Biblical Perfection – By Peter Wiseman

Chapter 2

Perfection And Imperfections

The Perfection of God

“The holiness of God,” says one, “is not a particular but a universal perfection.” “It is,” says Alfred Cookman, “the beauty of perfection. Take it away and you bring a universal stain and

blemish upon the Divine perfection. For illustration: without holiness God’s power would be an unholy power, and that would be oppression. Without it, His wisdom would be subtle and cunning, His sovereignty would be tyranny, His justice would be cruelty, His mercy would be foolish pity, His truth would be falsehood.”

If the perfection of which we speak, Biblical perfection, is ours, then our power, if we are masters, will be free from oppression; our wisdom will be free from cunning. and duplicity; our authority as parents will be free from tyranny, though firm; our justice will always be tempered with mercy, without compromising the principle of justice; our desires will be pure, desiring nothing apart from God’s plan or will; our affections will be right, being purified; our tempers will be free from any destructive and uncontrollable elements; our words will be becoming a holy person, the oracles of God, gentle, charitable and profitable; our motive will be right, honest motive, though our method may not be so good; our actions will be in harmony with God’s standard as revealed in the Word of God; our lives will be patterned after the wonderful life of the Master, as far as possible as limited creatures. Such a standard of Biblical perfection is possible and should be our standard!

The perfection required of man, then, is not absolute perfection, for that belongs to God. He alone is perfect in this respect. “There is none good but one, that is God.” “Created beings and things can be perfect only in a relative sense; that is, according to their nature and after their kind. Men and angels may be approximating toward the perfections of God for all eternity, without the possibility of ever attaining unto them. God, in all his perfections, will still be infinitely beyond their reach.” [5]

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Perfection of Angels

The perfection required of man is not angelic perfection, for angels comprise an order of their own. They “excel in strength,” those who “kept their first estate” are called “holy.” They are distinct from the race of man. They do God’s pleasure. “All their native faculties,” says Rev. J. Wesley, “are unimpaired; their understanding in particular, is still a lamp always true; hence though their knowledge is limited (for they are creatures), though they are ignorant of innumerable things, yet they are not liable to mistake; their knowledge is perfect in its kind. And as their affections are all constantly guided by their unerring understanding so that all their actions are suitable thereto, so they do every moment, not their own will, but the good and acceptable will of God.” With regard to the will of God, however, we pray, “They will be done as in heaven, so on earth.”

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Perfection of Our First Parents

The perfection required since the fall of man is not Adamic perfection, for that perfection extended to the whole man, perfect in every respect . . . mentally, spiritually, and physically. He, doubtless, enjoyed before the fall a perfect body. Psychology usually discusses man in a threefold

way-the intellectual, the emotional, and the volitional. When we consider the relation of one to another, and the relation of all to the frail body, the earthly home of the man, it would be folly to claim perfection for either. The physical body is weak and fleshly; appetites and desires must be kept under.

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Perfection of Conduct

The perfection required of man is not perfection of conduct, for one’s conduct may be the outcome of errors in judgment, of ignorance of the right or of even the truth. One’s intentions will no doubt be right but his conduct perhaps not so good.

“What is the judgment of all our brethren? Every one may make mistakes as long as he lives. A mistake in opinion may occasion a mistake in practice. Every such mistake is a transgression of the perfect law. Therefore every such mistake, were it not for the blood of atonement, would expose to eternal damnation. It follows that the most perfect have continual need of the merits of Christ, even for their brethren. ‘Forgive us our trespasses.'” [6]

Paul gloried in his infirmities. He surely did not glory in sin (II Cor. i 2:9). There is a difference. It is strange, though nevertheless true, that there is constant need of a clear distinction between the experience of Christian perfection and a hundred and one things which are often incidental with it. God does not through the provision of redemption remove from man that which He gave him in creation. Furthermore, because of the effects of the fall upon man, there are many infirmities we shall have to bear till we receive a new body in the resurrection of the just.

Our limitations as human beings will be our portion through life. “We are not perfect in knowledge. We are not free from ignorance; n9, nor from mistake. We are no more to expect any living man to be infallible than to be omniscient. We are not free from infirmities, such as weakness or slowness of understanding, irregular quickness or heaviness of imagination. Such in another kind, are impropriety of language, ungracefulness of pronunciation; to which one might add a thousand nameless defects, either in conversation or behaviour. From such infirmities as these none are perfectly freed till their spirits return to God.” [7] Paul in his letter to the Corinthians said, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (I Cor. 2:3). Again, he said, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” (II Cor. 11:29). “In due season ye shall reap if ye faint not?” Yes, we ever need to say, “I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psa. 27:13). One may be “cast down but not destroyed. ‘ ‘ For various causes there may be depression, mental and spiritual; discouragement, though never from God; righteous anger (Eph. 4:26); hate in a good way (Rev. 2:6); thoughts of evil yet not evil thoughts; deep feelings because of a wrong, but deeper still the love of God toward the offender; often thoughts that must be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (II. Cor. 1O:5). If Christ learned obedience by the things which He suffered, we surely have need of lessons. There will be self but sanctified; fear and passion but legitimate. Nor does perfection give us a new body. It will give us a new victory to be sure. But we will still have the same nerves, and they may be badly strained even to the point of being diseased. There will be

mental and spiritual limitations as well as physical. There will be concerns over situations and circumstances but not to the extent of worry.

