.
One indication that he does not believe it may be found in passages, lying side by side with those just quoted, in which he develops a conception of the relation of faith to the blessings obtained by it, which is quite incongruous to what he here asserts. In one of these215 he is discussing the difference between perfect and imperfect faith. This he finds not in a difference in the degree of confidence the two exhibit—as if trust and distrust were mixed in them in different proportions—but in the breadth of their reference. “In consequence of ignorance of the perfect fulness of Christ’s redemption in all respects,” we may be found reposing “confidence in one, and not in every feature of Christ’s character as a Savior.” Our confidence in Him may be full confidence, from the intensive point of view, but far from full from the extensive point of view. We entrust to Him utterly what we entrust to Him, but we do not entrust to Him all we ought to entrust to Him. The illustration given is precisely this: “The mind … may repose full confidence in Christ as a justifying, but not as a sanctifying Savior.” We may then receive justification and not sanctification. These two are not necessary concomitants, the inseparable co-products of one act of faith. They are severally products of different acts of faith and are sought and enjoyed each for itself. There is indeed a wider implication behind this—that we seek by faith and receive the several benefits which Christ bestows on His people one by one, as we appeal to Him for each. And behind that lies the deeper implication still that salvation is not a unit, but may be broken up into fragments and granted piecemeal; and therefore also may be enjoyed by this or that individual only in this or that part. He that has only partial faith, that is to say faith for only part of the things which are to be had in Christ, may be saved only in part, that is, may receive only part of salvation. We may be justified, for example, and not sanctified. One would like to know what the state of such a man is. Being justified, his sins are all pardoned; he is accepted in God’s sight; and the reward of eternal life is given him. We suppose this means, in common parlance, that he will “go to heaven.” And indeed, where else would one go, against whom the law of God brings no charge, and for whom it bears witness that he is righteous? But not having been sanctified, he must go to heaven a corrupt and polluted, though not guilty, wretch. And we are brought up short by the fundamental principle that without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
It is of course in part a defective view of justification itself which produces these remarkable results. Corruption is the very penalty of sin from which we are freed in justification; holiness is the very reward which is granted us in justification. It is therefore absurd to suppose that sanctification can fail where justification has taken place. Sanctification is but the execution of the justifying decree. For it to fail would be for the acquitted person not to be released in accordance with his acquittal. It is equally absurd to speak of a special “sanctifying faith” adjoined to “justifying faith”; “justifying faith” itself necessarily brings sanctification, because justification necessarily issues in sanctification—as the chains are necessarily knocked off of the limbs of the acquitted man. The Scriptures require of us not faiths but faith. Mahan, on the other hand, is very much inclined to make a hobby of the notion that we must have a special faith for every particular benefit received of Christ. “Perfect faith,” he asserts,216 “is a full and unshaken confidence in Christ, as in all respects, at all times, and in every condition, a full and perfect Savior, a Savior able and willing to meet every possible demand of our being.” That is true, and well-said: that is in its nature the faith which every Christian has and lives by. But must all the sides and aspects of Christ’s saving activities be explicated in our knowledge or else we do not get them? Does our enjoyment of them absolutely depend on our explication of them in our knowledge and the direction of our faith to each and every one of them separately? That is the tendency of Mahan’s treatment of the matter. We must not go to Christ, he tells us,217 as a Savior in general, expecting Him to save us from our sins. We must take our sins to Him one by one. “From our sins Christ does not and cannot save us, unless by faith we thus”—that is distributively—“appropriate the provisions of his redemption.” So strongly is the notion of the exercise of faith distributively pressed, that Mahan is even ready to say,218 that no blessing will be received—for example the blessing of sanctification—if it be applied for in a general way. This is the reason, he says, that “Christians apply to Christ for sanctification, etc., almost without success. Their object is commonly general and undefined, and nothing specific is presented.” We must come to Christ with a specific need in our hearts and one of His specific promises in our hands, and do this over and over again, until we work through all our needs and all His promises. We seem far enough away, in this presentation of the way of life, from the notion asserted in the passages formerly adduced, that perfect sanctification accompanies justification as its inseparable concomitant, else Christ would save us in, not from our sins: that we must in other words at once on believing be saved from all our sins on pain of implicating Christ in their continuance.
However Mahan may have endeavored to conciliate for himself such conflicting lines of thought, he emerges into the open with the clear and firm conviction that justification and sanctification are two distinct and separable benefits to be sought and obtained by two distinct and separable acts of faith. This is already apparent in the full exposition which he gives us of the theoretical foundation of his doctrine of perfection, in the fourth discourse of his “Christian Perfection.”219 He speaks freely here of our being made perfect by divine grace—even of our being made perfect by the indwelling Christ—after a fashion which seems to bear a more mystical than Pelagian implication. But the two tendencies are not to him irreconcilable. Everything is made to depend on the human will; and man may therefore be said to work out his own perfection. But it appears that he does this not directly but indirectly—by handing it over to grace or to the indwelling Christ to work it out for him. Accordingly Christ is represented as saying to the believer, “I will secure you in a state of perfect and perpetual obedience to every command of God, and in the full and constant fruition of his presence and love”; and as promising, “All this will I do in perfect consistency with the full, and free, and uninterrupted exercise of your own voluntary agency.”220 What the believer is to do is “to make a full surrender” of himself to Christ. This includes “an actual reception of Christ, and reliance upon him for all these blessings, in all their fulness—a surrender of your whole being to him, that he may accomplish in you all the ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ of the new covenant.”221 And we are told that “when this is done—when there is that full and implicit reliance upon Christ, for the entire fulfillment of all that he has promised—he becomes directly responsible for our full and complete redemption.” By a complete surrender to Him we voluntarily put ourselves into His hands, and He thereafter assumes “all the responsibility.”222 “Christ is now present in your heart, and ready to confer all this purity and blessedness upon you, if you can believe that he is able and willing to do it for you, and will cast your entire being upon his faithfulness.”223 “If …” It is all primarily in our hands and rests on our will. But when we have met that “if,” then it is all in Christ’s hands and He will do it all. “We learn” hence, Mahan explains,224 “how to understand and apply such declarations of Scripture as the following—‘Wash you, make you clean’; ‘Make to yourselves a new heart and a new spirit’; ‘Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,’ etc.” “The common impression seems to be,” he says, “that men are required to do all this, in the exercise of their own unaided powers; and because the sinner fails to comply, grace comes in, and supplies the condition in the case of Christians.” That is not his view. His view is that grace is always standing ready to do the work, if only we will draw on it for it. We are not required to do it ourselves; we are required to do it by means of grace, which is put at our disposal for the purpose. The fountain, whose waters cleanse from sin, is set open: it is our business to descend into it and wash. “The sinner is able to make to himself a ‘new heart and a new spirit,’ because he can instantly avail himself of proffered grace.” It is really his own act: facit per alium, facit per se. Grace is but the instrument he uses to accomplish his result. “He does literally ‘make to himself a new heart and a new spirit,’ when he yields himself up to the influence of that grace. The power to cleanse from sin lies in the blood and grace of Christ; and hence, when the sinner ‘purifies himself by obeying the truth through the spirit,’ the glory of his salvation belongs, not to him, but to Christ.”225 The validity of this inference is more than questionable: Christ in this view is but the instrument with which the sinner works. Meanwhile, however, it is made very plain that Christ and Christ only does or can do the work; and as the application is expressly made to the work of sanctification, the immediate supernaturalness of sanctification and its direct dependence on faith and faith alone are clearly asserted. “Herein also lies the ability of the creature to obey the commands of God, addressed to us as redeemed sinners.… We can ‘abide in Christ,’ and thus bring forth the fruit required of us.”226 The way we bear fruit is to apply to Christ for it.
