BENSON ON JUSTIFICATION and CHRISTIAN PERFECTION

by Dr. Joseph Benson


The following essay by Benson was published in The Arminian Magazine the following year. At this time John Wesley was still the editor, although Benson would become the editor from 1803-1821. Benson used the terms “fill,” “receive,” and “baptize” interchangeably with reference to salvation and entire sanctification. Kenneth Collins believes the phrase “animal nature,” as used in this essay refers to the carnal nature. While, on the one hand, Benson uses the word “extirpate” which means to eradicate or root out, Benson seems to understand this eradication as a moment-by-moment deliverance which must be maintained through watchfulness.




THOUGHTS on PERFECTION
I have long thought of offering a few Remarks on a certain subject; but from a conviction of my ignorance, and want of experience in such deep things of God, I have deferred my design till now: and I should probably have deferred it longer, had not the many instances of misconduct in the Professors of Christian-Perfection convinced me, that it was highly necessary some farther steps should be taken, to prevent such abuse of one of the most precious doctrines of the Gospel.

How these abuses might gradually prevail, even in persons who had experienced a high degree of grace, is easy to conceive. The Enemy might first tempt them to look at their great attainments: and this, not with a view to lay them low, under a sense of their great unworthiness, and inflame their gratitude to Him who had done so much for them; but to excite self-complacency in them. They might then yield to the temptation, and grieve the holy Spirit of God. If they did, his light would be obscured, and his comforts withdrawn. Now this should have alarmed them: but being confident that all sin was rooted out of their hearts, they were not alarmed; but rather sunk into a lukewarm and indolent state. Hence, false peace, and its inseparable attendant, unwatchfulness. The Spirit of God being now more grieved than before, withdraws his sacred influences. Thus being stripped of their strength, they became weak as other men, and open to every temptation. They were then led captive by the Devil at his will, and fell into outward sin.

Now, if it was in some such way, that several, for whom God had done such great things, have fallen; if they gave way, first to Pride, next to Unwatchfulness, and then to Lukewarmness and Indolence, till, being again forsaken of God, they were capable of committing Uncleanness with greediness; it will not be difficult to point out what steps ought to be taken, in order to prevent this deplorable evil.

And first, granting, as we certainly must, if we believe the Bible, that the Lord Jesus was manifested to take away our sin, all our sins, and to destroy the works of the devil; and allowing Christian-Perfection to imply an extirpation of all sin; it is necessary, in order to prevent those who experience it from being puffed up, to inform them in what sense sin is, and in what sense it is not rooted out. To inform them, that though they are now freed from every sinful temper, word and work; from every desire and pursuit contrary to the love of God; yet, first, their thoughts and affections, dispositions, and actions cannot bear to be examined by the strict justice of God. Second, That being still in the body, the seat of various animal appetites and passions, which we cannot lay aside till death, they have still their animal nature, (as well as the devil and the world) to guard against. And that therefore, thirdly, The whole of that deliverance from sin, depends on the constant indwelling of the Holy Ghost; who if they grieve, so that he withdraw from them, their animal nature, (to say nothing of the devil and the world) will again prevail; and they will find all their corruptions, re-enter.

Now as the first of these observations lays a deep foundation for Humility, so do the two following for Watchfulness; for as He has great reason to be humble, who is every day coming short of the glory of God, even of his glorious likeness, and perfect will; so has He great need to watch continually, who is not only surrounded with enemies from without, but has an animal nature within; whose appetites and passions have been, and, when not restrained by grace, will ever be sources of much sin and misery in the world. And if I mistake not, the following particulars will strike at the root of Lukewarmness and Indolence, so incident to those who think they have attained, and will lay a foundation equally firm for fervency of spirit and diligence in action; for hungering and thirsting after Righteousness, and for laboring for the meat that endureth to eternal life, as though we had hitherto attained nothing.

Granting, secondly, As we certainly must, that the Lord hath promised to circumcise our heart, so that we shall love him with all our heart: ought not those who experience it, to be continually taught, that no bounds can be set to the love of God; but that those who love him with all their heart, may have their vessel still enlarged, so as to contain more love; and that those who love Him perfectly, may love him more perfectly still? Thus will the flame of holy Desire be kept alive in their soul; and, not withstanding all they have received, they will still be able to say,

A point my good, a drop my store,
Eager I ask, and pant for more.

Again, thirdly, Granting it is the will of God that we should be perfect Christians, having in us all the mind of Christ, and walking as he also walked; ought not those who profess this Perfection, to be put in mind, that God hath predestinated them to be conformed, entirely conformed, to the image of his Son; so as to be perfect images of Jesus Christ, even as He is the perfect and express image of his Father; to represent the Lord Jesus to the world, even as He represents the Father to the Church? That as all the Perfections of the indwelling God-head shine forth with effulgent brightness through the man Christ Jesus, so all the graces that adorned his humanity may appear conspicuously in their temper and conduct: discovering to all, that they have not only Christ in them the hope of glory, but are arrived at the measure of the stature of his fullness, being perfect men in Him? And ought they not therefore to be assured that they still need to adopt the Apostle’s words, “Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfected,” inasmuch as they have not attained as great a degree of humility, meekness, love, etc. as dwelt in the Son of God, and are not yet as complete in the whole will of God, and as perfect, and entire, lacking nothing, as he was; much less are they entirely holy, as he that hath called them is holy; and perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect: and that therefore having not yet arrived at the mark set before them, they have as much need as ever to forget the things behind, and press on to the things before, till being matured in grace, they are fit to receive the prize of their high calling?

Once more: Allowing, what (I think) neither Reason nor scripture forbids us to allow, that God may, and that he often does, instantaneously so baptize a soul with the Holy Ghost and with fire, as to purify it fromall dross, and refine it like gold, so that it is renewed in love, in pure and perfect love, as it never was before; yet ought not those who have experienced this, to be repeatedly told, 1. That there is a further, and still further renewal to be experienced day by day, 2 Cor 4:16. As long as we are in the body, even a gradual growing up into Christ our living Head in all things, till we are filled with the fullness of God: and 2. That they have got in them this power from on high, that they may fulfil the will of God in all good works: that they are filled with this sap of grace, in order to this grand end, that they may bring forth outward fruit; and therefore, 3. That they ought chiefly to judge of their state by their fruitfulness, by their obedience to the whole will of God, by their improvement of their time and talents for God, by doing, as they have opportunity, all possible good unto all men, unto their bodies and souls, and by thrusting as many good works into every hour as they possibly can. And if their outward holiness, as well as the internal love from whence it springs, is to be included (as it certainly is) in the notion of Christian Perfection, who dares say he has fully attained? Who, in the evening, upon a review of the whole day, will not see he might have filled up his time better in one respect or another? Might have managed this conversation, done this work, employed this hour to greater purpose; and above all, that he might have been more full of zeal for the glory of God and the good of mankind: and might have labored still more for the advancement of the one and the other?

[The Arminian Magazine 4 (May 1781): 549-553].



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