It is well to remember that perfection does not save us from the capacity for sin nor from the ability to sin, but it does save us from sin within human personality and enables us to live under the cleansing efficacy of the blood of Christ. It does something to our capacity in view of the Divine indwelling, also something for our ability in the sense of enablement to not do what we should not do and to do what we should do. [8]

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Perfection Not Sinless

The perfection required of man is not sinless. The Rev. John Wesley, who is perhaps the best human authority on this line, said, “I believe there is no such perfection in this life as excluded these involuntary transgressions (mistakes, errors, infirmities, etc.); from which I apprehend to be naturally consequent on the ignorance and mistakes inseparable from morality, therefore sinless perfection is a phase I never use lest I should seem to contradict myself.”

Dr. Daniel Steele is perhaps the greatest modern authority on this subject. “Infirmities,’ says Dr. Steele, “are failures to keep the law of perfect obedience given to Adam in Eden. This law no man on earth can keep, since sin has impaired the powers of universal humanity. Sins are offenses against the law of Christ, which is epitomized by John, ‘And this is His commandment, that we should love one another’ (I John 3:23).

“Infirmities are involuntary — Sin is always voluntary.

“Infirmities have their ground in our physical nature, and they are aggravated by intellectual deficiencies. But sin roots itself in our moral nature, springing either from the habitual corruption of our hearts or from the unresisting perversion of our tempers.

“Infirmities entail regret and humiliation. Sin always produces guilt.

“Infirmities in well-instructed souls do not interrupt communion with God. Sin cuts the telegraphic communication with heaven. . . .

“Infirmities, hidden from ourselves, are covered by the blood of Christ without a definite act of faith, in the case of the soul vitally united with Him. On the great Day of Atonement the errors of the individual Hebrew were put away through the blood of sprinkling, without offering a special victim for himself. ‘But unto the second (tabernacle) went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people’ (Heb. 9:7). Sins demand a special personal resort to the blood of sprinkling and an act of reliance on Christ.

“Infirmities are without remedy so long as we are in this body. Sins, by the keeping power of Christ, are avoidable through every hour of our regenerate life. Both of these truths are in Jude’s ascription, ‘Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling (into sin, or as the Vulgate reads,

sine peccato, without sin), and present you faultless (without infirmity, not here, but) in the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.’ Jude understood the distinction between faults, or infirmities, and sins. In this scheme of Christian perfection, faults are to disappear in the life to come, but we are to be saved from sins now. A thousand infirmities are consistent with perfect love but not one sin. Thus we see on undisputed authority we may be conscious of human weakness yet well pleasing to God.” [9]

For one to be tempted does not prove that he has sinned or has sin. The wonderful Christ, the sinless One, was tempted. “A man is tempted,” says Saint James, “when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed” (James 1:14); “lust” means desire, not necessarily sinful desire (for sanctified people are cleansed from sinful desire) but legitimate desire, which may become the occasion of temptation and temptation in turn may become the occasion of sin. “No temptation or evil suggestion to the mind becomes sin,” says Rev. .J. A. Wood, in his book, Perfect Love, “till it is cherished or tolerated. Sin consists in yielding to temptation. So long as the soul maintains its integrity so that temptation finds no sympathy within, no sin is committed and the soul remains unharmed, no matter how protracted or severe the fiery trial may prove.”

In his book, Christian Purity, Bishop Foster, on page 55, says: “To this most difficult question we answer, sin begins whenever the temptation begins to find inward sympathy, if known to be a solicitation to sin. So long as it is promptly, and with full and hearty concurrence of the soul, repelled, there is no indication of inward sympathy, there is no sin.”

“The Scriptures,” says Rev. Thomas Cooke in the book, New Testament Holiness, “always discriminate between purity of heart and ripeness and fullness of Christian virtues. The one is the work wrought within us in a moment by the omnipotent power of the sanctifying Spirit, and the other a natural process involving culture and discipline. Purity has reference to kind or quality, but maturity has respect to degree or quantity . . . Holiness is both a gift and a process, and as such is both instantaneous and gradual.”

Purity of heart is made possible by the work of the Spirit of God; maturity is the result of years of experience. Purity is instantaneous and is obtained by faith; maturity is reached through trials, tests, experiences. Purity may be considered in the light of quality; maturity in the light of quantity. Purity is purity; maturity admits degrees.

As to the matter of growth in connection with Christian perfection, it may be said that there is growth in grace from the moment of conversion but there must be the act of God to make clean. Dr. Daniel Steele says: “Growth in grace, while accompanied by increasing power to abstain from actual sin, has no power to annihilate the spirit of sin, commonly called original sin. The revelation of its indwelling is more and more perfect and appalling as we advance from conversion.” [10] After the work of entire sanctification the soul may grow more rapidly in grace than before, for the simple reason that the chief hindrance to growth and advancement, namely inward sin, is removed from the soul, though the external hindrance remains.