We may perhaps be advanced in apprehending Mahan’s conception by attending to a passage in which he undertakes to discriminate between what he calls the antinomian, the legal and the evangelical spirits. The antinomian spirit, he says, looks to Christ for justification now, and satisfied with that, does not bother itself at all about sanctification. The legal spirit has two forms. In its extremest form—the form in which it appears in the ancient Pharisee and “modern moralist”—it seeks both to justify and to sanctify itself by its own efforts. In its milder form it looks to Christ for justification and depends on its own efforts for sanctification. The evangelical spirit looks to Christ for both justification and sanctification through faith alone. He differentiates himself here from the antinomian through his zeal for sanctification: he is concerned for personal holiness and earnestly seeks it. He differentiates himself on the other hand from the “legalist,” by the means he uses to obtain this longed-for holiness. The “legalist” seeks it “by personal efforts”; he seeks it “by faith.” This is as much as to say that the “legalist” seeks it in himself and expects to draw it out of himself by strenuous strivings; while Mahan seeks it in Christ and expects to receive it from Christ on faith. We do not stop to point out the injustice of setting sanctification by effort and sanctification by faith in mutually exclusive opposition to one another. If there be any who, having looked to Christ for their justification, then expect to sanctify themselves altogether apart from Christ, they present in their own persons a very odd contradiction. How can they, united to Christ by faith, act in their attempts to be holy, altogether out of relation with Christ, into union with whom they have come? Their efforts to be holy are themselves part of the sanctifying effects of the faith by which they are united with Christ—not all of it nor even the main part of it, but a part of it. Effort and faith cannot in themselves be set in crass opposition to one another, as if where the one is the other cannot be. They rather go together in a matter like sanctification which consists in large part of action. But that is not the matter which it concerns us most at the moment to take note of. The matter for us to note now is that by setting himself in opposition to those who “expect sanctification from personal effort,” and by the very inconsiderateness of this opposition, it is made the clearer that Mahan thinks of himself as teaching that sanctification is obtained not at all by “personal effort,” but by faith alone, and is the work of Christ exclusively, into which no other work of man enters except faith alone.227
In a later writing,228 Mahan tells us explicitly that, when he was first converted, he “knew Christ well in the sphere of justification, or the pardon of sin, but knew nothing of Him in that of our sanctification, and had never heard of Him, or thought of Him, as ‘the Son of God who baptizes with the Holy Ghost.’ ” “Of the idea of ‘the life of faith,’ and of the life revealed in the words, ‘I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one,’ I was as ignorant as an unborn babe.” If we were compelled to take these words in their general, ordinary meaning, the statement made in them would be sheerly incredible. Mahan intends them only in the sense of his own special doctrines of sanctification and the baptism of the Spirit. In that case they amount only to saying that he had not yet elaborated his peculiar views on the subject, when he was first converted—as how should he? He therefore proceeds to plead that young converts should be taught at once that entire sanctification is to be had immediately from Christ on going to Him for it—just as full justification has been had. His meaning is, that they should not be permitted uselessly to expend their strength in seeking to hew out sanctification for themselves, when the only way in which it can be obtained is from Christ by faith alone. A very striking enforcement of this counsel is found in a passage in his “Autobiography”229 in which he sharply criticizes Finney’s methods of dealing with converts “before he learned the way of the Lord more perfectly.” He wished “to induce among believers permanence in the Divine life.” But he knew no way to do it, it is said, except to insist on “the renunciation of sin, consecration to God, and purpose of obedience.” He worked along this line with the utmost zeal and to the permanent injury of his converts. Years afterward, his converts at the Chatham Street Chapel, New York, had “never recovered from the internal weakness and exhaustion which had resulted from the terrible discipline through which Mr. Finney had carried them.” “And this,” Mahan adds, “was all the good that had resulted from his efforts.” The same method, he says, had the same effect on Finney’s first pupils at Oberlin. He was prescribing effort: the only right way is the way of faith.
It should be carefully noted that it is involved in these criticisms that, in Mahan’s view, sanctification is not merely not by effort but by faith, but also not by the act of faith by which justification is received, but by a subsequent act of faith all its own. He is speaking of those already converted, and of their sanctification as a subsequent transaction. This is not a matter of little concern to him. He is insistent that sanctification follows conversion. He is found indeed sharply inveighing against those who say that all Christians have received “the baptism of the Holy Ghost” at the time of their conversion, and in doing so makes it plain enough that “the baptism of the Holy Ghost,” which with him is a condition of the influx of the grace that sanctifies the soul, is a distinct and subsequent enduement to converting grace. He repels the accusation that, as we have received this baptism at conversion, there is “no such promise as you speak of,” “in reserve for us now.” He insists that no matter what they once received, Christians are obviously in sore need of such an enduement now. He argues formally that Christ makes “prior obedience the express condition of this reception of ‘the Comforter’ ”—with the meaning that it must therefore be not an initial gift but one that comes in the course of Christian living. He declares: “Does not inspiration speak expressly of two classes of converted persons,—of the one class as ‘spiritual,’ and the other as ‘yet carnal,’—the one as made, and the other as not yet made, ‘perfect in love,’—the one as having, and the other as not having, ‘fellowship’ with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ,—the one as having received, and the other as not having received, the Holy Ghost since they believed—and of the ‘joy’ of the one class as being, and of the other as not being, ‘full.’ ”230
There is a passage in the “Autobiography”231 in which Mahan’s doctrine of sanctification is set forth in quite a systematic form, and which may well serve therefore as a norm for the interpretation of more scattered expositions. “Sanctification,” we here read, “is a gift of grace in the same sense, and attainable on the same condition, that justification is. Justification is an act of God, an act by which our sins are remitted, and we restored to a legal standing before Him, as if we had never sinned. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a work232 wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, ‘a renewing of the Holy Ghost’ by which ‘the body of sin is destroyed,’ that is, evil dispositions and tendencies are ‘taken out of our flesh,’ and we are made ‘partakers of a Divine nature.’ We have no more direct and immediate agency in sanctification than we have in justification. Each, with equal exclusiveness, is, I repeat, a gift of grace, and each is vouchsafed on the same condition as the other.… To comply with the condition is our part in the transaction. The condition being complied with, our responsibility in the matter is at an end.” Having cited Ezek. 36:25–27, he proceeds: “Three great blessings, in all fulness, are here specifically promised; namely, full and perfect cleansing from all sinful dispositions, tendencies, and habits; an equally full and perfect renewal, ‘the gift of a new spirit,’ and ‘a heart of flesh,’ in the place of the heart of stone which ‘had been taken out of the flesh’; and the ‘gift of the Holy Ghost,’ by Whose indwelling the believer is ‘endued with power’ for every good word and work, and perfected in his obedience to God’s statutes and judgments.” Here is a complete negative and positive explication of what sanctification is. Negatively, everything sinful is eradicated from the believer—including every sinful disability he may be supposed to have. Positively, holiness is infused into him, carrying with it power to every good word and work. “Every item” of this transformation “is the exclusive work of God.” Our part in sanctification is “to come to God by Jesus Christ, to have these things done for us.”233 “Sanctification and justification being both in common, and with the same exclusiveness, gifts of God, the one is just as instantaneous as the other.”234 The Scriptures do indeed speak of “growth in grace,” but that is “quite another thing” from a process of becoming holy: it is the expansion and development of the already holy person. “First, the healing, restoration to health, or sanctification; then growth, ‘growth in grace,’ ”—a growth this, that is not merely progressive but eternal. The note struck here is the note of a supernatural, instantaneous, entire transformation—a transformation which is “total” not only in the extensive sense but in the intensive sense. For one of the most notable features of it is the emphasis with which it is declared that the transformation is a transformation of nature and not merely of activities. “The body of sin is destroyed”; and that is defined as meaning that “evil dispositions and tendencies are ‘taken out of our flesh’ ”: a “full and perfect cleansing “is made” from all sinful dispositions, tendencies, and habits.” A new heart is placed within us: and we are made “partakers of a Divine nature.” A work like this cannot well be called other than “physical.”
