Sermon by Benjamin Franklin Neely
6:1–2 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on
unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works,
and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands,
and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
word perfect is a relative term, which is used as a modifier in many relations
in human thought; and the meaning of the term is always limited by the object it
is used to modify. The following is a good definition of the term: “To be
perfect is to have all the qualities, excellences, or elements requisite to its
nature or kind.” For illustration, take the hairbrush and the safety razor,
either one of which can be perfect in its particular sphere if it measures up to
the standard its designer had in mind when he produced it. But they are not
interchangeable in their services. One could not dress his hair with the safety
razor; neither could he shave his face with the hairbrush.
Jesus said: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven
is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), He could only have mean that a Christian is to be
perfect in his sphere as God is perfect in His sphere. That is, the perfect
Christian is to have all the qualities, excellences, or elements requisite to a
Christian, as God has all the qualities, excellences, or elements requisite to
His eternal and august being. But there is a vast difference between a human
being, although redeemed from the power and pollution of sin, and the Almighty
God, who is the Builder and Upholder of the universe. The smallest insect can be
as perfect in its sphere as the greatest prehistoric mammal could have been in
Theologically, perfection is conceived of as existing on at least five levels:
(1) absolute perfection, (2) angelic perfection, (3) Adamic perfection, (4)
resurrectional perfection, (5) Christian perfection, which concerns us here and
now. Perfection on the first four levels needs but passing mention in this
Absolute perfection exists only in God. In His absoluteness, He is
incomprehensible by the finite mind. It is enough to conceive of Him as being
absolutely perfect; and that our comprehension of Him will be one of eternal and
happy progression, consequent upon the state of our being and our relationship
to Him. We are informed that “we all, with open face beholding as in a glass
the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory even
as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
There is no doubt a standard of perfection for the angels. But such is beyond
the reach of our finite minds.
We know that perfect knowledge does not belong to them. For they do not know the
time of the end of this age, nor the date of the second coming of the Lord.
We know also that angels are holy, for Jesus said: “The Son of man shall come
in his glory, and all the holy angels with him” (Matthew 25:31). (3) And we
know that they had a probationary period after their creation. For some
“angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he
hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the
great day” (Jude 6). (4) Also, all angels have not the same rank. There are
angels and archangels.
Nor can we be certain of a full knowledge of the perfection of Adam when he came
from the hand of his Creator. We do know that God pronounced the product of His
creative effort, including Adam, as “very good”—which fully justifies us
in believing that Adam had all the qualities, excellences, or elements requisite
to his nature and kind. (1) We know that Adam’s perfection included holiness.
For that was a predestined quality in his make-up. “According as he hath
chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and
without blame before him in love”
Also, since both moral and physical death resulted from Adam’s fall, if he had
maintained his integrity both moral and physical life would have been
perpetuated. For before the fall Adam had access to the tree of life, from which
he was driven consequent upon his fall. “Lest he put forth his hand, and take
also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore the Lord God
sent him forth from the garden of Eden.” Hence the implication is that if Adam
had withstood the temptation incidental to his probation the purity of his moral
nature and the life of his physical nature would have been perpetuated by his
access to the tree of life, which was the fountain of youth, till both would
have reached the point of establishment beyond the reach of temptation. But
since “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death
passed upon all men,” therefore “it is appointed unto men once to die.” So
Adamic perfection is beyond our reach in this life.
Resurrectional perfection excludes sickness, sorrow, pain, and death—all of
which will afflict us as long as we live here. “For even hereunto were ye
called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye
should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Resurrectional perfection will
include every “quality, excellence, or element” which characterized Adam
before he fell. For nothing short of that could be called complete redemption.
It was this perfection which St. Paul denied—having attained unto when he
said: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, . . . Not as
though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Philippians
Christian perfection is a subject of major interest in both the Old and the New
Testament scriptures. But it is a subject little understood, and seldom
intelligently dealt with, either in the pulpit or press. And yet:
The route to Christian perfection in this life is a plain one, if we observe the
road marks and give attention to the signs of identification.
To make sure of a proper start on this important road when the text exhorts us
to “go on unto perfection,” interest in the trip is initiated by the Holy
Spirit. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into
the world” (John 1:9). “He will reprove the world of sin, and of
righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). And without this divine
enlightenment no one would ever have a desire for or know the necessity of
seeking God’s favor. For “no man can come to me, except the Father which
hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). This is the work of the Holy Spirit known
as conviction. It is “the goodness of God [that] leadeth thee to
repentance,” and “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to
Repentance is the second station on the route to perfection. “Except ye
repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). It was the introductory
message in the public ministry of Christ. “From that time Jesus began to
preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew
4:17). “Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” will
bring one to the next station, which is:
Forgiveness of sins, or justification; and that climaxes in regeneration and
adoption—all of which makes one akin to the Lord God himself, which amounts to
sonship. And thus being adopted into the family of God, one comes under His
dominion and tutelage, which is certain to bring one under conviction because of
the carnal inclinations so plainly and grievously present when the carnal mind,
“which is enmity against God,” begins to lust against the Spirit. And it is
because of this filial relationship that the Heavenly Father exercises that
paternal prerogative in that “he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he
receiveth . . . for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.”
