Biblical Perfection – By Peter Wiseman

Chapter 3

Perfection That Is Biblical (A)

In a study of perfection as revealed in the Bible it is well to note at the very outset that dispensational light should be considered. “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generation” (Gen. 6:9). And it would be unjust to judge Noah’s perfection by any other generation but his own. “If perfection,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “were by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?” (Heb. 7:11). It is very obvious from this statement that the perfection possible and required of this dispensation is much higher than that required under the old dispensation. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul said: “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect be thus minded” (3:15). What kind of perfection did Paul mean?* * *

Perfection Promised

“Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord Thy God” (Deut. 18:13).

“Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

“Ye shall be perfect,” says Dr. Samuel Chadwick, “is the way to divinity’s throne. The correspondence is not in natural attributes but in moral qualities. Perfection is through sonship, and sonship is by spiritual affinity and moral correspondence. The promise of perfection marks the climax of an ethical development which assumes discipleship as a basis. The law is spiritual, and evil cherished in the heart is Sin. The soul must be clean. Self-sacrifice is the law of life, and every evil thing must be cut off and cast away. Personal wrongs must be borne in meekness, and a cheerful obedience must be given to commands that may be unjustly imposed. A generous excess over exact requirement must mark the conduct, and beneficence must not be restricted to merit and appreciation. These moral qualities are necessary that we may be sons of our Father which is in Heaven (St. Matt. v. 45). To those who are thus sons is this promise of perfection. Capacity does not always attain to realization, but it constitutes an obligation. Correspondence of nature demands correspondence of character. Only they are truly sons who are sons indeed. They shall be as God; not in every conceivable attribute of divinity, nor of equal excellence in degree, but in every moral grace and glory we shall be of one quality with Him. We shall be righteous, merciful, and holy, even as He.” [13]

According to Paul the specific purpose of the gifts, offices and officers in the church was “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12, 13). In his letter to Timothy, Paul asserts a similar position toward the Holy Scriptures: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in

righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16, 17).

The word translated “perfect” in the New Testament when used with reference to moral requirements of the individual, most surely involves the act of God in the soul whereby sin is cleansed, for maturity in its final stage cannot be expected of any mortal while in the human body. In instances where perfection may stand for the ethics of holiness, the act of God in delivering the soul from sin in order to make such ethics possible, must be understood. Indeed, the expression, perfect love” indicates clearly that it is the instrument of deliverance, “perfect love casteth out fear” (I John 4:18), as well as a state of deliverance, “Because as He is so are we in this world” (4:17). The same law of exegesis, namely the law of context, should be applied to Eph. 4:13; a passage understood by some teachers to mean maturity. To take this text alone, maturity would be the conclusion, but to take it with the context the meaning is different. Read verses eleven, twelve and thirteen. Verse thirteen, “Till we all attain” (aorist) which indicates a divine act. “The perfecting of the saints,” says Dr. Daniel Steele, “is here expressed by a definite and momentary arrival at a point where faith merges into knowledge, where a Saviour believed b comes a Saviour fully realized . . . This transition from faith to full knowledge is a crisis expressed by the aorist. It is when the Paraclete purges the film of inbred sin from the eye of the soul, and Jesus, as a living, loving, glorified, and complete Saviour, is manifested to the spiritual vision. Then the child, the imperfect believer, becomes a perfect man, and reaches the fullness of Christ, that is, the abundance which He has to bestow, a fulness excluding all sin, but capable of eternal increase. That this point is before death is shown by the consequences which follow in the present life, as detailed in verses fourteen to sixteen.” [14] Thus the act and the progress, “capable of eternal increase.”

* * *

Perfection of Love

“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:17, 18).

These passages reveal the fact that there is a state in which people neither fear nor love God (the unawakened); a state in which they may fear and not love (the awakened); a state where they love and have carnal fear, “He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (the regenerated); a state of perfect love and no carnal fear, “Perfect love casteth out fear.” That is perfection in love.

What was it which made Mary Slessor, who was such a timid girl at home, whose fears made her life a burden, a fearless character in the wildest regions of Africa? It is reported of her that she would not enter a field at home where there was a cow, and the thought of crossing a street almost paralyzed her. But God called her to Africa and fitted her for the work. “One dark night in Africa she traveled through the forest with wild beasts prowling around and continued her journey until dawn because a young girl was sick and needed help.”