It is important to observe that the “physical” salvation which is thus taught is strictly reserved for the second stage of salvation, and is a result of the second conversion. There is a curious passage in “Out of Darkness into Light”235 in which this is explained to us. Here it is taught that, when we have been “through the Spirit” “convicted of sin,” and have “exercised genuine ‘repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,’ ” strange to say, nothing has been wrought in us by His Spirit. We have taken up a new attitude, and that is all. We have done our duty—exercised repentance and faith—and that is the whole of it. God responds to this repentance and faith, it is true, by granting us pardon: but that takes place outside of us, and remains outside of us—we remain ourselves precisely as before. “As far as his voluntary activities are concerned,” Mahan remarks, the believer “is now in a state of supreme obedience to the will of God.” But he adds: “His old propensities, dispositions, temper, and tendencies, however, remain as they were, and remain to war against this new-born purpose of obedience.” Nothing has happened to the believer in himself: he has turned to God, but this has brought no change to his inner self. If left in this condition—and Mahan says the majority of believers are left in this condition—the believer cannot sustain himself in his newly assumed attitude. He lapses from his first love, lives on a low plane, falls, and falls again. There is apparently attributed to him a power to retain the faith he has conceived; but, being left to himself, he can retain it only with a feeble hold. What we wonder at is that he can be supposed to retain it at all. “Open and gross immoralities excepted,” we read,236 “the convert carries with him into the Christian life the same propensities, dispositions, and temper that he had before his conversion, and these, when strongly excited, overcome him as they did before.” The convert in his own strength can avoid open and gross immoralities; but, nothing having happened to him within, he is unable to resist the impulses which arise from his unaffected “old man.” It is a curious condition this, and one cannot see that there can be attributed to it anything that can justly be thought of as a state of salvation. We are told that the believer has escaped the penalties due to his sins—is a pardoned man: but he remains in precisely the same inward condition in which he was before. He is still in the condition of the natural man seeking to reform himself.
But now a second step can be taken. Christ may be apprehended “as the Mediator of the new covenant”—to employ a favorite phrase of Mahan’s; that is, the convert may seek and obtain from Christ “the baptism of the Holy Ghost,” and thus receive the Spirit for “the work of universal renovation.” The Spirit now takes away the heart of stone and gives the convert a heart of flesh—a new heart and a new spirit; writes the law in his inward parts—and the rest. This is “an all-cleansing, all-renovating, and all-vitalising process,” and, in contrast with “the washing of regeneration,” is called “the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” The convert is now, his old man being crucified, imbued with a new “divine nature,” and “filled with the Holy Ghost.” The old propensities, dispositions, tempers and lusts are gone; and the Christian is free. “What a melancholy reflection it is,” Mahan exclaims,237 “that most believers advance no further in the Christian life than ‘the washing of regeneration,’ are ignorant of Christ as the Mediator of the new covenant, and, consequently, have no experience of ‘the renewing of the Holy Ghost.’ ” Is it not a more melancholy reflection still that a Christian teacher can so cut Christ’s great salvation up into sections as to imagine that a sinner can sincerely repent of his sins, and cast himself in faith on Christ for salvation—and then not receive it? According to Mahan this is the condition in which most Christians find themselves. Their salvation has been wholly intermitted after the first step.
We see that one of the things which Mahan has greatly at heart, in urging to this second step, is that the Christian may be relieved from his old evil propensities and thus be freer to fight, in the Christian warfare, against external enemies. Up to the reception of “the second blessing” the old evil propensities remain and are the constant source of sin. It is useless to strive against them—we cannot eradicate them: though, as we have just seen, we can do what seems on the whole not a little in the way of repressing their worst movements, and Mahan accordingly characterizes this condition as one, not of darkness, but of “twilight.” He is not counselling, however, inert acceptance of them; he is only recommending rightly directed efforts—we must strive not ourselves to conquer them, but to obtain their eradication at the hands of Christ. In one of the passages in which he describes most fully what he means by this,238 he is speaking directly of “religious joy,” but he expressly makes the attainment to this “religious joy” rest on the same principles as the attainment of holiness,239 and we may use the description of the method of the attainment of the one therefore equally well of the attainment of the other. We can have it, he says, only on the condition “that, with all sincerity, earnestness, and tireless perseverance, ‘God shall for this be inquired of by you to do it for you.’ ” This is one of the phrases which he loves to repeat; and the enforcement of the duty inculcated by it he makes one of his chief concerns. If we wish any blessing we must inquire of the Lord for it, and we must do this with all strenuousness. “When you are told,” then, he explains, “not to make any efforts to banish your cares or sorrows, or to induce religious peace and joy, you receive wise and healthful advice.” These things do not come “at the bidding of our wills, but at the bidding of Christ.” We must strive after them—but we must strive after them from the hands of Christ. It is wrong, then, “when inquirers are told, … as they frequently are, not to think anything about their feelings, nor to give themselves any concern about them one way or the other.” The truth is240 “that our emotions, as well as our moral states”—it is here that our own interest for the moment focuses—“should be the objects of reflection, faith, and prayer. The divine direction is this:—‘Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.’… The promises pertaining to our peace are as really the objects of faith and prayer as those pertaining to our justification and sanctification.” Striving thus in the right way, we may be rid of our evil propensities, rid of them not in part, or merely in their activities, but altogether. Mahan knows, for he has tried it. “As a witness for Christ,” he says,241 “I would say that, were there a perfect oblivion of the facts of my life prior to the time when I thus knew my Saviour, I should not, from present experiences, ever suspect that these old dispositions, which once tyrannised over me, had ever existed.” And one of the things that render it important to be rid of them is that then we are free to contend against external temptations with no traitor in the camp. For though perfected now, we are not free from temptations. And we shall need to strive against them with all our might.
