VERY DEAR BRETHREN:
Through the kind providence of our heavenly Father, we have been preserved during another associational year, and are permitted to meet once more to enjoy the delightful interchange of christian sentiments, and fraternal feelings.
In our last epistle of love we had occasion to speak of the "elements of christian character;" in the present we shall call your attention to the imperfect state in which they are exhibited.
The christian is as yet in an imperfect state; imperfect in his knowledge and graces.
To illustrate this truth we have three kinds of knowledge, that which we derived from revelation, from reason and experience.
Revelation teaches it, reason approves it, and experience confirms it.
1st, The scriptures very clearly represent to us the present imperfection of our knowledge and graces.
Many passages teach it by implication, others more directly. The very name by which believers are designated, implies this: "So shall ye be my disciples;" a disciple is a learner, one who has entered the school of Christ, and is supposed to be progressing in the acquisition of divine knowledge; said the Saviour "learn of me;" in this direction he teaches us the present imperfection of our knowledge and our great need of instruction. The exhortation of the apostle Peter is of like import, "as new born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby."
Here it is implied that believers are at first in a state of spiritual infancy, that their knowledge of divine truth is very limited, that they are incapable of receiving the more difficult and profound truths of the gospel, but should apply themselves diligently to the rudiments, the plain and easy truths, as the best means of advancing toward the full stature "of a man in Christ Jesus." Another exhortation from the same apostle will set this truth in a still clearer light; "But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." Necessity for growth in these pre- supposes imperfection in the same. It is a prominent design of revelation to remedy the imperfection of christian knowledge, "for all scriptrue 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," and it is the chief object of the institution of the christian ministry; "to some he gave apostles, to some prophets, to some teachers, to some evangelists, and pastors, 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 fulness of the measure of the stature of Christ." Paul distinctly affirms this truth, when he says of the present, "for we know in part" etc.
Our knowledge is not only imperfect, but likewise our graces. Faith, hope and love the representatives of the whole train, are manifestly imperfect in their exercises.
Faith is at present more or less wanting in stability, and strength of confidence and trust. Hence the exhortations, "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering;" "stand fast;" be strong in the Lord;" "rooted and built up in him and established in the faith." It is in realizing this fact that we are led to adopt the prayer of the disciples, and say, "Lord increase our faith."
Hope is often languishing, hence imperfect in its exercises. David felt this when he exclaimed, why art thou cast down O my soul, and why art thou disquieted with me? hope thou in God.
Love the soul of all the graces, is manifestly imperfect in its present exercises; for it is clearly the object of all such as the following exhortations to correct or diminish that imperfection, "Continue ye in my love," "walk in love," "love one another," "love as brethren," "let love be without dissimulation," "increase yet more and more," etc. It appears moreover from the fact that it is capable of expansion and enlargement, of increased vigor and energy: and also from the fact that it is susceptible of declension. "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."
2nd. The testimony which reason brings to the disclosures of revelation upon this subject, is by no means eqivocal. Reason and revelation are not opposites; the teachings of the Scriptures, when properly understood, are found perfectly agreeable to reason. Our faculties of knowledge are so evidently imperfect, it would be strange were our attainments in knowledge not imperfect also. So without graces. The subjects of those graces are manifestly such imperfect beings, the graces possessed in their extent and exercises cannot be otherwise. It would be unreasonable to suppose that frail mortals, though subjects of renewing grace, with imperfect mediums and remaining corruptions of the flesh, should attain to that perfect state of being in this life, which is so preeminently awarded to the life to come. It is perfectly agreeable to reason that they should desire and strive for it. It is not supposed that Paul had attained to it; it was reasonable he should strive for it. The former he disclaimed, the latter he avowed. "O wrethced man that I am; who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better;" "not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, that leaving the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before I press forward toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
3rd. Experience confirms alike the testimony of reason and revelation upon this subject. Who has not expereinced the imperfection of his knowledge and the imperfect exercise of his graces? Experience teaches that we know but little, and that little very imperfectly; that we are constantly liable to mistakes and errors, and are safest when most nearly conformed to the teachings of the Scriptures.
Every day witnesses the defection of our graces. What weakness of faith! what langusihing of hope! what constancy of love, patience, meekness, gentleness, goodness, forbearance, tender- ness! and how feeble and inactive, while the remaining corruptions of old nature play insubordination!
Finally, Brethren, the contrariety of deportment among christians under the various circumstances, is a lamentable comment upon the truth just considered.
The use we would not make of this truth, must appear to every one. It is not designed to con- sole us in ignorance, in errors, in misguided judgments, perversions of true Scriptural sentiments, or an arbitrary control of feelings over a sense of duty. It is not a sufficient excuse for these to say that we are yet in an imperfect state.
The use we would make of this truth, must appear equally clear to every reflecting mind. It should urge us to a more diligent search after knowledge, a more earnest desire for that wisdom which is from above. It should lead us to cultivate assiduously those graces which adorn the heart and life; and with diligence to observe the apostle's injunction, "Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, Godliness; and to Godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love." It should lead us to a particular study and improvement of ourselves; ever to suspect ourselves more narrowly than we do others. It should furnish a sufficient reason for the peculiar exercise of forbearance, tenderness, and brotherly kindness.
[From North Bend Association of Baptists Minutes, 1852. The grammar and spelling are unchanged.
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