The Christian's Semi-Perfect State
The Christian's Semi-Perfect State
There are few things in this life which can be said to be perfect. All the physicians in the world cannot make us perfectly healthy. All the cosmetics in the world cannot make us perfectly beautiful. All the books in the world cannot make us perfectly wise. All the churches in the world cannot make us perfectly good. We live among a ruined race and we learn to expect nothing but imperfection all the days we are here in this life. 'That which is crooked cannot be made straight and that which is wanting cannot be numbered'. So the Word of God informs us (Ecclesiastes 1:15).
But what is not to be found in this world is to be found in the kingdom of God even here in this life. There are perfections to be had in the invisible kingdom of the saints even before they reach their eternal home above. It is our mistake to think that we can never have any form of perfection till we have left this world behind. It is good for us to make an inventory of present perfections.
First, the Christian's pardon is perfect. It is not merely that our sins before baptism are pardoned, or our sins before we take church membership. It is not the case that only our past sins are forgiven and no more. All sin and blasphemy is forgiven to those who are in Christ. Our future sins are as much forgiven as our sins of the past and present. They are 'cast into the depths of the sea' (Micah 7:19), 'blotted out as a thick cloud' (Isaiah 44:22), removed from us 'as far as the east is from the west' (Psalm 103:12).
Our pardon is already perfect. It admits of neither increase nor improvement. We shall not be more pardoned even in heaven itself, nor will our sins be any more blotted out when ten thousand years of glory are behind us. Pardon is perfect to all who believe in the crucified Saviour. If one half-sin or if one quarter of a sin remained unpardoned it could be enough to damn us forever. But this will never be. 'Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more' (Hebrews 8:12).
Secondly, our New Birth is already perfect. It is understandable that many preachers might hesitate to say to believers that their future sins are pardoned before they are committed. Will that not lead to licence and to loose-living? Will this doctrine not lead to a careless style of life? It would do if it were not that pardon is never given to any except to those who have a new birth, and the new birth is a perfect thing. It alters our outlook and our attitude radically. It writes the law of God upon the tables of our heart. It inclines the will towards holy obedience. It fills the heart and soul with love to God.
It is true that the New Birth does not make the believer perfect. Yet it is itself a perfect act of God which never needs to be repeated. If the New Birth were not perfect we should need to be 'born again' again — and again, many times. But this is not so. The act of power which alters the soul and gives it a new love for God so changes us that we are a 'new creation' (2 Corinthians 5:17). What was not there before is now present: a heart to love Christ, a tender conscience, a delight in new obedience.
Then again, Justification is perfect in the believer. The man who is in Christ is as justified now as he will be in glory. Justification must needs be perfect or else it is nothing. A 'whole Christ' is ours now. His entire righteousness is ours now. The seamless garment of salvation is adequate to cloak and cover us fully in the sight of God. The believer is already 'legally perfect', if we may use the expression.
The claims of God's justice are wholly and entirely met by the provisions of his righteousness. 'What the law demands, the gospel provides.' The righteousness exhibited in the gospel of our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ is the exact counterpart of all that the stringent demands of God's law and justice could ever require from us as his creatures. To believe in Jesus is to 'honour the law' and to 'establish' it (Romans 3:31) perfectly. So rich is God in his goodness to all who come to him by the gospel-way. The finishing touches were put to our justification when our bleeding Surety cried, 'It is finished' and when he rose from the dead. Let those who understand drink in deeply from this word of comfort: 'We are the righteousness of God in him' (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Closely related to this is the fact that believers are the beneficiaries of a perfect Atonement. The blood of our Lord and Saviour is perfectly, eternally and in every way acceptable to the Heavenly Father. The Cross is the central glory of history and of the whole universe. All angels marvel at its sublime perfection. All saints, whether below or above, adore God for it. Christ stooped to conquer, bore in his soul the lightning of eternal vengeance, quenched the full fury of an offended God, in love for us was made sin and melted the frown of heaven into a smile of favour. Nothing in history matches the height of glory which Jesus' sufferings accomplished. The Cross is the crown of all God's works, the pinnacle of his wisdom and the acme of his love. The Atonement possesses a perfection which beggars language itself, and it possesses that perfection now as it works blessing and peace in our lives.
The believer's adoption is perfect in this life: 'Beloved, now are we the sons of God' (1 John 3:2). John here admits that 'it doth not yet appear what we shall be' (1 John 3:2), but he affirms that we shall not be in glory any more the sons of God than we already are. Whatever glories await us at the last day, they will not improve on the fact of our adoption, for this fact is a fact now. It is of course true that our enjoyment of our adoption will greatly increase in the last day. The privileges and favours of our adopted condition will vastly increase when our Lord himself appears on the clouds to call us home to glory. But the Christian is as much a son of God in his present state of humiliation as ever he will be in his resurrected and heavenly state. We are sons of God now. That is a clear fact of revelation and one which must stir within every Christian the warm feelings of deep gratitude to God.