Man did not lose by the fall the natural image of God, his freedom of choice as A person. ‘He lost the moral image of God, but this is restored through Christ, “in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Man is the creative work of God. God destroys sin but not the ability to sin

A sinful person may become a regenerate person and a regenerate person may become a sanctified person, a person in whom dwelleth God; but he is, nevertheless, a person with the power of choice as before.

Human personality, then, is unchanged in respect to the power of choice, which centers in the will, the capital moral power of the soul. The question is often asked, “How could sin enter after once it is removed?” In answer to this, it may be asked, “How did it enter the first pair in the garden of Eden?” If sin entered the human personality in the garden despite the perfection of body and mind of the original pair, may it not reenter a cleansed personality, especially with the frailties of this physical body? Indeed! We are not, as we have seen, saved from the capacity for sin nor the ability to sin; but we are saved from the very existence of sin within human personality and we are kept clean by the fact of present, perfect cleansing through the blood on the basis of fellowship, obedience, and faith (I John 1:7). “If sin is cast out,” said Mr. Wesley, see that it no more enters.” On this very point, Mr. Wesley declared his dependence momentarily on the blood, stating that if he did not trust the blood the next moment he would be in darkness, death and hell.

To those, however, who would take the advantage of the expression, “sinless perfection” to excuse themselves in their “sinful imperfection,” the timely words of the late Dr. A. J. Gordon, a Baptist Minister, should be reemphasized: “If we regard the doctrine of sinless perfection as a heresy we regard contentment with sinful imperfection as a greater heresy, and we gravely fear that many Christians make the apostle’s words, ‘If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves,’ the unconscious justification for a low standard of Christian living. It were almost better for one to overstate the possibilities of sanctification in his eager grasp after holiness than to understate them in his complacent satisfaction with a traditional unholiness. Certainly it is not an edifying spectacle to see a Christian worldling throwing stones at a Christian perfectionist.”

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Perfection Not Physical

In his letter to the Philippians, chapter three, verse 11, Paul speaks of a resurrection of the dead, or out from among the dead; in verse 12, continuing the same subject, he says, “Not as though I had already attained (won) or already have been perfected but I am pursuing, if also I may lay hold for that also which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” In verses 13, 14, “The image is that of the runner in a foot race, whose body is bent forwards in the direction towards which it runs, ” [11] for the prize, as stated in the aforementioned. In verse 15, there is a different perfection mentioned, a perfection evidently already obtained by some of those to whom Paul wrote: “As many as therefore are perfect should be of this mind.” The former is physical, a resurrection from among the dead; the latter spiritual, already obtained by some; the first perfected, the second perfect. A runner is not perfected till he reaches the goal, the prize, but he may be a perfect runner.

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Perfection’s Prelude

After the first “Lord’s Supper,” perhaps on Thursday evening of Passover Week, and after a long discourse, our Lord. offered His great Intercessory Prayer. It was not for the world, but for those whom God had given Him out of the world (John 17:9), and for all believers (v. 20), that they might be sanctified, and as a result made one as the blessed Trinity is one (v. 21), made perfect in one, that the world may know that the Father had sent His Son (v. 23). They were told to rejoice that their names were written in heaven, and in this prayer there is revealed the true marks of an experience necessary as a prelude to perfection:

1 . They were given to Christ by the Father: “The men which Thou gavest me out of the world” (v. 6). And they in turn received and kept God’s word: “They have kept Thy word” (v. 6).

2. They were God’s own: “They are Thine” (v. 9).

3. They glorified Christ: “I am glorified in them” (v. 1O).

4. They were kept: “Those that Thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition” (v. 12).

5. They were hated by the world: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world, therefore the world hateth them” (vv. 14, 16).

6. They were sent by Christ to evangelize: “As Thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I sent them into the world” (v. 18).

7. They were given the glory which the Father gave the Son: “The glory which Thou gavest me, I have given them” (v. 22).

In a study of this great intercessory prayer of our Lord for His disciples, it is well to notice at least a few things involved in the experience for which He prayed:

1. The fullness of joy: “That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (v. 13). “Joy unspeakable and full of glory!”

2. Keeping power: “That Thou shouldst keep them from the evil” (v. 15).

3. Divine oneness: “That they all may be one . . . in us.” Note well the nature and purpose of that oneness: “As Thou Father art in me and I in Thee, that they may be one in us; that the world might believe that Thou hast sent me” (v. 21).

4. Fullness of love: “That the love wherewith Thou hast loved me may be in them” (v. 26). “Perfect love!”

5. The indwelling Christ: “And I in them” (v. 26). “Christ in you the hope of glory.”

The experience of the disciples before “that day” (John 14:2O), thus reveals the necessary prelude to Pentecostal perfection!). [12]