And he goes on to say: “But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are
partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Hebrews 12:5–10). From which
we must conclude that genuine sonship will result in a divinely inspired urge to
holiness; and that the absence of such hungering and thirsting after
righteousness is good grounds for doubting one’s claim to sonship.
Proper co-operation with the wooings of the Holy Spirit in His efforts to bring
one into the blessing of full salvation will result in a consecration that
amounts to an abandonment to the will of God. “Thy will be done in earth, as
it is in heaven.” “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable
unto God, which is your reasonable service . . . that ye may prove what is that
good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1, 2). This kind of
abandonment will have the same effect on his faith that Abraham’s putting
Isaac on the altar had on his faith. James said: “Was not Abraham our father
justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou
how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” (James
2:21, 22.) And perfect faith, such as Abraham had, which will invariably result
from a complete abandonment to all the will of God, will bring upon one the
cleansing baptism with the Holy Spirit.
having followed the divine directions marking the way to perfection, we come to
the point of identification, which brings us to note:
Christian perfection is a heart condition. It is a pure heart filled with divine
love, both of which are accomplished by the Holy Spirit.
When the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles and the household of Cornelius
their hearts were made pure. “And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them
witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no
difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8,
When the Holy Spirit is imparted, He not only purifies the heart, but He fills
it with divine love. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy
Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the
Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou
shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law
and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40). Moses had said: “The Lord thy God
will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God
with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live”
(Deuteronomy 30:6). Then Paul said: “Ye are complete in him . . . in whom also
ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the
body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Colossians 2:10,
11). That is, through the “circumcision . . . of the heart, in the spirit,”
Christ removes the body of sin, and thereby enables one to love God with all the
heart, and his neighbor as himself; which makes one complete, or perfect, in
Him. For he could not be complete unless he was perfect.
“The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart” (1 Timothy 1:5).
The word charity in this passage is translated from agape, which is the same
Greek word from which the word love is translated in the famous quotation in
John 3:16, “God so loved the world.” So we have St. Paul saying that “the
end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart.” That is, when the Holy
Spirit purifies the heart and fills it with the love of God, the end or design
of the commandment has been accomplished; and that includes the command, “Be
ye also perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Therefore
heart purity and Christian perfection are identical experiences. They cannot be
separated, since that which has been produced cannot exist independent of that
which produced it. Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them through thy truth . . . that
they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:17–23). Again, “For by one
offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy
Ghost also is a witness to us” (Hebrews 10:14, 15). Therefore when Christian
perfection exists it is because the act of sanctification has effected it. And
since the fundamental principle in the Christian religion is love, the one thus
perfected through sanctification is perfected in love.
The heart, or center of man’s moral nature, is the source from which the life
The quality of the life stream will indicate the qualitative condition of the
heart. “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good
things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things”
(Matthew 12:35). But the power to differentiate between right and wrong is not a
function of the moral nature. That is exclusively a prerogative of the judgment,
which operates in the field of the mental.
The mind, or the center of man’s intellectual life, is where judgments are
formed. Therefore this central intellectual plant is the clearinghouse for
individual conduct for those who plan to live “in all good conscience before
God.” It classifies conduct as either good or bad; and its ability to reach
proper conclusions determines its ability to make proper classifications.
Therefore if errors in judgment are to be altogether avoided the judgments must
result from perfect knowledge; and since that kind of knowledge is possessed
only by the all-wise God, we cannot expect perfect conduct from mortal man in
this life. If one should do better than he knows to do, it would be an accident;
and for that he could claim no credit. Therefore Christian perfection can exist
only in the moral nature, which excludes both the mental and the physical
natures. That is, one cannot have a perfect mind, exempt from all mistakes; and
he cannot have a perfect body as Adam had before he sinned. But he may have a
perfect heart. “Know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect
heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts” (1
Chronicles 28:9). If one can have a perfect heart he can have perfectly good
motives; and the motives or intentions behind the conduct are that by which one
is judged in the sight of his Maker, who is his final Judge. “The Lord seeth
not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord
looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). “Blessed is the man unto whom the
Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalm
32:2). “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Romans
4:8). The foregoing passages can mean but one thing; and that is that good
motives spring from good hearts, made pure by redeeming grace; and that God will
not condemn His children for errors of judgment when their actions spring from
illustrate: In Nova Scotia, three men were on a deer hunt. One man fired his gun
at a deer. The bullet struck a tree and ricocheted, striking another man in the
abdomen and passing through his body. Investigation revealed the facts in the
case. The man who fired the fatal shot was adjudged innocent because his
intentions were good and the calamity resulted from the fact that the man who
had shot his neighbor and friend did not have perfect judgment. If he had known
what the results of such a shot would be, his good motives would have prevented
the disaster. It was a wrong act, but not a sinful act. The motive was the
deciding factor as to the quality of the act. A mistake is not a sin. Nor is a
sin a mistake.