At this point in the discussion Mahan introduces a warning against what he represents as an extreme position taken up by some in his own camp, which surprises us very much.242 “I hear much said,” he says, “about receiving Christ as our present sanctification” which must be accepted with caution. If we have nothing in view but salvation from actual sin—we may, of course, expect immediate relief on believing. But “when we inquire of Him, as the Mediator of the new covenant, to do for us all that is promised in that covenant, the case is different.” And the difference in the case apparently consists in this—we must leave the fulfillment of all that for which we believe to God’s own good time and way. We may, like the disciples, have to tarry for “the promise of the Spirit.” After all, then, entire sanctification is not the immediate and complete response to faith. It may come gradually, in instalments. We may expect salvation “from actual sin” at once. But “heart-searching may precede the final cleansing, searching for God with all the heart must precede the finding of Him, and waiting and praying may precede, we cannot tell how long, the baptism of power.” There is an appearance of excessive analysis here. Salvation from actual sin, final cleansing, finding of God, baptism of power—and there are others. There is for example the distinction which is at once made between the “presence” of Christ in the heart and His “manifestation” there. It seems that Christ may dwell in us, and yet dwell there after some otiose fashion—not occupying Himself with us. We obtain His indwelling by faith: His manifestation of Himself within us awaits His own pleasure. The effort seems to be to safeguard to some degree the divine sovereignty. When we do our part, that does not compel His doing His part—at least, at once: He will do it, no fear as to that; but He will do it when and as He will. “Faith on our part does not of itself give us rest. The rest of faith is what Christ gives ‘after we have believed.’ ” Gives—an emphasis is laid on this. We do not by faith take it: Christ gives it. We must conceive then, it seems, of our second act of faith as securing for us the indwelling of Christ, who brings, of course, His benefits with Him; and then of His conferring these benefits one by one at His own discretion, but always in response, we infer from other passages already cited, to acts of faith claiming them. This notion of the indwelling Christ forms apparently the culmination of Mahan’s conception of the saving process. At the end of his book, “Out of Darkness into Light,”243 he has a chapter on “Christ in us, and Christ for us,” a phrase in which, he thinks, the whole gospel is summed up. He declines244 to explain the “sense” and “form” in which “Christ dwells and lives in believers,” on the ground that no one who has not experienced it can understand it. He outlines, however, some of the blessings which this indwelling brings. We shall, possessing it, have union, fellowship, and intercommunion with Him, in kind the same as obtains between Christ and the Father. “Christ will so completely control and determine our mental and moral states and activities, and so completely transform our whole moral characters after His own image, that the Father will love us as he does Christ”—that is, of course, with the love of complacency, since we are then perfect; our love to Christ “will, in our measure, be rendered as perfect as His is to us”; “our content under all the allotments of Providence” will be as perfect as His; our peace and joy as constant and full; and our love for our fellow-Christians “will be the same in kind as that which exists between Christ and the Father”—and the like. In a word, although we cannot tell what the indwelling of Christ is, we know it by its effects; and these effects are so described as to show that we are by it assimilated to Christ. By His dwelling within us Christ makes us like Himself.
Now, there are two conditions of obtaining this high gift. The first of these is that “we must … through faith in Christ, in the varied relations in which He is for us, as a Saviour from sin, be brought into a state of full present consecration to Christ, and obedience to His commandments.” We must, in other words, receive Christ in all that He is “for us.” We must already be loving Christ and keeping his words; Christ will not make His abode in any but loving hearts and obedient spirits. Certainly this seems to say that the indwelling Christ does not make us “perfect,” but finds us “perfect.” The second condition is that we must have already received the “Comforter,” “to enlarge our capacities to receive Christ and the Father.” That is to say not only is perfection but also what Mahan calls “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” presupposed. “Christ and the Father,” we are told, “can dwell within us but upon the condition that the Spirit shall first ‘strengthen us with might in the inner man’; shall ‘take of the things of Christ, and show them unto us,’ and shall ‘show us plainly of the Father.’ ” “Remember,” we are told more broadly, “that this promise can be fulfilled in your experience but upon the condition that you shall love and obey Christ, as the disciples did, and ‘the Holy Ghost shall fall upon you as He did upon them at the beginning.’ ” It is clear from a passage like this that to Mahan the twin pillars on which the highest structure of salvation rests are “perfection” and “the baptism of the Spirit”; and these, we will remember, he repeatedly tells us are the great doctrines to the promulgation of which he gave his life.
In the earliest of his perfectionist books—the “Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection” of 1839—the doctrine of the “Baptism of the Spirit” is not developed. The last of the discourses included in the book, however, deals with the work of the Spirit in sanctification under the caption of “The Divine Teacher,” and this caption fairly conveys the conception of the mode of His sanctifying work which is presented in the discussion. He is directly described in it as follows: He “enlightens the intellect, and carries on the work of sanctification in the heart, by the presentation of truth to the mind.”245 And again we are told246 that “the Spirit sanctifies by presenting Christ to the mind in such a manner, that we are transformed into his image.” These phrases are so external that it is necessary to remind ourselves that it is the work of the indwelling Spirit which is spoken of. He is spoken of in such a fashion as to imply that His presence in the heart is conceived as a supernatural fact, and His action as a supernatural action. But His action is spoken of exclusively as of the nature of “enlightening”; it is as “the divine teacher” alone that he is presented. It appears to be intended distinctly to deny that the mode of His action is of the nature of what is called “physical,” and to confine its effects to such as are wrought by the truth. We are left, however, in darkness as to how the indwelling Spirit is thought to enlighten the mind, or, as that is here explained, to present truth or to present Christ to the mind. It does not seem to be meant that the Spirit reveals new truth to the mind, or reveals to it the old truths afresh. His action does not appear to be conceived as, in the strict sense revelatory, but rather as in its nature clarifying and enforcing: he gives clearness and force and effectiveness to the things of Christ. He makes Christ, in all that Christ is as our sanctification, vivid and impressive to us. What puzzles us is how He does it. Surely not by an effect on the truth itself with which He deals; or on Christ Himself whom He presents. Must not His operation terminate on the mind itself, affecting it in such a manner that it sees the truth in a new light and the Christ in His preciousness, and goes out to and embraces it and Him? And what is that but a “physical” effect? In subsequent discussions this ambiguity is left still imperfectly resolved. In the opening pages of “Out of Darkness into Light,”247 for example, we read this sentence: “According to the express teachings of inspiration, we know, and can know, divine truth in none of its forms but through a divine insight imparted to us through the Spirit.” This is of course true, and would call for no remark except in a writer of this type. In such a one, it leaves us wondering how this insight can be thought to be imparted, especially when we read further and learn that all knowledge imparted thus by the Spirit is absolute knowledge. We may have beliefs of greater or less degrees of “conscious certainty” with “the teaching of the Spirit”; but when He illuminates the soul, we have not beliefs but knowledge, and that in the form of absolute knowledge.248 On the basis of the religious psychology prevalent at Oberlin, it is exceedingly difficult to understand what the process of illumination can be which produces this effect. It seems to involve the assumption of an effect wrought by the Spirit on the man himself, that is on his heart, which cannot be called anything but “physical,” and that seems to demand such a “physis” for man as is susceptible to such an operation. Mahan goes on to say249 that by an action of the Spirit he was himself “made absolutely conscious that God had pardoned and accepted” him. “I was as absolutely—I could not tell how—assured of this, as I was that I existed at all.” That is a familiar mode of speech among mystical perfectionists, and is called by Mahan “the witness of the Spirit.” It seems to be represented as merely an ungrounded conviction; the ground of it is assumed to be the Spirit; and the guarantee of this assumption appears to be merely the absoluteness of the conviction. So explained, it falls within the category of revelations, and we observe Mahan, on a later page,250 laying claim to special supernatural experiences which fall in nothing short of particular revelations. In this he but followed in the steps of those “New York Perfectionists” from whom he seeks fundamentally to separate himself, and of whom such experiences were characteristic. Perhaps we ought to state here also that the fanaticism of “faith cure”—“prayer cure,” Mahan calls it251—was fully shared by both him and Finney.
