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Spiritual Perfection Unfolded and Enforced
by William Bates, D.D.
(1625-1699ad, Chaplain to Charles II of England and known as “The Queen’s Puritan” under William and Mary)
Originally published 1699,
HAIL & FIRE REPRINTS 2009
The great design of God in his saving mercies, is to transform us into the image of his upspotted holiness. We are elected to be holy; redeemed to be holy; called to be holy; and at last, we shall be received into heaven, and made glorious in holiness, without spot or blemish.
It was worthy of the descending Deity into this lower world, to instruct and persuade men, by his perfect rules and example, to be holy as God is holy, in all manner of conversation, 1 Peter 1:15-16.
The enemy of souls, in combination with the carnal mind, use all their arts to cool our endeavours in following holiness; and raise an army of objections to dismay us, and stop our progress to perfection. Sometimes the deceiver inspires a temptation with so soft a breath, that it is not discerned. He suggests the counsel of Solomon, "Be not righteous over-much," Eccl. 7:16. The intention of the wise preacher, is to direct us in the exercise of compassionate charity towards others, and not to censure them with rigour and severity for human frailties; the tempter perverts his meaning, to make us remiss in religion, and shy of strict holiness. Moral men value themselves upon their fair conversation; they are not stained with foul and visible pollutions, but are externally sober and righteous; and they will advise, that men should not take a surfeit of religion, but rise with an appetite; that it is wisdom to use so much of religion as may quiet the clamours of conscience, secure reputation, and afford some colour of comfort: but it is a spice of folly to be over-religious, and justly exposes persons to derision, as vainly nice and scrupulous. They commend the golden mean, and under the pretence of temper, encourage lukewarmness.
The objection in some part of it is specious, and apt to sway the minds of men that do not attentively consider things. To discover its false colour, and to make a true and safe judgment of our duty, it will be useful to consider.
It is true, there is a medium between vicious extremes, wherein the essence of inferior moral virtues consistes; for they are exercised upon objects of limited goodness, and must be regulated both in our affections and actions, correspondently to the degrees of their goodness. Thus fortitude is in the middle, between base fear and rash boldness; and the more firm and constant the habitual quality of fortitude is, the more eminent and praiseworthy it appears. But in spiritual graces, that raise the soul to God, whose perfections are truly infinite, there can be no excess. The divinest degrees of our love to God, and fear to offend him, our endeavours in their height and excellency to obey and please him, are our wisdom and duty.
That part of the objection, that strict holiness will expose us to scorn, is palpably unreasonable. Did ever any artist bluch to excel in the art that he professes? Is a scholar ashamed to excel in useful learning? And shall a Christian, whose high and holy calling obliges hime to live becoming its dignity and purity, be ashamed of his accurate conversation? Can we be too like God in his holiness, his peculiar glory? Can that be matter of contempt, which is the supreme honour of the intelligent creature? A saint, when despised with titles of ignominy by the carnal world, should bind their scorns as a diadem about his head, and wear them as beautiful ornaments. The apostles rejoiced, that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ, Acts v. 41. What reproaches did the Lord of glory suffer for us! And what pride and folly is it, that we should desire to be glorified by his suffering reproaches, and not willingly endure reproach for his glory! Our continual and ardent endeavours to rise to perfection, commend us to our Sovereign and Saviour. A cold dead heathen is less offensive and odious to him than a lukewarm christian.
It is a common objection, that to live in all things according to rule, to walk circumspectly and exactly, to be confined to the narrow way, will not only infringe, but destroy our liberty. This is so precious a possession, that men will defend their liberty with their lives. An igenuous person will rather wear a plain garment of his own, than a rich livery, the mark of servitude. But if men will appeal to their understandings, they will clearly discern that the word liberty is abused, to give countenance to licentiousness. There is a free subjection, and a servile liberty. The apostle tells the Romans, "When ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness; and being made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness," Rom. vi. 18. 20.