We are speaking just now of the perfections of this present life. It is well for us to do so. We are apt to fall into bad habits of thought and to resign ourselves unthinkingly to the feeling that in this life 'nothing is perfect'. This is not true and we must not let our unthinking minds convince us that it is so. In this imperfect world there are perfect things within the Christian, and a perfect Book too in his hand.
However, when all this is said, there are imperfections also in the believer. We are as yet in a state of grace; and grace is not glory. Grace makes us good, but not perfectly good. In glory we shall be good and nothing but good. In glory we shall be better than Adam on the day of his creation. He was perfect but able to sin; we shall be perfect and unable to sin.
The believer's present state is, therefore, an unfinished one. The believer is presently undergoing a process. He is on his way to future perfection. As yet the process is incomplete. But it is going to be completed. Our struggles against sin within and sin without are evidences of the fact that we do not sin with our whole will, as unsaved sinners do. If we could, we would never sin again. Our wish is to be perfect now. But our wish is beyond our strength. Two laws are presently at work within us. The law of sin and the law of grace are in constant collision both in our inward consciousness and in our outward performance. The inward failure is painful to us; and this failure, when it becomes outward and visible, is mortifying. But all such failure on the believer's part is but for a time. Our victory is at hand, and it is sure. The 'legal perfection' which is our present justified state, will assuredly be matched at length, after we have 'suffered a little while' (1 Peter 5:10) by a perfect sanctification also.
It is a comfort to us as Christians to remember that we are already in a half-perfect condition. The enemy of our souls is good at his work of demoralising us with his half-truths: 'You are still a sinner'. Yes, but a sinner saved and on the way to heaven. 'You are no better than others.' I deserve what all sinners will receive, but I have a Saviour who died for me and my standing before God is in a perfect righteousness. 'You are very far from perfect.' I am only as far from perfection as the day of my death, which may, in God's good will, be very near.
Though we appear very much like others we are very far different from them in the judgment of heaven. One half of our redemption is true of us already: justified, covered by atoning blood, adopted, born from above, 'heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ' (Romans 8:17). We are, if you will, half-made saints in this present life. Part of the process of perfecting us is past, part remains to be done. Let no Christian suppose that he is no better now than when he had no grace. Just because we are not yet at home is no argument to say that we are not well on the way there.
What then are the imperfect aspects of the Christian in this life? The most serious and in need of our attention are not our imperfect happiness and our imperfect comfort. Far more serious are our spiritual and moral imperfections. These are what demand our daily study and our reforming zeal.
Our first imperfection lies in our imperfect faith. Faith is the root of all our graces, and needs our priority-attention. We do not believe God's Word as we should. From this spring a thousand seeds of evil. Unbelief is the daisy and dandelion of the soul. It ruins the lawns, the flower-beds, the paths and all else. Hence our Saviour so frequently chides his people with this as their besetting weakness: 'O ye of little faith.' Let us believe every word of God, every doctrine, every promise, every threatening, every law – let us live like those who take God's every word for truth, and so stake our life, soul, eternity and all on the word which he has said. God's word can no more fail than the waters could fail from the sea, or the sun cease to rise each day, 'Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away' (Mark 13:31).
Another imperfection in the Christian is his conversion. We are not turned to God yet as perfectly as we need to be and ought to be. The New Birth is complete at once. But our conversion is ongoing. We need to convert to God more and more each day and in every way. Let us turn to God more in prayer, in submission, in repentance, in love, in delight, in praise, in service and in expectation of his blessing. What distinguishes a Rutherford, a M'Cheyne or a Brainerd from most other Christians but that these men were more perfectly turned to God in heart and life? May God increasingly turn us all.
The imperfection which burdens the believer most in this life is his imperfect sanctification. The standard of perfection is the moral law. This standard was reached only once in history, when our Lord and Saviour lived loving God with all his soul and his neighbours as himself. To others it is the least of their worries that they do not keep God's law; to the Christian it is the greatest. It is hard to pardon ourselves that we love God so little; that we bless God with the tongue at one moment and speak sharply of our neighbour with it the next; that we think so many unworthy thoughts; that we do so little to benefit mankind with the gospel; that we advance so slowly in the knowledge of God's Word.
But the 'Woe is me!' in the Christian's heart is a mark of grace and a sure sign that, though not yet perfect, he is already half-perfect. The grace we have is all the gift of God and one of the blessings of grace is that we see our need of more. It is the purpose of God to give us more till we reach that happy land where grace, like the manna, will cease and we shall eat the good fruit of the land forever.
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