The doctrine of Lutherans and Reformed, the two great branches of the Protestant Church, is, that sanctification is never perfected in this life; that sin is not in any case entirely subdued; so that the most advanced believer has need as long as he continues in the flesh, daily to pray for the forgiveness of sins.
The question is not as to the duty of believers. All admit that we are bound to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Nor is it a question as to the command of God; for the first, original, and universally obligatory commandment is that we should love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. Nor does the question concern the provisions of the Gospel. It is admitted that the Gospel provides all that is needed for the complete sanctification and salvation of believers. What can we need more than we have in Christ, his Spirit, his word and his ordinances? Nor does it concern the promises of God; for all rejoice in the hope, founded on the divine promise, that we shall be ultimately delivered from all sin. God has in Christ made provision for the complete salvation of his people: that is, for their entire deliverance from the penalty of the law, from the power of sin, from all sorrow, pain, and death; and not only for mere negative deliverance, but for their being transformed into the image of Christ, filled with his Spirit, and glorified by the beauty of the Lord. It is, however, too plain that, unless sanctification be an exception, no one of these promises besides that which concerns justification, is perfectly fulfilled in this life. Justification does not admit of degrees. A man either is under condemnation, or he is not. And, therefore, from the nature of the case, justification is instantaneous and complete, as soon as the sinner believes. But the question is, whether, when God promises to make his people perfectly holy, perfectly happy, and perfectly glorious, He thereby promises to make them perfect in holiness in this life? If the promises of happiness and glory are not perfectly fulfilled in this life, why should the promise of sanctification be thus fulfilled? It is, however, a mere question of fact. All admit that God can render his people perfect before death as well as after it. The only question is, Has He promised, with regard to sanctification alone, that it shall be perfected on this side of the grave? and, Do we see cases in which the promise has been actually fulfilled? The answer given to these questions by the Church universal is in the negative. So long as the believer is in this world, he will need to pray for pardon.
The grounds of this doctrine are, --
1. The spirituality of the divine law and the immutability of its demands. It condemns as sinful any want of conformity to the standard of absolute perfection as exhibited in the Bible. Any thing less than loving God constantly with all the heart, all the soul, all the mind, and all the strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, is sin.
2. The express declaration of Scripture that all men are sinners. This does not mean simply that all men have sinned, that all are guilty, but that all have sin cleaving to them. "If," declares the Apostle, "we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8.) As the wise man had said before him, "There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." (Eccles. 7:20) And in 1 Kings 8:46, it is said, "There is no man that sinneth not." And the Apostle James, 3:2, says: "In many things we offend all." The truth is not in us, says the Apostle, if we say we have no sin, i. e., that we are not now polluted by sin. In the context he sets forth Christ as the "Word of Life," as having life in Himself, and as being the source of life to us. Having fellowship with Him, we have fellowship with God. But God is light, i. e., is pure, holy, and blessed; if, therefore, we walk in darkness, i. e., in ignorance and sin, we can have no fellowship with Him. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseih us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, and do not need now and at all times the cleansing power of Christ's blood, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Argument from the General representations of Scripture.
The declarations of Scripture, which are so abundant, that there is none righteous, no not one; that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; that no flesh living is just in the sight of God; and that every one must lay his hand upon his mouth, and his mouth in the dust in the sight of the infinitely holy God, who accuses his angels of folly, refer to all men with- out exception; to Jews and Gentiles; to the renewed and unrenewed; to babes in Christ and to mature Christians. All feel, and all are bound to acknowledge that they are sinners whenever they present themselves before God; all know that they need constantly the intervention of Christ, and the application of his blood, to secure fellowship with the Holy One. As portrayed in Scripture, the inward life of the people of God to the end of their course in this world, is a repetition of conversion. It is a con- tinued turning unto God; a constant renewal of confession, repentance, and faith; a dying unto sin, and living unto righteousness. This is true of all the saints, patriarchs, prophets, and apostles of whose inward experience the Bible gives us any account.
