Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate/Volume 2/Number 8/Perfection
Christian perfection, so called, is a subject which has engrossed the attention of the religious public in the different ages of the world in no small degree. It was, if we may credit the sacred writers, a subject which was called forth as early as we have any account of the revelations of God: and from that to the present, whether the world has been in a state of apostasy, or whether it has not, the subject of christian perfection has been one which has called forth a pretty large share of public discussion.
There can be little doubt, but those who were under the immediate influence of divine revelation, and received constant communication from the Deity on all subjects in any degree affecting their salvation, understood this subject much better than those who were in a state of apostacy; as they had all the opportunities that any mortals could have to settle all questions in relation to their religion: indeed the sacred writers speak of it as a subject which was well understood among the saints of their day; as at no time have they proposed it as a subject of discussion, and given us a formal investigation of it, as they have other subjects which were matters of controversy among the saints; but spake, and wrote, of it as of a matter which was well understood among them all.
In speaking of perfection, the Savior and his apostles have said some things which seem to be hard to understand by the present religious world: not that the sayings cannot be understood or are not sufficiently plain; but the consciousness there is among all the religious professors, of their coming far short of perfection, and taking it for granted that they are in the right way, and are as righteous as persons can be in this age of the world; they have considerable misgivings about what the sacred writers meant. For instance, when the Savior says "be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect". Matthew 5:48,th a deep consciousness at once says to all the professing world, that they are not thus perfect: but they are not only sensible that they are not perfect as their father in heaven is perfect; but they do most assuredly believe that they cannot be so, and a deep inquiry issues what did the Savior mean when he said be ye perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect!
Did he really mean that men should be perfect as God is? and if so, is such perfection necessary to salvation, or cannot a person be saved without it? are queries which often arise in the minds of many, indeed we may say all the religious world.
When people are in a state of apostasy, it seems hard to understand the sayings which were delivered to those who were in a state of acceptance with God, and fully able to bear his sayings: but it is not as hard for them to understand them, as it is to believe them when they do understand them, for to believe them with all their heart, would be virtually, to deny their religion, and, to tacitly to acknowledge that it was not of God.
How hard must it be for a person who denies christian perfection, to understand what the Savior meant, when he said be ye perfect &c? When he firmly believes that it is impossible for any person to be so: he cannot think that the Savior said any thing wrong; but comes to the conclusion that he cannot understand him, there is some mystery about his sayings, some how or other. The man never seems to reflect for a moment that the error may be in his sentiments, and the difficulty arises from his having embraced sentiments which are not according to godliness; but perfectly satisfied with his religion, he comes to the conclusion that there is some thing wrapped up in these very plain sayings, which cannot be easily understood, and there he leaves the matter.
And those who profess to believe in perfection among the saints, find some difficulty also; for the Savior seems to push the subject a little farther than they can go. To require of the saints to be perfect, is what they believe in; but for him to say that they must be perfect, as their father in heaven is perfect, is a little beyond the faith of those who believe in perfection, and they also come to the conclusion that there is some little mystery some where about the savior's saying.
So certain it is, that there are no people who can believe what was said to those who got revelations for themselves; but those who get immediate revelation from heaven.
If it were possible for people to lay down their prejudices, and let the revelations of God touch them in all things, the many mysteries which they find in the scriptures would soon pass away, and the apparent darkness which is over the face of revelation on many subjects, would become light. Let them once admit that their religion might be wrong, and search with candor for truth, and believe what the bible says, and light would speedily shine round about them. But to return to our subject again.
When we speak of perfection, we mean to be understood that a perfect thing cannot be improved. There is perfection in mechanics, when a machine is so constructed, that it cannot be improved, or made better, we call it a perfect machine. We say of the human system it is perfect; because we cannot suggest an improvement in any part of it, it is brought to as high a state as it can, being the contrivance of infinite wisdom, and if we were to say that the great Jehovah could not improve it, we think we should not insult him.