The soul has two faculties, the understanding and will. The object of the understanding is truth, either in itself or appearance: the object of the will is goodness, either real or counterfeit. Liberty is radically in the understanding, which freely deliberates, and by comparative consideration, directs the will to choose good before evil; and of good the greater, and of evil the less. When the understanding is fully illuminated as to the absolute goodness of an object, without the least mixture of evil, and represents it to the will, it is an act retrograde in nature, and uttery repugnant to the rational appetite, to reject it. The indifference of the will proceeds from some defects in the object, or in the apprehension of it; but when an infinite good is duly represented to the will, the choice is most clear and free. Of this there is an illustrious example in the life of Moses; he "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season: esteeming the reproach of Christ, greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect to the recompense of reward," Heb. xi. 24-26. His enlightened mind considerately pondered the eternal reward with the transient pleasure of sin, and his judgment was influential on his will, to choose the glorious futurity, before the false lustre of the court. What is the goodly appearance of the present tempting world, but, like the rainbow, painted tears? The heavenly felicity is substantial and satisfying. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," 2 Cor. iii. 17. He dispels the darkness of the mind, and by its illuminating guidance, turns the will to accept and embrace those objects that exceedingly satisfy its vast desires and capacity. This is an eminent part of the Divine image engraven on the soul in its creation. For God is sovereingnly free, "and does all things according to the counsel of his will," Eph. i. 11. Our servitude was by seduction; "Eve being deceived, was in the transgression," 1 Tim. ii. 14. Our liberty is restored by light; "The truth makes us free," John viii. 32. The necessity that proceeds from external compulsion, and from the indeliberate and strong sway of nature, that determines to one thing, is inconsistent with liberty. The understanding is a free faculty in the apprehension of objects, the will free in the election of them: but in the consequent choice of - the will, that infallibly proceeds from light and love, the perfection of its freedom consists. When God and his ... click to read more
2 Corinthians 7:1
The coherence opened. The inconsistency and danger of the communion of Christians with infidels. The dignity of believers prohibits it. The promise of Divine communion obliges them to separate from contagious converse with unbelievers. The inference from those motives. The cleansing from all pollutions, and perfecting holiness. Purifying themselves is the duty of Christians. A principle of holiness, actuated by the supplies of the Spirit, is requisite to enable Christians to purify themselves. The pollutions of the flesh from the desiring and the angry appetite. They defile and debase human nature. The difficulty of purifying from uncleanness, and the causes of it specified. Means for purifying.
These words are argumentative, inferring the indispensable duty of Christians to preserve themselves untainted from the idolatrous impure world, by the consideration of the promises specified in the preceding chapter: "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? What part hath he that believes with an infidel?" ver. 14, 15. The form of questions evidently implies the absolute inconsistency between them; and the daner from such communion. We are not in Paradise, where the viper and the asp were innocent, and might be handled without danger from their poison, but in a contagious world full of corrupters and the corrupted. He represents the dignity of true believers; "Ye are the temple of the living God. He hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people," ver. 16. The unclean spirits that possessed the man spoken of in the gospel, dwelt among the tombs, the repositories of the dead, in their corruption and rottenness; but the Holy Spirit dwells only in living temples, purified and adorned for his habitation. The apostle enforces his advice; "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father to you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty," ver. 17, 18. The promise contains the highest honour, and most perfect felicity of the reasonable creature.
In the text are observable,
I. The title wherewith the apostle addresses to them, "Having therefore, dearly beloved."
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved." The title expresses the truth and strength of his affection.
1. To recommend his counsel to their acceptance. Light opens the mind by clear conviction, but love opens the heart by persuasive insinuation, and makes an easy entrance into the soul. He seems to divest himself of his apostolical commission, and in the mildest and most tender manner mixes entreaties with his authority: as in a parallel place, "I beseech you brethren by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," &c. 1 Cor. i. 10.
2. The matter of the address. The cleansing us from all pollution of flesh and Spirit, and the changing us into the unspotted image of God's holiness. These are the comprehensive sum of renewing grace, and are inseparable. The Holy Spirit works both together in the saints; as the sun, by the same emanation of light, dispels the darkness of the air, and irradiates it. But they are not merely different notions, but different parts of sanctification. For the corruption of nature is not a mere privation of holiness, as darkness is of light, but a contrary inherent quality, the principle of all sinful evils. We are commanded to put off the old man, and to put on the new, Col. iii. 9, 10. to cease to do evil, and learn to do well, Isa. i. 16, 17.
We must purify ourselves from the pollutions of flesh and spirit. The soul and body, in the state of depraved nature, are like two malefactors fastened with one chain, and by their strict union infect one another. The pollution is intimate and radical, diffusive through all the powers of the soul, and members of the body. The spirit of the ... click to read more
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:48 KJV