Passages which describe the Conflict between the flesh and the Spirit
3. More definitely is this truth taught in those passages which describe the convict in the believer between the flesh and the Spirit. To this reference has already been made. That the seventh chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans is an account of his own inward life at the time of writing that Epistle, has al- ready, as it is believed, been sufficiently proved; and such has been the belief of the great body of evangelical Christians in all ages of the Church. If this be the correct interpretation of that passage, then it proves that Paul, at least, was not free from sin; that he had to contend with a law in his members, warring against the law of his mind; that he groaned constantly under the burden of indwelling sin. At a still later period of his life, when he was just ready to be offered up, he says to the Philippians, 3:12-14, "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." This is an unmistakable declaration on the part of the Apostle that even at this late period of his life he was not yet perfect; he had not attained the end of perfect conformity to Christ, but was pressing forward, as one in a race, with all earnestness that he might reach the end of his calling. To answer this, as has been done by some distinguished advocates of perfectionism, by saying that Paul's not being perfect, is no proof that other men may not be; is not very satisfactory.
The parallel passage in Galatians, 5:16-26, is addressed to Christians generally. It recognizes the fact that they are imperfectly sanctified; that in them the renewed principle, the Spirit as the source of spiritual life, is in conflict with the flesh, the re- mains of their corrupt nature. It exhorts them to mortify the flesh (not the body, but their corrupt nature), and to strive constantly to walk under the controlling influence of the Spirit. The characteristic difference between the unrenewed and the renewed is not that the former are entirely sinful, and the latter perfectly holy; but that the former are wholly under the control of their fallen nature, while the latter have the Spirit of God dwelling in them, which leads them to crucify the flesh, and to strive after complete conformity to the image of God. There was nothing in the character of the Galatian Christians to render this exhortation applicable to them alone. What the Scriptures teach concerning faith, repentance, and justification, is intended for all Christians; and so what is taught of sanctification suits the case of all believers. Indeed, if a man thinks himself perfect, and apprehends that he has already attained what his fellow believers are only striving for, a great part of the Bible must for him lose its value. What use can he make of the Psalms, the vehicle through which the people of God for millenniums have poured out their hearts? How can such a man sympathize with Ezra, Nehemiah, or any of the prophets? How strange to him must be the language of Isaiah, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts."
Argument from the Lord's Prayer
4. Not only do the holy men of God throughout the Scriptures in coming into his presence, come with the confession of sin and imperfection, praying for mercy, not only for what they were but also for what they are, but our Lord has taught all his disciples whenever they address their Father in heaven to say, " Forgive us our trespasses." This injunction has ever been a stumbling block in the way of the advocates of perfection from Pelagius to the present day. It was urged by Augustine in his argument against the doctrine of his great opponent that men could be entirely free from sin in the present life. The answer given to the argument from this source has been substantially the same as that given by Pelagius. It is presented in its best form by the Rev. Richard Watson.  That writer says, "(1.) That it would be absurd to suppose that any person is placed under the necessity of 'trespassing,' in order that a general prayer designed for men in a mixed condition might retain its aptness to every particular case. (2.) That trespassing of every kind and degree is not sup- posed by this prayer to be continued, in order that it might be used always in the same import, or otherwise it might be pleaded against the renunciation of any trespass or transgression whatever. (3.) That this petition is still relevant to the case of the entirely sanctified and the evangelically perfect, since neither the perfection of the first man nor that of angels is in question; that is, a perfection measured by the perfect law, which in its obligations, contemplates all creatures as having sustained no injury by moral lapse, and admits, therefore, of no excuse from infirmities and mistakes of judgment; nor of any degree of obedience below that which beings created naturally perfect, were capable of rendering. There may, however, be an entire sanctification of a being rendered naturally weak and imperfect, and so liable to mistake and infirmity, as well as to defect as to the degree of that absolute obedience and service which the law of God, never bent to human weakness, demands from all. These defects, and mistakes, and infirmities, may be quite consistent with the entire sanctification of the soul and the moral maturity of a being still naturally infirm and imperfect."