The special doctrine of “the Baptism of the Spirit,” under that name, seems to have been given vogue among the Oberlin coterie first by John Morgan, who published in The Oberlin Quarterly Review for 1845 and 1846, two essays on “Holiness Acceptable to God,” and “The Gift of the Holy Ghost,” respectively.252 The latter of these works out the doctrine substantially as subsequently taught at Oberlin, with great clearness and force of presentation.253 Mahan’s first formal discussion of it appears in his book bearing the title, “The Baptism of the Holy Ghost,” which was not published until 1870.254 The doctrine is set forth in outline in the opening pages of the volume. First a very welcome and no doubt much needed testimony is borne to the fact “that whenever any of the leading characteristics of ‘the new man’ are referred to in the Bible, they are specifically represented as induced by the indwelling presence, special agency and influence of the Holy Spirit.”255 This is true and important—the most important fact in the premises; we are sanctified by the Spirit whom God has given to dwell in us, and otherwise not. But next it is affirmed, as if it were equally true and equally important, that this gift of the spirit for our sanctification is an after-gift, granted to believers subsequently to their becoming believers. “This indwelling presence of the Spirit in our hearts … is distinctly revealed, as promised to us, and given to us, after [emphasis his] we have, through His convicting power, ‘repented of sin, and believed in Christ.’ ” There is a sense, of course, in which it is to be said that the work of the indwelling Spirit in sanctifying the soul, follows upon His act in regenerating it, by which we are converted, and, being converted, are justified. But this is not what Mahan means; he is not analyzing the unitary salvation into its distinguishable stages but dividing it into separable parts. Consequently he goes on256 to affirm as the third element in his doctrine, that “the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit, ‘the baptism of the Holy Ghost,’ are, according to the express teachings of inspiration, to be sought and received by faith in God’s word of promise, on the part of the believer, after he has believed; just as pardon and eternal life are to be sought by the sinner prior to justification.” That is to say, the gift of the Spirit is not a result of justification, inseparably involved in it, but an independent gift to be obtained by an independent act of faith. The sinner seeks pardon and eternal life prior to his justification, by one act of faith; he then after his justification seeks the gift of the Spirit by another, similar but distinct act of faith. “If this promise is not embraced by faith, the gift, ‘the sealing and earnest of the Spirit,’ will not be vouchsafed.” We believe for justification and get it; and if we are content with that, we get that alone. But the way is open to us, to believe for the baptism of the Spirit, too, and if we do so, we get that, too. If we do not take this second step we shall remain merely justified and shall not receive the Spirit. A very inadequate conception of justification of course underlies this notion. Mahan identifies it here with “pardon and eternal life,” but is obviously thinking of “pardon,” as merely, in the most limited and external sense, relief from penalty incurred, and of “eternal life” as merely the extension of this relief indefinitely. Even so, however, it is difficult to understand how he can imagine that this benefit can be received and continue to be enjoyed alone. Is it conceivable that a child of God, pardoned of all his sin, can remain just as he was before his pardon; can abide forever an unchanged sinner?
It cannot be said that it is made overly clear precisely what are the effects of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. This is apparently partly because these effects are conceived very comprehensively—as bringing for example blessings personal to the individual who receives it, and also blessings through him to others; as including thus both the gift of holiness, and that of power. In one passage, for example, the effects of the baptism are described thus:257 “Now the special mission of the Spirit is to take truth in all its forms—truth as revealed in both Testaments, and to render it most effective for our sanctification, consolation, fulness of joy, and through us for the sanctification and edification of the Church, and the salvation of men.” He who has received this baptism is accordingly marked out from other men, especially, by these two characteristics—he is holy, and he has power with men for the conversion of their souls and the establishment of them in holiness. It makes men on their own part perfect and in their Christian relations a source of perfection for others. Mahan is very much interested in the second of these effects: the baptism of the Holy Ghost is a baptism with power and conveys to its recipients a mysterious effectiveness in the propagation of the gospel and the winning of souls. We are naturally most interested in the former of them; the baptism of the Holy Ghost is the rationale of perfection, the efficient cause of our “entire sanctification.”258 There is a curious passage259 in which it is likened to a kind of divine house-cleaning of the soul. Just as the housewife in her annual house-cleaning brings to light much dust and dirt that have been hidden from sight, and all seems in confusion and disorder, though this very confusion and disorder is but the preparation for universal order and purity: so, we are told, the Holy Spirit as He takes possession of the heart often discloses forms of internal corruption, “secret faults,” evil tendencies and habits, emotive insensibilities unsuspected before—though this is only preparatory to the enduement of power. Perhaps in comparing the baptism of the Spirit specifically to the housewife’s “annual housecleaning,” Mahan drops a hint that it is not conceived as a process which is done once for all, but as one which may be repeated. Elsewhere, somewhat surprisingly, he seems to intimate this. At least we read of its being “renewed,” “often renewed,”—perhaps, however, here in the sense of relaying rather than reënaction.260 He certainly teaches that after we have received it we may lose it again,261 and that leaves the way open for its “renewal” in the strictest sense. “With the Spirit in our hearts,” he says, and he means it of this supernatural gift received in the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, “we need not sin, but we may sin. We may even ‘grieve’ and ‘quench’ the Holy Spirit of God.” He instances men who, having had this great gift, have lost it: “who have attained the highest forms of the Higher Life,” and “afterwards ‘make shipwreck of the faith.’ ” He warns us that it is possible that Christ may, for our sins, “take” our “part out of the Book of Life.”
