Previously I wrote an article entitled “Words.” It started thusly:
Words! The things we use to transmit thoughts and ideas. We speak them. We write them. Usually we use them to make sentences while endeavoring to communicate. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes we may not be sure. Other times we fail completely, never getting across our meaning.
So now I am writing an article about perfect; perfection. The question is: Can I communicate? The eleventh edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines perfect as, “a : being entirely without fault or defect: FLAWLESS <A ~ Diamond> b : satisfying all requirements : ACCURATE.” But it seems that all scholars and “authorities(?)” don’t agree with this definition. The Merriam - Webster Dictionary of English Usage points out that some approve of the phrases: “more perfect” and “perfectest.” They like to cite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, which says, “in order to form a more perfect union.” If “perfect” and “perfection are absolute terms how can they be improved on or be more perfect?
The problem for the Bible Scholar or any Christian, for that matter, is that the word, “perfect” appears in the Holy Bible. Is it an absolute term when used in Scripture or is it a relative term? I could here relate what different scholars have said on the matter but I have chosen not to do so. If you are interested you can do that without my help. I choose to go directly to the crux of the matter. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount tells us: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The word “therefore” used here means in view of what has gone before, “Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” At first glance this may appear to be an impossible requirement, but if you will look a little closer you will find that it is a quite reasonable instruction.
Jesus prefaced this command, or instruction, by reminding His hearers that they had been taught to love their neighbors and hate their enemies. But Jesus said this was wrong but that they should love their enemies just as they love their neighbors. He said we should do this just as God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. While loving those that hate you and mistreat you will require the grace of God it is not by any means an unreasonable instruction. By God’s freely-given grace we can love everybody and thus fulfill the instruction to be perfect even as God in heaven is perfect.
Some would argue that “perfect” as it is often used in Scripture really means “fullgrown.” However to be a fullgrown Christian is to be a perfect Christian.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians he said, “Not as though I had already attained either were already perfect.” Then a few verses farther on he says, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect,...” Again, at first glance, this may appear to be a contradiction but look farther and you will find that it is easily explained. Paul was talking about attaining to the bodily resurrection at which time we believe we will obtain a glorified body, or a perfect body. When he speaks of those who are “perfect” he is speaking of the perfection obtained by growing “up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15) He had just written to these Ephesians that the “perfecting of the saints” was to proceed “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 measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” I am assuming that you have accepted Christ as being perfect.
In the John L Nickalls edition of the Journal of George Fox there is a Preface written by William Penn. Penn says some very flattering things about Fox and I will not relate them here. However he does say of Fox that:
I write my knowledge and not report; and my witness is true, having been with him for weeks and months together on divers occasions, and those of the nearest and most exercising nature, and that by night and by day, by sea and by land, in this and in foreign countries; and I can say I never saw him out of his place, or not a match for every service or occasion.
For in all things he acquitted himself like a man, yea, a strong man, a new and heavenly-minded man, a divine and a naturalist, and all of God Almighty’s making.
Dare I say that in Penn’s estimation George Fox was a perfect man, having come “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
Just recently I was in a roundtable discussion on perfection. After expressing my views I was asked if I claimed to be perfect. My answer was, “No!” I explained that on occasion after reflecting on a situation I had just come through I could see that things could have been handled better than I had just handled them. Had Christ been in that situation, or one who has come unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, it would have been handled perfectly.
It is often stated that absolute perfection belongs only to God. I declare unto you that any and all perfection is absolute. No reasonable person expects anyone to be God, but the Scripture enjoins us to be perfect men and that is all that is expected or required. If I speak of a perfect right angle I mean one that is exactly and precisely 90%, not one that is 89.999999999999%. And if that right angle is exactly 90% it is a perfect right angle and the fact that that angle is not God alters the angles perfection not at all. Thus a perfect man is perfect and is not nor ever will be God.
About thirty years ago I came into contact with a preacher who was saved while attending Indiana State University in Terre Haute. After being saved in a holiness church he was seeking entire sanctification. He said he prayed endlessly for it over quite a period of time until he heard a voice say unto him that the experience, or state of grace, had been lost from the earth. Of course having been instructed by the American holiness movement he equated entire sanctification with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In fact the Scripture tells us that there is, “one body, and one Spirit...One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all.” Further, the Scripture says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Thus the baptism of the Holy Spirit is regeneration not entire sanctification.
So while the baptism of the Spirit has not been lost from among us, I wonder if perfection has been lost. In the 9th chapter of Matthew we are told that two blind men came to Jesus wanting Him to restore their sight. He asked them if they believed He was able to do this. They said “Yea, Lord.” Jesus then touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith be it unto you.” Notice He didn’t say, according to my power, for if they didn’t have the necessary faith His power would have been of no benefit to them. Thus if our faith doesn’t allow for us to become perfect men then we most certainly never will be perfect men. One cannot rise above his faith!
Oh I know many claim to believe in Christian perfection. They explain it by speaking of John Wesley’s perfect love or perhaps by some other terminology but they would never allow for a perfect man. How often have I heard someone say that “there was only one perfect man and they crucified Him”?
The first Quaker martyr was James Parnell, a young man perhaps nineteen years of age, who was imprisoned and kept in such deplorable conditions that he finally died. The reason for his arrest is that he was preaching perfection. His hearers couldn’t stand to hear such a message, thus he was jailed as a malefactor. As one biographer noted, “He knew the answer to the question he asked of those who opposed him. “Is Christ a part redeemer or a perfect redeemer? If you will look honestly into your heart and listen to that “still, small voice” I am confident you will hear, “perfect redeemer.”
Let us get off of our lees, hunger and thirst after righteousness, until the Almighty makes us perfect witnesses for Jesus Christ our Lord. Remember, “According to your faith be it unto you.”