The first and second of these answers do not touch the point. No one pretends that men are placed under the necessity of sinning, "in order that" they may be able to repeat the Lord's prayer. This would indeed be absurd. The argument is this. If a man prays to be forgiven, he confesses that he is a sinner, and if a sinner, he is not free from sin or perfect. And therefore, the use of the Lord's prayer by all Christians, is an acknowledgment that no Christian in this life is perfect. The third answer, which is the one principally relied upon and constantly repeated, involves a contradiction. It assumes that what is not sin requires to be forgiven. Mr. Watson says the petition, " Forgive us our
trespasses," may be properly used by those who are free from sin. This is saying that sin is not sin. The argument by which this position is sustained also involves a contradiction. Our "infirmities" are sins if judged by "the perfect law "; but not if judged by "the evangelical law." As we are not to be judged by the former, but by the latter, want of conformity to the law is not sin. The only inability under which men, since the fall, labor, arises from their sinfulness, and therefore is no excuse for want of conformity to that law which it is said, and said rightly, is "never bent to human weakness."
Argument from the experience of Christians
5. Appeal may be made on this subject to the testimony of the Church universal. There are no forms of worship, no formulas for private devotion, in any age or part of the Church, which do not contain confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness. The whole Christian Church with all its members prostrates itself before God, saying, "Have mercy upon us miserable sinners." If here and there one and another among this prostrate multitude refuse to bow and join in this confession, they are to be wondered at and pitied. They are, however, not to be found. Consciousness is too strong for theory, and therefore, 6. We may appeal to the conscience of every believer. He knows that he is a sinner. He never is in a state which satisfies his own conviction as to what he ought to be. He may call his deficiencies infirmities, weaknesses, and errors, and may refuse to call them sins. But this does not alter the case. Whatever they are called, it is admitted that they need God's pardoning mercy.
Theories of Perfectionism
The two radical principles of Pelagianism are, first, that the nature of man is uninjured by the fall, so that men are free from sin until by voluntary transgression they incur guilt. Secondly, that our natural powers, since, as well as before the fall, are fully competent to render complete obedience to the law.
From these principles Pelagius inferred, (1.) That a man (even among the heathen) might live from birth to death free from all sin, although he did not assert that any man ever had so lived. (2.) That when converted, men might, and numbers of men did, live without sin; perfectly obeying the law. (3.) That this obedience was rendered in the exercise of their ability, assisted by the grace of God.
By grace, Pelagius says that we are to understand, (1.) The goodness of God in so constituting our nature that we can completely obey the law in virtue of our free agency. (2.) The revelation, precepts, and example of Christ. (3.) The pardon of sins committed before conversion. (4.) The moral influences of the truth and. of the circumstances in which we are placed. The effect of grace thus understood, is simply to render obedience more easy.
In the Council of Carthage, A. D. 418, the Pelagians were condemned, among other things, for teaching, (1.) That the effect of grace was merely to render obedience more easy. (2.) That the declaration of the Apostle John, " If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," is, as to some, a mere expression of humility. (3.) That the petition in the Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses," is not suited to the saints. They use it only as expressing the desire and necessity of others.
According to the Pelagian theory, therefore, (1.) The sin from which the believer may be perfectly free is the voluntary transgression of known law. Nothing else is of the nature of sin. (2.) The law to which perfect conformity in this life is possible, and in many cases actual, is the moral law in all its strictness. (3.) This obedience may be rendered. without any supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit.
Romanists teach, (1.) That by the infusion of grace in justification as effected by or in baptism, everything of the nature of sin is removed from the soul. (2.) That good works performed in a state of grace are free from the taint of sin, and are perfect." (3.) That the law may be and often is, perfectly obeyed by the children of God in this life. (4.) That men may not only do all that the law requires, but may even go beyond its demands. (5.) Nevertheless, as there is a higher law than that by which men are to be judged, no man is entirely free from venial sins, i. e., sins which do not bring the soul under condemnation, and therefore all men in this life have need to say, "Forgive us our trespasses."