The doctrine of Christian perfection is supported by both precept and example.
The precepts: (1) In the text the Hebrews we are exhorted to “go on unto
perfection,” instead of living the up-and-down life expressed in the
statement: “Not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and
of faith toward God,” etc. The indications are that it was a choice between
the two; and perfection was recommended as a cure for the irregularities
When God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision, which was an outward sign of
an inward work of purity, He said: “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and
be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). And the spiritual meaning of circumcision is
revealed in Deuteronomy 30:6: “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine
heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart,
and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”
Before Moses was called to his reward, he gave a recapitulation of the law, the
Book of Deuteronomy, in which he said: “Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord
thy God” (Deuteronomy 18:13).
Paul said that Epaphras was “always labouring fervently for you in prayers,
that ye,” the Colossians, “may stand perfect and complete in all the will of
God” (Colossians 4:12).
“All scripture 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, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy
“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind,
live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Corinthians
“Warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present
every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28).
“But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire,
wanting nothing” (James 1:4). Much more could be cited under the topic of
precepts, but these should be sufficient.
Many are the examples given of perfect Christians in the sacred record.
Four things were said of Noah. He was a preacher of righteousness, he was a
righteous man in the sight of God, he was a just man, and he was perfect
(Genesis 6:9; 7:1; 2 Peter 2:5).
“It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect” (Psalm
“Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is
peace” (Psalm 37:37).
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was
perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1).
“We speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this
world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought” (1 Corinthians
“When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto
men. . . . for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry . . .
till we all come in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God,
unto a perfect man” (Ephesians 4:8–13).
“If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to
bridle the whole body” (James 3:2).
The Saviour said: “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is
perfect shall be as his master” (Luke 6:40).
In giving testimony to advanced experiences and Christian graces, humility and
meekness are recommended (Luke 17:10). However, the Scriptures enjoin testimony.
“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” (Psalm 107:2). And we have the
deathbed testimony of a king to having served God with a perfect heart. “In
those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz
came to him, and said unto him, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die,
and not live. Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord,
saying, I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in
truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.
And Hezekiah wept sore” (2 Kings 20:1–11). God endorsed Hezekiah’s
profession of perfection of heart and goodness of conduct by healing his body
and increasing his life span by fifteen years.
the fact that St. Paul had a physical affliction, deliverance from which he
prayed for unsuccessfully three times, yet he felt constrained to register as
one who had experienced perfection. It was in the same chapter and in the same
connection where he denied having resurrectional perfection that he professed
Christian perfection. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection.
. . . 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, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto
those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high
calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus
minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this
unto you” (Philippians 3:10–15).
In conclusion let us summarize:
We have found that the term perfect is a relative term, that it is always
limited by the object it is used to modify.
We have noted that perfection is defined as: possessing “all the qualities,
excellences, or elements requisite to its nature or kind.”
Theologically, perfection is conceived of as existing on at least five levels:
absolute, angelic, Adamic, resurrectional, and Christian.
The plain route to Christian perfection is marked by: conviction, repentance,
and faith; forgiveness, which climaxes in regeneration and adoption; divine
chastening, that we might be partakers of his holiness; consecration, which
culminates in perfect faith for cleansing.
Christian perfection is a heart condition, which excludes the physical and the
Heart purity and Christian perfection are identical experiences.
Christian perfection and entire sanctification cannot be separated.
The heart or center of man’s moral life is the source of his motives; and
conduct is either good or bad, in the sight of God, varying with the motives
from which the conduct springs.
The mind or center of man’s intellectual nature is the clearinghouse for
individual conduct. It is where judgments are formed and conduct is classified
as either good or bad. But judgments cannot be more accurate than the knowledge
that forms them; and since perfect knowledge belongs to God alone, perfect
judgments cannot be expected of mortal man; and, therefore, perfect conduct
cannot be expected of the most perfect Christian while he is hampered by an
God does not impute sin to an individual “in whose spirit there is no
guile.” A mistake is not a sin. And a sin is not a mistake.
The Scriptures support the doctrine of Christian perfection, by both precept and
There is on record, inspired and divinely endorsed, testimony to Christian