Perhaps it ought to be explicitly stated that Mahan does not think of God ever bestowing this great gift of the baptism of the Spirit spontaneously. It must be obtained by us. What God does is merely to put it within our reach. It depends on us, then, whether we obtain it. “All who receive this baptism,” he says,262 “do so in consequence of a previous compliance with the conditions on which God has promised the blessing.” He must be inquired of by believers to do it for them. He never grants it unless He is inquired of with all the heart and all the soul. We must previously be keeping His word and preparing the way for His coming; and, then, seek it with all the heart. Mahan’s supernaturalism thus rests on a very express naturalism. We must take the initiative; and indeed it sometimes looks as if we must do much more—as if we must first have the blessing that we may get the blessing, as if we must be perfect in order to acquire perfection. At any rate, it is clear that God never blesses any except those who first “agonize” for the blessing. It is an indispensable prerequisite to the reception of the Baptism of the Spirit, we are told, that the mind be “brought to realize a deep, inward want, ‘an aching void within’—a soul-necessity, which must be met.”263 “Our Methodist brethren,” it is added, “formerly denominated this state, ‘being convicted for sanctification.’ ”
It is an inconvenience to Mahan that he has to depend for the Scriptural ground of his doctrine of the baptism of the Spirit on passages which teach that the Spirit is given to all believers. He is compelled to transmute this into the very different representation that He is at the disposal of all believers. “While all who believe become thereby entitled to this promise,” he says,264 “its fulfillment is to be sought by faith, after we have believed; just as pardon is to be sought in conversion.” “The promise,” he elaborates the comparison, “is just as absolute in one case as in the other. There is nothing which God so desires to bestow upon sinners as pardon, and with it eternal life. There is no gift he is more willing to bestow upon believers than this divine baptism.” Only, God does not say that all sinners have pardon and eternal life; that this is the characteristic of sinners that they have pardon and eternal life. And He does say that all believers have the Spirit; that it is their very characteristic that they have the Spirit. Only those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God: “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”
There are, to be sure, the charismatic passages, and perhaps the most amusing instance of the inconvenience which the Scriptures he is compelled to depend upon occasion Mahan, is afforded by one of these—Acts 19:2 ff. This is so much the main passage on which he relies in proof of his cardinal contention that the baptism of the Spirit is a subsequent benefit, sought and received by a special act of faith, “after we believe,” that he weaves it into the statement of his doctrine with an iteration that becomes irksome. We have already met with more than one instance of the emphatic employment which he makes of it. It has of course no bearing on the subject in any case; for its reference is to the charismatic and not to the sanctifying Spirit. But Mahan, although protesting265 against confounding the two things, finds himself compelled to draw the primary support for his doctrine of the sanctifying Spirit from the charismatic passages—Acts 19:1–6; 8:14–17; 10:44–47.266 The point now made, however, is that even when thus perverted from its real reference and violently applied to the sanctifying Spirit, the passage in question is so far from serving Mahan’s purpose that it bears precisely the contrary meaning to that which he attributes to it. So eager is he in his employment of it that he adduces it even in the preface to his book on “The Baptism of the Holy Ghost,”267 with the emphasis of italics: “Paul put this important question to certain believers, when he first met them, to wit: ‘Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?’ Does not this question imply that the promise of the Spirit awaits the believer after conversion?” And of course, when he comes formally to expound his doctrine,268 he exploits the same passage: “We learn that the gift of the Spirit was not expected in, but after conversion: ‘Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?’ ” It would be a curious speculation to inquire into the effect it would have had on his constructions, had Mahan learned that what Paul really said was, “Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?” At all events, since the wrong doctrine not only seeks support from the wrong reading of the text, but to a very extraordinary degree is dependent on it and apparently is even largely derived from it, it is a pity that Mahan did not look beyond the language of the Authorized English Version in seeking the meaning of the text. It is true that he did not have the Revised Version to set him right. But he had his Greek Testament; and he had his Alford, whom he repeatedly quotes when it serves his occasion—but not on this occasion. His Alford would have told him that “the aorist should be faithfully rendered: not as E. V., ‘Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?’ but ‘Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye became believers?’ ” Indeed Alford would even have argued the question for him, pointing out that not only the grammar but also the sense of the passage requires this rendering. The matter is made the more absurd that Eph. 1:13, which is not a charismatic passage, is repeatedly quoted269 in support of Acts 19:2 ff. and is stumbled over in the same fashion. From it is extracted, indeed, such nonsense as this270:—“When the creature believes in Christ, he ‘sets to his seal that God is true.’ When God gives his Spirit, that is his seal.…” But, he argues, unfortunately the two do not go together; we may give our seal to God long before He vouchsafes His to us. What the Apostle really says is of course, that we were sealed “on believing”—intimating that the sealing occurred at once on our believing, and that it occurs, therefore to all that believe. The sealing of the Spirit belongs according to their very nature as such, to all Christians. It is not a special privilege granted after a while to some; but at once to all. Alford would have set Mahan right here, too. He renders the passage: “in whom, on your believing, ye were sealed,” and remarks that “this use of the aorist marks the time when the act of belief first took place.”271
 Reprinted from The Princeton Theological Review, xix. 1921, pp. 225–288; cf. Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Perfectionism, Part Two, vol. 8, 64–124. https://faithsaves.net.
170 “Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection; With Other Kindred Subjects, Illustrated and Confirmed in a Series of Discourses Designed to Throw Light on the Way of Holiness,” 1839. We cite it always from the seventh edition, 1844, but the pagination of all editions after the first is the same.
171 On this sermon, see D. L. Leonard, “The Story of Oberlin,” 1898, p. 253: “In September (1838) President Mahan gave his famous perfection address before the Oberlin Society of Inquiry, which was printed the next month in the [Ohio] Observer (published at Hudson) filling ten columns, and a month later still appeared in the first issue of The Oberlin Evangelist [November, 1838], about the same time also in the leading eastern papers. The Hudson “organ” invites its readers to peruse the same and send on the results of their thinking. Which thing they do so abundantly that for a long period well-nigh every number is redolent of reviews and refutations.” Hudson was the seat of the rival Western Reserve College.
172 Compare N. S. Folsom, “Review of Mahan on Christian Perfection,” in The American Biblical Repository for July, 1839, p. 143.
173 The tenth edition was published in 1849. We have seen no later.
174 Fitch’s pamphlet was occasioned by an inquiry into his teaching instituted by his Presbytery, which resulted in asking him to withdraw from its fellowship (cf. Leonard, as cited, p. 256). Along with it should be cited: “An Appeal, together with a Brief Account of the Sentiments of Five Members of the Free Presbyterian Church of Newark, New Jersey, termed by their Opponents Modern Perfectionists,” Newark, 1840—although the perfectionism of the writers of this pamphlet is more of the New York variety. Fitch’s pamphlet was answered by William R. Weeks: “A Letter to the Rev. Charles Fitch on his Views of Sanctification,” 1840; and it is supposed to be included (along with Mahan’s and Finney’s writings) in the basis of Leonard Wood’s discussion, “The Doctrine of Perfection” in the January and April numbers for 1841 of The American Biblical Repository. Fitch was the youngest son of Ebenezer Fitch, first President of Williams College, and there is a very brief notice of him in C. Durfee’s “Williams Biographical Annals,” 1871, p. 385. He was born in 1799; was graduated from Williams College in 1818; studied at Princeton Theological Seminary, 1818–1821. An outline of his life may be found in the “Princeton Thelogical Seminary Biographical Catalogue,” 1909, p. 40. He appears to have been as extreme in his views on the Second Advent as in those on Sanctification.
175 In his “Autobiography,” 1882, p. 321, he says that for the forty-six years preceding that date, the one theme of his life had been “the two great doctrines” of Christian Perfection and the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. This is only one of many such statements; and the fact asserted is absolutely true—the “Autobiography” itself, for example, shows him to have been simply possessed by these two ideas.
176 Mahan finds it possible, therefore, when speaking in general terms, to describe his doctine in language derived from Wesley. When telling us in the opening discourse of his “Christian Perfection” (p. 13) what the thing is of which he is to speak he says: “It is, in the language of Mr. Wesley, ‘In one view, purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God. It is the giving God all the heart; it is one desire and design ruling all our tempers. It is devoting, not a part, but all our soul, body, and substance to God. In another view, it is all the mind that was in Christ Jesus, enabling us to walk as He walked. It is the circumcision of the heart from all filthiness, from all inward as well as outward pollution. It is the renewal of the heart in the whole image of God, the full likeness of him that created it. In yet another, it is loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.’ ” This is the loose language of metaphor: but it indicates a conscious as well as real connection with Wesley.