From this statement it appears, --
1. That by sin from which advanced believers are said to be free, is meant only what merits condemnation, and in itself deserves the forfeiture of grace or divine favor. It is admitted that "concupiscence," or the remains of original sin, is not re- moved by baptism, but it is not of the nature of sin, in the sense just stated. Neither are venial sins, i. e., sins which do not forfeit grace, properly sins, if judged by the law under which believers are now placed. So far, therefore, as the negative part of perfection, or freedom from sin is concerned, the Romanists do not mean freedom from moral faults, but simply freedom from what incurs the sentence of the law. It is perfection as judged by a lower standard of judgment.
2. The law to which we are now subject, and the demands of which Romanists say are satisfied by the obedience of the saints, is not the moral law in its original strictness, but the sum of that which is due from man in his present circumstances; in other words, the demands of the law are accommodated to the condition of men in this life. This is evident, because they say that the saints obey the law so far as it is now binding, and because they admit that saints commit venial sins, which can only mean sins which, under a stricter rule of judgment, would merit condemnation.
3. As stated above, they distinguish between the law and love. The former is that which all men, and especially Christians, are bound to observe, but love is a higher principle which prompts to doing more than the law or justice demands. Consequently, the positive part of perfection, or conformity to the law, does not imply the highest degree of moral excellence of which our nature is susceptible, but only such as answers to the lower demands of the law to which we are now subject. Moehler says:  "In modern times the attempt has been made to sustain the old orthodox doctrine by assuming that the moral law makes ideal demands, which, as every other ideal, must remain unattainable. If this be true, then the man who falls short of this ideal is as little responsible, and as little de- serving of punishment, as an epic poet who should fall short of the Iliad of Homer."
The Romish theory is consistent. In baptism all sin is washed away. By the infusion of grace full ability is given to do all that is required of us. Nothing can be required beyond what we are able to perform, and, therefore, the demands of the law are suited to our present state. By obedience to this modified law, we merit increased supplies of grace and eternal life.
The perfection, therefore, which Romanists insist upon is merely relative; not an entire freedom from sin, but only from such sins as merit condemnation; not holiness which is absolutely perfect, but perfect only relatively to the law under which we are now placed. It is clear that there is a radical difference between Romanists and Protestants as to the nature of sin and the limits of moral obligation. If they were to adopt our definition of sin, they would not pretend to any perfection in the present life.
The Arminian Theory
The perfection which the Arminians teach is attainable, and which, in many cases, they say is actually attained in this life, is declared to be complete conformity to the law; including freedom from sin, and the proper exercise of all right affections and the discharge of all duties.
Episcopius defines it to be, keeping the commandments of God with a perfect fulfillment; or loving God as much as we ought to love Him, according to the requirements of the Gospel; or according to the covenant of grace. "By a perfection of degrees is meant that highest perfection which consists in the highest exertion of human strength assisted by grace." "This perfection includes two things, (1.) A perfection proportioned to the powers of each individual; (2.) A desire of making continual progress, and of increasing one's strength more and more."
Limborch defines it as "keeping the precepts of the Gospel after such manner, and in such degree of perfection as God requires of us under the denunciation of eternal damnation." This obedience is "perfect as being correspondent to the stipulations contained in the divine covenant." "It is not a sinless or absolutely perfect obedience, but such as consists in a sincere love and habit of piety, which excludes all habit of sin, with all enormous and deliberate actions." 
This perfection has three degrees (1.) That of beginners. (2.) That of proficients. (3) That of the truly perfect, who have subdued the habit of sin, and take delight in the practice of virtue.
Wesley  says; "Perfection is the loving God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions, are governed by love." Dr. Peck  says that it is "a state of holiness which fully meets the requirements of the Gospel." Although these definitions differ in some respects, they agree in the general idea that perfection consists in entire conformity to the law to which we are now subject, and by which we are to be judged.
The Law to which Believers are subject.
