Brethren Archive

Perfection.

by John Berry Mulock


    A letter by the late Dr. Mulock.

“I BELIEVE the substance of all that Mr. [R. Pearsall Smith] has taught is true—that is, all that I can understand of his teaching, for it seems ill-digested and ill-expressed, and uncertain on many points.
The substance of it has been long held in theory by most instructed Christians and taught by those who are gathered to the name of the Lord alone as brethren in Christ.
That there is more power in His resurrection than we have ever known or recognized—much less used—for holy living, fruitful service, and calm peace and rest of heart, is most certainly believed amongst us, and that the Lord has used the children of God at-------, lately assembled, to remind and stir up the Church of God generally about it, I think cannot be doubted; but, just like everything human, the fly gets into the ointment.  However, we must not throw away the good with the bad.
I find continually weak brethren are doing this, with regard to teaching, among ourselves—such as the teaching, so invaluable to the Church of God, of such men as Mr. Darby.  To reject all that he has taught because of much that is evidently not of God (evidenced by its results more and more every day) is the act of a feeble mind that cannot discriminate.
Some notable things I mark in Mr. S-------'s teaching, and they have been remarked by others.  He makes the standard of sinless perfection our own consciousness and not God's estimate, and strangely confounds sin, the evil principle within (which God takes chief notice of), with its fruits or results, sins in the life, which man can see and judge of. How blessed that the sin-offering is provided for sins of ignorance!  And that it is not only "If I confess my sins" (1 John i. 9), but "if any man sin," &c.—in ignorance—(1 John ii. 1); and not only did He bear "our sins," but in Him, God condemned sin in the flesh (root, fruit, and branch).
Thus, root and fruits condemned are put out of God's sight by the Cross.  But we are never to say we have no sin (root, or evil nature, or flesh) in us, or we should be deceiving ourselves, and the truth would not be in us (1 John i. 8).
Again, the free use made by Mr. S------- of dispensational truth, such as Luke i. 74, 75, which has so distinct an application to the Jews.
The ignorance of the mystery of the Church, and our hope (that purifying hope, the very motive for our practical sanctification), which is ever held out as the one object for the believer (and with the mercies of God seen in Romans i. to xi.), the great motive-power of a holy, obedient life and walk.
The wresting of Scripture from its context and original meaning, such as in 1 Cor. iv. 4, where Paul, by the Spirit, is not speaking at all of sinless perfection in the abstract, but from the context is evidently dealing with charges of ministerial or official unfaithfulness or delinquency.
Again and again, Mr. S------- makes Scriptures, which can apply only to perfection in glory, such as John xvii. 23, and only possible of attainment then and there, to apply to our attainment in this time and state.  And, on the other hand, what is actually ours, such as union, imputed righteousness, and sanctification in Christ, our completeness in Him risen (which is the present and immediate possession of the new-born babe in Christ) is set down in much of this teaching as an attainment as we advance in the Divine life.  Thus, the distinct things—the work of the Spirit in us, and the work of Christ for us; what is imparted to us, and what is imputed to us; our state and standing; our attainment and our completeness—are all huddled together in a promiscuous jumble, than which nothing can be more confusing to the young believer, or more calculated to unsettle those who are weak and unestablished in the faith.
We have triumph, because we are completely and eternally saved from the penalty of sin.  We have conflict, because we are not yet saved from its presence (deliverance from its power is our happy privilege, and there is otherwise no triumph); but far different is this from holiness of heart or perfection.
We have triumph, because we are not in the flesh; we have conflict, because we have still the flesh in us.  We have triumph, because God has judged and crucified that same flesh or old man; we have conflict, because we have daily and hourly to mortify it.  We have triumph in the work of Christ for us; but we have conflict from the work of the Spirit in us.
Does Scripture teach that Christian conflict is between old life and new?  Certainly not! but old life and the Spirit. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit," &c, &c; not the old life against the new.  The apostle plainly states, "Our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might he destroyed."  The old nature in God's sight, and now to faith, came to its end on the Cross.
Practical Christianity may be said to consist of two things—1, In nourishing the new life through occupation with Christ; 2, In judging the old, on which God has put the sentence of death in the most awfully solemn manner on the Cross.
How are we to watch against its risings and judge it?  The apostle answers, "Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh."