177 Despite the dependence of the Oberlin doctrine of perfection on the Wesleyans, the remarks of S. B. Canfield, “An Exposition of the Pecularities, Difficulties and Tendencies of Oberlin Perfectionism,” 1841, p. 83, are perfectly just:—“The Wesleyan doctrine of ‘Christian Perfection’ is not only different in itself from the Oberlin theory, but held in connection with different views of native depravity—of the heart—of moral agency—of the nature of sanctification.… Those Methodists who have been at the pains to analyze the Oberlin system regard it as differing very widely from their own. A writer in The Christian Advocate and Journal of June 19, (1840) after making various strictures upon the Oberlin theory, says: ‘It is not the Arminian theory. It is Pelagian Perfectionism, and the truth will suffer loss, if we permit the public to be misled by the supposition that their theory and ours are the same.’ ”
178 In a long note, pp. 12–16 of his “Lectures on Systematic Theology,” Finney notes some grave objections which had been brought against his doctrine; among others this one,—that “the more ignorant and debilitated a person is, … the less the law would require of him”; so that he could extinguish his obligation by committing violence upon himself, and through his wickedness become perfectly holy—that is completely observant of all that is required of him. This assault does not lead Finney in any way to modify his doctrine; and indeed he could not modify it, seeing that it is a mere corollary of his fundamental doctrine of moral accountability. “God so completely levels his claims … to the present capacity of every human being, however young or old, however maimed, debilitated, or idiotic,” he reiterates, “as, to use the language or sentiment of Prof. Hickok, of Auburn Seminary, uttered in my hearing, that ‘if it were possible to conceive of a moral pigmy, the law requires of him nothing more, than to use whatever strength he has, in the service and for the glory of God’ ” (p. 14). It is quite clear that Finney is entangled here in some ambiguities. He very properly distinguishes between a fault and the effects of a fault. But there is a further ambiguity latent in the conception of “demoralization,” which leads him astray. He treats the term as implying that “to demoralize” is to make unmoral, not immoral: and so supposes that we cease to be moral agents in proportion as we become wicked. The source of his difficulty lies in his doctrine of “natural ability,” which leads him to scale down obligation to fit decreasing ability. “If a man should annihilate himself,” he asks, “would not he thereby set aside his moral obligation to obey God? … Should he make himself an idiot, would he not thereby annihilate his moral agency?” “The truth is,” he answers himself, “that for the time being, a man may destroy his moral agency, by rendering himself a lunatic or an idiot; and while this lunacy or idiotcy continues, obedience to God is naturally impossible, and therefore not required” (p. 15). A moral agent cannot annihilate himself; neither can he annihilate his moral agency. He exists everlastingly and so long as he exists he is a moral agent, possessing a moral character and acting in accordance with it. If his moral character is bad, it inhibits good action, but does not in the least lessen obligation to it. If the wickedness becomes absolute the inhibition to good action becomes absolute; but the obligation to good remains absolute also. When J. L. Wilson said in the course of Lyman Beecher’s trial that “moral obligation does not require any ability whatever,” the phraseology may be open to objection, but the thing intended is true. The fact is that Finney and his fellows did not believe in moral agents; they believed in moral volitions.
179 George Duffield (Finney, “Lectures on Systematic Theology,” p. 979) tellingly arraigns Finney’s teaching “that moral law requires nothing more than honesty of intention,” and “that sincerity or honesty of intention is moral perfection” (so Finney explicitly, pp. 138, 295). “By this rule,” says Duffield, Finney’s teaching “graduates the claims of the law of God, so as to make it a most convenient sliding scale, which adapts itself to the ignorance and weakness of men. It utterly perverts men’s notions of that high and absolute perfection which the law demands, and makes moral perfection a variant quantity, changing continually, not only in different persons, but in the same individual. It reasons as follows, namely: Moral law respects intention only. Honesty of intention, or sincerity, is moral perfection. But light, or knowledge of the ultimate end, is the condition of moral obligation. Consequently, the degree of obligation must be just equal to the mind’s honest estimate of the value of the end! Thus, to love God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, means nothing more than ‘that the thoughts shall be expended in exact accordance with the mind’s honest judgment of what is at every moment the best economy for God.’ ”
180 “Lectures to Professing Christians,” p. 353.
181 The American Biblical Repository, January, 1839, p. 47.
182 Ibid., July, 1839, p. 144.
183 Ibid., January, 1841, pp. 174 ff.
184 “The Scripture Doctrine of Sanctification Stated, and Defended against the Error of Perfectionism,” 1841, pp. 30 ff.
185 The American Biblical Repository, October, 1840, pp. 474 ff.
186 The situation among the parties dividing theological thought in New England is vividly brought before us in a letter of Lyman Beecher’s to N. W. Taylor of April 25, 1835, printed in Beecher’s “Autobiography” (ii. p. 344). The New Divinity represented by Beecher and Taylor (as by Finney and Mahan) denied all inability, and all “physical” operation of God, and confined the divine operation in man to suasion: the older school (Woods, Tyler, Nettleton) drew back and in one way or another affirmed these things. Beecher declares that what lay “at the foundation of revolt in Woods, and Tyler and Nettleton” was “the doctrine of a physical execution of God’s decrees and of physical regeneration—in short, of moral government by direct omnipotence.” This, he says, tends to go back to the “natural inability of Old Calvinism in the Emmons and Burton form.” On the other hand he deprecates preaching free-agency in a form which “avails to save by its own actual sufficiency, without the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Ghost is to be necessary but is permitted to act only suasively, inducing men to save themselves by a free agency quite capable of doing all the saving, if only it can be persuaded to do it. Man is naughty and requires correction—not reconstruction of nature, but correction of manners; he is perfectly able to behave properly if he will; it is inducements alone that he needs. This in a nutshell is the whole New Divinity System.
187 “Holiness of Christians in the Present Life,” 1840, p. 8.
188 Pp. 14 ff.
189 P. 86.
190 Pp. 59 ff.
191 P. 61.
192 The American Biblical Repository, October, 1840, p. 410.
193 Pp. 410–411.
194 Leonard Woods, The American Biblical Repository, January, 1841, p. 170, says: “I am glad to see, that, as Mr. Mahan has come to entertain more exalted views of the gracious provisions of the gospel for the sanctification of believers, he has ceased to give such prominence, as he formerly did, to the ability, or free-will, of man, and has expressly renounced it, as furnishing any ground of hope for sinners, or any spring of holiness to Christians, and has been brought to rely wholly on the grace of Christ, and to look to him for the whole of salvation.” There is overstatement here. Mahan renounced human free will only as the immediate ground of hope and source of holiness in the Christian. He retained it as the ultimate ground of our hope and source of our holiness; for he suspended the action of the Spirit on our faith, not our faith on the action of the Spirit. He remained fundamentally therefore Pelagian.
195 They betray a tendency indeed to underestimate its importance. They do, it is true, argue at length that many have been perfect—Paul, John, Isaiah, and perhaps, on the basis of Rev. 14:3–5, 144,000 and certainly an indefinite number of souls of the Old and New Covenants (Mahan, “Christian Perfection,” pp. 37 ff.; Finney, “Lectures on Systematic Theology,” 1851, chapter lxi.). But Mahan explains that the Oberlin people did not concern themselves so much with “mere personal attainments” (the “mere” should be noted) as with the “revealed privileges of the sons of God.” “The question, what attainments we have made,” he explains (“Out of Darkness into Light,” p. 357) “lies wholly between our consciences and our God. The question, what are our revealed privileges, is to be settled, not by an appeal to the conscious or visible attainments of any individual or class of individuals, but wholly and exclusively by reference ‘to the law and to the testimony.’ ” Though arguing that many had been wholly sanctified, Finney did not in 1837 (“Lectures to Professing Christians,” p. 358) claim to be himself wholly sanctified: “I do not myself profess now to have attained perfect sanctification.” In 1840 (“Views of Sanctification,” p. 9) he even seems to deprecate anyone making such a profession, though apparently only on the ground that such a profession would be sure to be misunderstood. “Nothing is more clear than that in the present vague unsettled views of the church upon this question, no individual could set up a claim to having attained this state without being a stumbling block to the church.” In a later section he says that he would be in danger of being a stumbling block to himself. Is perfection then a gift both difficult to verify and perilous to possess?