What, according to the Arminian theory, is that law? The answer to that question is given in a negative, and in a positive form. Negatively, it is said by Dr. Peck not to be the Adamic law, or the law originally given to Adam. Fletcher says  "With respect to the Christless law of paradisiacal obedience, we utterly disclaim sinless perfection." "We shall not be judged by that- law; but by a law adapted to our present state and circumstances, called the law of Christ." "Our Heavenly Father never expects of us, in our debilitated state, the obedience of immortal Adam in paradise." The positive statements are, "It is the law of Christ." "The Gospel." "The standard of character set up in the Gospel must be such as is practicable by man, fallen as he is. Coming up to this standard is what we call Christian perfection." 
From this it appears that the law according to which men are pronounced perfect, is not the original moral law, but the mitigated law suited to the debilitated state of man since the fall. The sin from which the believer may be entirely free, is not all moral imperfection which in itself deserves punishment, but only such delinquencies as are inconsistent with the mitigated law of the Gospel.
On this point the language of Limborch above quoted, is explicit. It is not "an absolutely sinless perfection" that is asserted. And Fletcher says, We utterly disclaim "sinless perfection" ac- cording to the paradisiacal law. Wesley says, By sin is meant
(1.) Voluntary transgression of known law. In this sense all who are born of God are free from sin. (2.) It means all unholy tempers, self-will, pride, anger, sinful thoughts. From these the perfect are free. (3.) But mistakes and infirmities are not sins. " These are," indeed, " deviations from the perfect law, and consequently need atonement. Yet they are not properly sins." "A person filled with the love of God is still liable to these involuntary transgressions. Such transgressions you may call sins, if you please, I do not."  The question, however, is not what Wesley or any other man chooses to call sin; but what does the law of God condemn. Nothing which the law does not condemn can need expiation. If these transgressions, therefore, need atonement, they are sins in the sight of God. Our refusing to recognize them as such does not alter their nature, or remove their guilt.
According to the Arminian system, especially as held by the Wesleyans, this perfection is not due to the native ability, or free will of man, but to the grace of God, or supernatural influence of the Spirit. Perfection is a matter of grace, (1.) Because it is solely on account of the work of Christ that God lowers the commands of the law, and accepts as perfect the obedience which the milder law of the Gospel demands. (2.) Because the ability to render this obedience is due to the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit. (3.) Because believers constantly need the intercession of Christ as our High Priest, to secure them from condemnation for involuntary transgressions, which, judged by the law, would incur its penalty.
This theory is so called because its prominent advocates are the officers of the Oberlin University in Ohio. President Mahan  says, perfection in holiness implies a full and perfect discharge of our entire duty; of all existing obligations in respect of God and, all other beings. It is loving God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength. It implies the entire absence of selfishness and the perpetual presence and all pervading influence of pure and, perfect love Professor Finney says: "By entire sanctification, I understand the consecration of the whole being to God. In other words, it is the state of devotedness to God and his service required by the moral law. The law is perfect. It requires just what is right; all that is right, and nothing more. Nothing more nor less can possibly be perfection or entire sanctification than obedience to the law. Obedience to the law of God in an infant, a man, an angel, and in God himself, is perfection in each of them. And nothing can possibly be perfection in any being short of this; nor can there possibly be anything above it." 
The law which now binds men and to which they are bound to be perfectly conformed, is the original moral law given to Adam. But that law demands nothing more and nothing less than what every man in his inward state and outward circumstances is able to render. The law meets man at every step of his ascending or descending progress. The more grace, knowledge, or strength he has, the more does the law demand. On the other hand, the less of knowledge, culture, moral susceptibility, or strength he possesses, the less does the law require of him.
President Mahan says, Perfection does not imply that we love God as the saints do in heaven, but merely that we love Him as far as practicable with our present powers.
Professor Finney says, The law does not require that we should love God as we might do, had we always improved our time, or had we never sinned. It does not suppose that our powers are in a perfect state. The service required is regulated by our ability.
The principle of this perfect obedience is our own natural ability. A free moral agent must be able to be and to do all that the law can justly demand. Moral ability, natural ability, gracious ability, are distinctions which Professor Finney pronounces perfectly nonsensical. "It is," he says, "a first truth of reason that moral obligation implies the possession of every kind of ability which is required to render the required act possible." 