Biblical perfection takes into account the measure of man’s capacity and ability. People greatly differ in his regard, and as a consequence differ in the degree of love and service, but in every case it is loving God with all one’s powers. It should be realized that all Divine love is perfect. The perfection of love has reference to quantity rather than quality. The clean heart has more room for God and the fulness of His love than has an unsanctified heart.

The Rev. J. Wesley submitted the following propositions:

1 . “There is such a thing as perfection; for it is again and again mentioned in the Scriptures.”

2. “It is not so early as justification; for justified persons is to ‘go on to perfection'” (Heb. 6:1).

3. “It is not so late as death; for St. Paul speaks of living men that were perfect” (Phil. 3:15).

4. “It is not absolute. Absolute perfection belongs not to men, nor to angels, but to God alone.”

5. “It does not make a man infallible while he remains in the body.”

6. “Is it sinless? It is not worth while to contend for a term. It is salvation from sin.”

7. “It is perfect love (I John 4:18). This is the essence of it; its properties, or inseparable fruits are rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks” (I Thess. 5:16, etc.).

8. “It is improvable. It is so far from lying in an indivisible point, from being incapable of increase, that one perfected in love may grow in grace swifter than he did before.”

9. “It is amissable, capable of being lost; of which we have numerous instances.”

10. “It is constantly both preceded and followed by a gradual work.” [15]

In this connection it is noticeable that the Rev. John Wesley insisted on the emphasis of divine love. “It is,” he said, “loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. This implies that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love.” [16] The sainted John Fletcher says: “It is the pure love of God and man shed abroad in a faithful believer’s heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him, to cleanse him, and to keep him clean.”

In 1769 Mr. Wesley writing on Christian Perfection said: “I mean

1. Loving God with all our heart;

2. A heart and life all devoted to God;

3. Regaining the whole image of God;

4. Having all the mind that was in Christ;

5. Walking uniformly as Christ walked.

“If anyone,” concluded Mr. Wesley, “means anything more or anything less by perfection, I have no concern with it.” [17]

“How shall we avoid setting perfection too high or too low?” asked Mr. Wesley. “By keeping to the Bible and setting it just as high as the Scriptures do. It is nothing higher and nothing lower than this: the pure love of God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is love governing our tempers, words, and actions.”

“Another ground of these and a thousand mistakes is the not considering deeply that love is the highest gift of God; humble, gentle, patient love; that all with visions, revelations, manifestations whatever, are little things compared to love, and that all the gifts above mentioned are either the same with, or infinitely inferior to it.

“It were well you were thoroughly sensible of this, the heaven of heavens is love. There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way. When you are asking others, have you received this or that blessing? If you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of Corinthians. You can go no higher than this) till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.” [18]

Henry Drummond: “Only give me love, pure, burning love, and loyalty to Him, and I shall climb from law to law, through grace and glory to the place beside the throne where the angels do His will.”

“The greatest of these is Love” (I Cor. 13:13).

The whole plan of redemption is but an unfolding of love. God “so loved” that He gave His only Son. Christ so loved that He gave Himself. His sacrifice is a proof and an illustration of the Father’s love. “The gift of Christ to man,” says Dr. A. Clark, “is the measure of God’s love; the death of Christ for man is the measure of Christ’s love.”

The great test of religion is love, for the Christian religion is love-love to God and man. Perfect religion is perfect love. Without love there is no Christian religion. There are creeds many, forms many, ceremonies many, gods many, but true Christian religion cannot be without divine love: for the Christian religion is Christ and His love, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”; “and Christ is God,” “the Word was God”; and “God is love.”

This love, “agapao,” is divine love; “the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost given unto us”; “The love of Christ”; the love that brought Him down from above, down to man, down to the manger, down to the way of poverty, the way of the cross, the lowly way, the way that was and is despised; down to death: all for others.

After enumerating the various gifts in the twelfth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul ends the chapter with the striking words, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way”; the way of divine love. In the next chapter (the 13th) he compares gifts and love. Love is greater than the tongues of men and of angels (v. 1), greater. than prophecy (v. 2), greater than faith (v. 2), greater than charity (v. 3), greater than loyalty to one’s religion or belief (v. 3). It is greater than words (v. 1), greater than thoughts (v. 2), greater than deeds (v. 3).