196 “An Exposition of the Peculiarities, Difficulties and Tendencies of Oberlin Perfectionism,” p. 45.
197 Quoted by Canfield, p. 45, from The Oberlin Evangelist, i. p. 19. This seems to carry the notion back to 1839.
198 P. 45.
199 In “Views of Sanctification,” 1840, pp. 168 f., Finney says: “Full faith in the word and promise of God, naturally, and certainly, and immediately produces a state of entire sanctification.” “This result is instantaneous on the exercise of faith, and in this sense sanctification is an instantaneous work.” “The sense in which I use the term entire sanctification,” he says in this context, “includes all that is implied in perfect obedience to the law of God.” Immediately on exercising faith we have kept the whole law of God.”
200 Cf. also The Oberlin Evangelist, ii. p. 57, referred to by Canfield, p. 46.
201 P. 47.
202 Canfield, p. 48.
203 “Views of Sanctification,” p. 29.
204 “Holiness of Christians in the Present Life,” 1840, pp. 39 ff., 90 ff.
205 Ed. of 1851, pp. 635 ff. The passage occurs also in the first edition, 1847.
206 Pp. 636 ff.
207 P. 644.
208 P. 643.
209 “Lectures on Systematic Theology,” Ed. of 1851, p. 745.
210 P. 631.
211 Both Mahan and Finney sometimes use the word “work” of sanctification in contrast with “act,” used of justification, apparently out of mere reminiscence of this distinction of usage in the Shorter Catechism, but not reproducing that distinction. They mean by “work” to distinguish sanctification as a production, from justification which is only an action. Cf. e.g. Mahan, “Autobiography,” pp. 292–293.
212 P. 100.
213 P. 21.
214 Canfield as cited, pp. 52 ff., does not fail to put his finger on the passages in Mahan’s “Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection” (pp. 27, 123 of ed. of 1839), in which he insists that Christ must sanctify His people “to the same extent” that He justifies them. He rightly points out that it is absurd to speak of a gradual or incomplete justification. He expounds Mahan’s teaching, however, as that “complete justification and entire sanctification are simultaneous—that justification is not complete, until sanctification is entire,”—and that no one can be an heir of eternal life unless he is entirely sanctified. Only the perfectly sanctified can say: There is, therefore, now no condemnation.
215 “Christian Perfection,” p. 114.
216 As cited, p. 114.
217 P. 134.
218 P. 157.
219 Pp. 77 ff.
220 P. 78.
221 P. 89.
222 Canfield, pp. 67 ff., adduces this statement of Mahan’s and analogous ones of Finney’s, and remarks that it is involved, of course, that we can never sin again. If Christ becomes “directly responsible for our full and complete redemption”—is “pledged,” “to produce in us perfect and perpetual obedience,”—to “ ‘sanctify us wholly, and preserve our whole spirit, soul, and body, blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ ” (in the sense Mahan put on these words)—how can we possibly sin again? Yet Mahan within four pages can write: “We can ‘abide in Christ,’ and thus bring forth the fruit required of us. If by unbelief we separate ourselves from Christ, we of necessity descend, under the weight of our own guilt and depravity, down the sides of the pit, into the eternal sepulcher” (pp. 92–93).
223 P. 90.
224 P. 91.
225 P. 92.
226 P. 92.
227 This is of course a Quietistic attitude. John Woodbridge (“Theological Essays: Reprinted from the Princeton Review,” 1846, pp. 413–414) deals admirably with Mahan’s Quietism. The illustrative passages quoted from Mahan (“Scripture Doctrine of Christian Perfection,” pp. 189, 190, 191) are excellently chosen and the comments are telling (p. 414). “It is manifest from the inspired volume that we are to come to Christ, not for the purpose of saving ourselves the trouble of a personal warfare, but that we may engage in such a warfare with good motives, with becoming zeal, with persevering energy, and with success.… When Christ works in us, both to will and to do, of his own good pleasure, it is that sustained, quickened by his power, we may work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” “Yet, after all,” he continues, “it is not intended by the writers to whom we refer, to ascribe all holiness to divine agency. Their meaning appears to be, that Christ will sanctify us wholly, if we look to him for such a blessing; yet there is no provision in their system to secure the act of looking itself. Man begins to turn, and God completes the sanctification of man.”
228 “Out of Darkness into Light,” 1875, p. 37.
229 P. 246.
230 “Out of Darkness into Light,” 1875, pp. 317–318
231 Pp. 292 ff.
232 For Mahan’s use of the term, see note 211.
233 P. 294.
234 P. 294.
235 Pp. 270 ff.
236 P. 271.
237 P. 273.
238 “Out of Darkness into Light,” pp. 339–345.
239 P. 343.
240 P. 344.
241 P. 275.
242 Pp. 277–279.
243 Pp. 327–338.
244 Pp. 332–333.
245 P. 164.
246 P. 172.
247 1875, p. 5.
248 P. 7.
249 P. 17.
250 P. 229.
251 Pp. 248–254, where a number of typical instances are described.
252 Subsequently reprinted at Oberlin, 1875.
253 See the excellent accounts of Morgan’s discourse by James H. Fair-child, The Congregational Quarterly, April, 1876, p. 253, and Frank H. Foster, “A Genetic History of the New England Theology,” p. 456.
254 In his “Autobiography,” p. 150, Mahan speaks of this book with a certain amount of pride. “Every discourse in that book,” he says, “two or three of the last excepted, was prepared and delivered as a part of a regular course of theological lectures to a class of theological students, and was sent to the publisher just as prepared and delivered.” He says the delivery of the lectures produced a revival in the institution, Adrian College, Michigan, of which he was then President. His latest exposition of the doctrine (which pervades all his later writings) will be found in the “Autobiography,” pp. 353–364. It does not differ from that in “The Baptism of the Holy Ghost.”
255 Pp. 10 ff.
256 “The Baptism of the Holy Ghost,” pp. 13 ff.
257 P. 77.
258 In “Out of Darkness into Light,” p. 315, Mahan remarks that the mistake, as it seemed to him of very many who teach the doctrine of the higher life, “is the fact that they do not set forth, as the immutable condition of entering into and continuing in that life, that we must receve ‘the promise of the Spirit in our hearts.’ ” This at least fixes Mahan’s conception of the relation of the Baptism of the Spirit to perfection—it is its “condition.” At the bottom of this contention there lies a healthful supernaturalism. Our faith does not itself work the miracle of the Christian life: that is wrought by God the Holy Ghost. There may be something left to be desired when we inquire after the manner of His working this effect.
259 P. 118.
260 P. 102.
261 Pp. 124, 127, 128.
262 P. 111.
263 P. 96.
264 P. 51.
265 P. 113.
266 Chapter iii.
267 Pp. 37 ff.
268 Pp. 37 ff.
269 Pp. 38, 40, 115.
270 P. 40.
271 Similarly H. C. G. Moule, “Ephesian Studies,” 1900, p. 35: “In whom also, on believing, you were sealed with the Spirit of the Promise, the Holy One; the gifts and power of the Paraclete were made yours at once on your union with the Christ of God.” He adds, to be sure, in a note: “Those gracious gifts may indeed need the believer’s constantly advancing use, and his growing discovery of what they are. But in covenant provision they are his at once ‘in Christ.’ ” This, however, does not affect the testimony of this passage against the “second blessing.”