We have no power against the evil nature but in the Holy Spirit, and in the assurance, by faith, that the flesh is a crucified thing in God's sight, and done with, and thus we walk in the liberty and power which faith gives.  "Ye are dead," but, thank God, that is not all.  "Your life is" safely and securely "hid."  All that was thine is gone—all that is Christ's remains, in unchanged and unchangeable perfection, in the best place, "in Him."  By the Cross, we get rid of all that is ours; in resurrection, we are put in possession of all that is Christ's.  "I am crucified with Christ (old man), nevertheless I live (new creation).  Yet not I (not sinful self, nor righteous self, nor improved self, nor religious self), but Christ, liveth in me."  (He is the end, object, and spring now).
Both natures are in us—one unmixed good, the other unmixed evil.  Suppose I meet a person deeply concerned about his soul, earnestly longing for Christ, I am sure the Holy Spirit is working there; such desires would never spring from a nature that hates both God and Christ, and loves this world better than Him.  That soul may refuse to be comforted, but in God's mind, it is saved already.  When it believes, it will rejoice.  The good work was begun in the soul of the prodigal when he said, "I will arise and go to my father."  The Spirit of God will fully satisfy the desire He creates.
The test of worldliness is, "Is this of the Father?"  If not, it must be of the world.  To test the actings of the flesh, "Is this of the Spirit?"  If not, it must be of the flesh.  And to test the workings of Satan, "Is this of Christ?"  If not, it must be of the devil. There is no middle or neutral ground.
"These two are contrary the one to the other."  We find ourselves constantly disappointed in ourselves and others; but this only tends to teach us the unchangeable character of the flesh, whether regarded morally, intellectually, or religiously.
Christendom is full of religious flesh, the worst kind, because it uses the name of Christ to sanction itself.
The apostle does not make a one-sided statement, as if the flesh only lusted against the Spirit; that would be antinomianism; but the flesh is hindered by a counter-lusting of the Spirit, so that it cannot carry out its enormities.
Nothing is our safeguard but our eye on the Cross, and seeing ourselves crucified there; and then, however the flesh would cry "spare thyself," we give it no quarter, but take up our cross.  Led of the Spirit, we may, as Jesus, be led into conflict with the devil, world, and flesh.  But the same Spirit shows, He is our strength—in Him is our fulness.
Christian experience proper is not the flesh lusting against the Spirit, as in Gal. v. 17, but so living and walking in the energy of the Spirit as to live above the actings of the flesh.  I find a man in my house who would do evil if at large.  I seize him and lock him up in a room.  The man is not changed.  If he were free, he would do as much mischief as before.  He coaxes me to let him out, but I have tried him; I know he is a liar, and I keep him there now.  He gets very strong when he is let out, but I don't leave anything in the room for him; I am sure to see it is empty.  It is not Christian experience, as some think, leaving the door open and letting him out.
The state of rest—content.  Philippians iv. 11 is gradually and increasingly attained, through constantly victorious conflict, constantly and increasingly triumphal reliance on, and experience of, Christ's power through His Spirit in our hearts; and not as an immediate act of faith.  That would confound practical sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit, with immediate and perfect sanctification imputed to us in Christ by faith; and would confound it further with the immediate act of justification by faith. Practical sanctification involves a constant life of watchfulness and discipline, and much holy exercise of soul before God, and constant dependence in prayer.  Who can say in this, "I have attained?"
Meanwhile, a conscience continually purged from all sense of sin on us (with, at the same time, ever-increasing consciousness of a sinful nature in us), and deliverance from the power (as well as condemnation) of sin, and from the consciousness (our own) of sinning, is the portion, and should be the experience, of all who are in Christ.
But who can understand his errors?  Or who can tell the wondrous work the Great High Priest is doing for us in Heaven?  Washing our fouled feet, and giving us by this, such liberty of conscience, enlargement of heart, and boldness of access, in the full assurance of understanding our position as we enter into the presence-chamber continually.  Who can value this as it ought to be valued?
May our high vocation be our high standard, and nothing lower, for our practical walk in righteousness and true holiness, which we shall never think of having attained here as we set it before us, though we may ever have the conscious joy of walking worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, and being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Christ Jesus, unto the glory and praise of God.
May the last prayer of our Lord, that we should be sanctified by His truth, be well pondered and prayed over by us all, who are, by His grace, in any measure, however small or humble, seeking to guide or feed the flock in "difficult times;" and may we seek more and more to know the true "rest of faith," by committing all our lives, with their events, great and small, to His hands, Who careth for us, and Who has promised, on that condition, to garrison our hearts with His peace.
Yours, in His mighty love till He come.






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