Perfect love in its nature is long-suffering and kind. “Has a long mind to the end of which neither trials, adversities, persecutions, nor provocation can reach. The love of God, and of our neighbor for God’s sake, is patient toward all men: it suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors, and infirmities of the children of God; and all the malice and wickedness of the children of the world; and all this, not merely for a time, but long, without end; it is still a mind or disposition, to the end of which trials, difficulties, etc. never reach.” [19] It is kind, tender, compassionate in itself, and kind and obliging to others. “Kindness,” says one, “has converted more sinners than zeal, or eloquence, or learning, and these three have never converted anyone unless they were kind.” “Kind words are the music of the world.” “Charity envieth not” the financial, intellectual or spiritual blessings of others. “Vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,” yea is humble, for it knows what it has worth having is from God. A heart full of perfect love is full of humility. Holy people are very humble. “Doth not behave itself unseemly.” “Love never acts out of its place or character; observes good manners; is never rude, bearish or brutish; and is ever willing to become all things to all men, that it may please them for their good to edification.” [20] “Seeketh not its own,” ease, pleasure, and such like; “grasps not at her own rights.” “Thinketh no evil.” Indeed, it cannot but see and hear evil things, and know that they are so; but it does not willingly think evil of any; neither infer evil where it does not appear. It tears up, root and branch, all imagining of what we have not proved. It casts out all jealousies, all evil surmisings, all readiness to believe evil. [21] “Rejoiceth not in iniquity,” yea, weeps over it, “but rejoiceth in the truth,” for it is of the truth. Holy people speak the truth in love and always rejoice in the truth. “Beareth all things,” that is, covers all things, “whatever evil the lover of mankind sees, hears, or knows of anyone, he mentions it to none; it never goes out of his lips, unless where absolute duty constrains to speak” (Wesley). “Believeth all things”; a charitable construction is God’s plan. “Hopeth all things and endureth all things.” First, it covers, as much as possible; if unable to cover, it believes; if unable to believe, it hopes; if unable to hope, the facts being clear and unanswerable, then it endures. “Love never faileth.” While gifts disappear, tongues cease, knowledge vanishes, love continues. Love is eternal, for love is God.

“The end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart.” Therefore this perfection is not legal perfection. “All the law is fulfilled in one word even in this, Thou shalt love.” “God is love. He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in Him.”

This love is as high as heaven. It is as deep as the heart of the Eternal. It is as broad as the universe of God. It is as long as eternity; longer than the longest day; longer than the longest night; longer than the longest road; longer than the longest life. It is eternal (Eph. 3:16-21).

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” — sincerity; with all thy mind — intelligence; with all thy soul — emotion; with all thy strength — energy. Hence, our love must be sincere, intelligent, emotional, and energetic. We love God with all our heart, when we love nothing in comparison to Him and nothing but in reference to Him; when we are ready to do or suffer anything for His glory. We love God with all our mind when we apply ourselves to know only Him and His Holy will; when all our research is to this end. We love God with all our soul, or rather life, when we are ready to give up life for His sake; ready to endure all kinds of trials and sufferings for His glory. We love God with all our strength when we exert all the powers of body, mind, soul and spirit in His service. [22] We love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). We serve one another by love (Gal. 5:13).

After enumerating the virtues that the Colossians were to put on, Paul said, “Above all (or over all) put on love, which is the bond of perfectness” (3:14). The last, the most important virtue, is to be put on as an outer garment, enveloping all the clothing (Clarke): love to God and man. As the bond of perfectness, represented here as a girdle, not only covers and sustains all, but it unites, consolidates and beautifies all the virtues into a whole just as a girdle binds the clothing to the body: the bond of perfectness!

The perfect man, then, is a person of integrity, which includes undividedness, singleness of heart and purpose, fixedness in God: “My heart is fixed, O God; my heart is fixed, trusting in Thee.”

The perfect man is a person “in whom is no guile.” He is sincere, without wax and without weakness of fiber, so the Latin and Greek indicate. He is like his God and loyal to Him, loyal to His Son, loyal to His Spirit and to His Word; and he is loyal to his fellowman, for he loves his neighbor as himself.

The perfect man is a person purged from inward sin, thus “a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use and prepared unto every good work.”