The Oberlin theory of perfection is founded on the following principles: --
1. Holiness consists in disinterested benevolence, i. e., a perfect willingness that God should do whatever the highest good of the universe demands. A man either has, or has not, this willingness. If he has, he has all that is required of him. He is perfect. If he has not this willingness he is in rebellion against God. There- fore it is said, "Perfection, as implied in the action of our voluntary powers in full harmony with our present convictions of duty, is an irreversible condition of eternal life." 
2. There is no sin but in the voluntary transgression of known law.
3. There is no moral character in anything but generic volition, or those purposes which terminate on an ultimate end. There is no moral character in feeling, and much less in states of mind not determined by the will. When a man's purpose is to promote the happiness of the universe he is perfectly holy; when it is anything else, he is perfectly sinful. 4. Every man, in virtue of being a free agent, has plenary ability to fulfill all his obligations. This principle, though mentioned last, is the root of the whole system.
The Relation between these Theories of Perfection
The Pelagian and the Oberlin theories agree as to their views of the nature of sin; the ability of man; and the extent of the obligation of the law.
They differ as to their views of the nature of virtue or holiness. The Pelagian system does not assume that disinterested benevolence, or the purpose to promote the highest good of the universe, is the sum of all virtue; i. e., it does not put the universe in the place of God, as that to which our allegiance is due. They differ also in that, while the Oberlin divines maintain the plenary ability of man, they give more importance to the work of the Holy Spirit; and in that, it is generally admitted that although men have the ability to do their whole duty, yet that they will not exert it aright unless influenced by the grace of God.
The Romish and Arminian theories agree, (1.) In that both teach that the law to which we are bound to be conformed is not "ideal excellence;" not the Adamic law; not the moral law in its original strictness; but a milder law suited to our condition since the fall. (2.) That by freedom from sin is not meant freedom from what the law in its strictness condemns, and what in its nature needs expiation and pardon, but from everything which the milder law, "the law of Christ," condemns. (3.) They agree in denying to men since the fall ability perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but attribute the ability and disposition to obey to the grace of God; or the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit.
They differ as to the mode in which this grace is communicated, in that the Romanists say that it is only through the sacraments; whereas Arminians say that sufficient grace is given to all men, which, if duly improved, secures such larger measures of grace as will enable the believer to become perfect. They differ also as to the nature of good works in so far as Romanists include under that category many things not commanded in the Scriptures; and as they teach the possibility of performing works of supererogation, which the Arminians deny. The Romanists also teach that good works merit eternal life, which evangelical Arminians do not.
These theories, however, all agree in teaching that the law of God has been lowered in so far that its demands are satisfied by a less degree of obedience than was required of Adam, or of man in his normal state; and therefore in calling that perfection which in fact is not perfection, either in the sight of God or of an enlightened conscience. It is a contradiction to say that a man is perfect whose acts and shortcomings need expiation and the pardoning mercy of God.
It may be safely assumed that no man living has ever seen a fellow-man whom, even in the imperfect light in which a man reveals himself to his fellows, he deems perfect. And no sound-minded man can regard himself as perfect, unless he lowers the standard of judgment to suit his case. And here lies one of the special dangers of the whole system. If the law of God can be relaxed in its demands to suit the state of its subjects, then there is no limit to be assigned to its condescension. Thus perfectionism has sometimes, although not among the Methodists, lapsed into antinomianism.
1 Theolopical Instatutes, tt. xxix.; edit. New York, 1839' p. 545.
2 Symbolic, 6th edit. Mainz, 1843, p. 216.
3 Theolopia Christiania, v. 1xxix. 2, 8, 14; edit. Amsterdam, 1715, pp. 658, a, 659, b, 661, a.
4 Plain Account of Christian Perfecto¯, p. 48.
5 Christian Perfection, New York, 1843, p. 292.
6 See above, page 192.
7 Peck, Christian Perfection, p. 294.
8 Plain Account, pp. 62-67.2
9 Christian Perfection, p 7.
10 Oberlin Evangelist, vol. ii. p. 1.
11 Sermons, vol. iv. No. 18.
12 Oberlin Qarterly Review, May 1846, p. 468.