We say of God, he is perfect. And why? because his nature cannot be improved; and because he possesses all things of which his nature is capable. When we speak of a perfect religion, we mean that the religion is in every respect adapted to the wants, and necessities, of those for whom it is designed. It expands the human mind until it can expand no more, and then supplies it with all it is capable of enjoying. So that the enjoyment is in every way suited to the capacity of the persons who possess it; insomuch, that even God himself could not expand the human mind any more, nor give it one enjoyment which it does not possess. This done, the religion is perfect; but without this, it is not.
For a person to be perfect before God, is for him to have his mind expanded until it can be expanded no more, and then to enjoy all things which it is capable of enjoying. This would be perfection, and thus a man would be perfect as his father in heaven is perfect. And until this takes place, in vain may the religious world talk about perfection.
In the scriptures we are told that there were perfect men. It was said of Noah that he was perfect in his generation Genesis 6:9. Also Abraham was commanded to walk before God and be perfect Genesis 17:1. A great many scriptures might be quoted to the same effect; but let these suffice, which clearly establishes the fact, that the religion of heaven was designed to make men perfect before God; for if it were not, why say to Abraham walk before me and be thou perfect"; if the system which was taught to Abraham was not perfect, and if it were perfect, he that obeyed it would be perfect also. Or why say of Noah he was perfect in his generation? when there was no such thing as men being perfect before God, Or why command the disciples to be perfect, as their father in heaven was perfect? when there was no such things as being thus perfect.
All these sayings must be very unmeaning, unless there is such a thing as being perfect before God; and unless those who obey the scheme of heaven are thereby made perfect.
We think this subject is easy of understanding, if we are willing to let our religion fall a prey to it; for such will be the case with the whole sectarian world, if the bible is to be our guide. Perfection then, is perfection, and nothing else but perfection, is perfection. When a person or thing is perfect, it is perfect, and when it is not perfect, it is not perfect. When any thing can be improved, it is not perfect. When any scheme which is designed for the benefit of men can be bettered, it is not perfect, perfection reaches beyond improvement.
Let us premise a little, suppose some person should take a start in intelligence in these days, and reach beyond any others who had lived before his day. Would that not prove to a demonstration, that all those who had lived before him were not perfect? surely it would; and for this reason, because the very fact of his doing so, would prove that the human mind was capable of such an improvement, and if others had not come up to it, they could be improved, and of course were not perfect. If there are any attainments for the human mind which it has not reached, the mind that has not attained to them is not perfect; for the human mind to be perfect, is for it to have attained to all to which it can attain, and if it has not, the person is not perfect. Paul in writing to the Philippians 3:12, says of himself.—"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect". So that Paul did not consider himself perfect, until he had attained that, for which he was apprehended of Christ.
Having now the premises fairly before us, the subject of perfection among saints will be very easy of understanding. When the scriptures speak of men being perfect we see plainly by the quotation taken from Paul, that it means having attained all of which their natures are capable, otherwise they are not perfect.
Let us enquire a little after the capacities of the human mind, and of its capabilities. This is set forth in the bible in a point of light different from all other books, its powers are clearly exhibited, and what it is capable of, is manifested so strikingly as not to be easily misunderstood; but great doubts exist in the minds of some of the truth of what is there said about it.
The history of the former day saints affords us abundance of light on this subject, so that "he that runs may read" and not only read but understand.—The whole bible is one series of accounts in relation to what the human mind is capable of doing when under divine influence, and the great powers which men possess when they are put into action, and how God like they can become when they submit themselves to be guided by the most High.
When I read the Bible I have frequently to stop and ask myself, is human nature capable of such high attainments as those set forth in the scriptures? I am bound to answer in the affirmative, for if they are not, then, the account is not true, for whatever a man has done, it matters not how great, nor how marvelous, it proves that human nature is capable of doing that thing, or else no man would have done it. The very fact of any man having done it, proves that human nature was capable of so doing.
TO BE CONTINUED.