Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
Here is an attainable perfection, for it comes to us as a promise as well as a command.
But what is it?
IT CANNOT BE THE ABSOLUTE PERFECTION OF GOD.
1. There is an infinite difference between God and man in their being.
(1) Man is originated. He had a beginning. His immortality had a starting-point. God’s eternity had none.
(2) Man lives a moment at a time. His immortality is an interminable succession of points. God lives an eternity at a time. “His being no succession knows.”
2. There is an infinite difference in their presence.
(1) The presence of man is limited. He occupies a few cubic feet of space. The presence of God is universal.
(2) The presence of man is localized. If he would be elsewhere he must vacate his present place. God is perfectly present everywhere. When we say he is in heaven, we mean that he is there in every perfection of his nature. When we say he is here, we mean precisely the same. So in respect to every conceivable point in immensity. In the infinitude of these conceivable points he is simultaneously perfectly present.
3. There is an infinite difference in their power.
(1) The power of man is limited. Circumscribed by the laws of God in nature. Circumscribed by the force of conflicting wills. The power of God is an irresistible will.
(2) The power of man is formative. He can mold, he can combine, and he can disjoin. He cannot create. He cannot destroy, God can create. He can reverse the act of creation.
4. There is an infinite difference in their holiness.
(1) The holiness of God is necessary. It is simply the natural harmony of all his perfections. This harmony is the standard of holiness. Man has no natural holiness. His sinfulness is the discord of perverted attributes. His holiness is of grace, derived, dependent.
(2) So might we proceed with all the attributes of God and man, so far as the former are made known to us, and the conclusion must be evermore that for man to become absolutely perfect as God is quite out of the question.
IF THE PERFECTION BE NOT ABSOLUTE, THEN IT MUST BE RELATIVE.
As God is perfect in his relations to us, so must we be perfect in our corresponding relations to him.
1. Our Father is perfect in his relation to us as Creator.
(1) How admirably are we fenced with bones, arranged as levers, curiously fitted into sockets and hinges! How surprising is our muscular structure, our nervous system, our organs of sense! How noble are our intellectual endowments! How wonderful are our affections, appetites, and passions!
(2) As creatures do we render fully to God the homage of these powers? Has he our undivided hearts? Has he the best services of our brains? Has he the vigor of our nerve and muscle?
2. Our Father is perfect in his relation to its as King.
(1) His providence in nature is beneficent. “His sun,” “his rain.” All creatures are his. “He maketh his sun to shine;” “He sendeth his rain.” The forces of nature act under his control. His Word lets us into the secrets of his providence.
(2) As subjects are we correspondingly perfect in relation to him? Do we see him as the First Cause, ever active behind all second causes? Do we never neglect to seek him in the revelations of his Word? Do we loyally serve him in the conduct of our lives?
3. Our Father is perfect in his relation to us as Saviour.
(1) He pitied us in our fall. “He maketh his sun to shine on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.“ He stooped to lift us up. He comforts us with his favour. He cheers us with hopes of heaven.
(2) Have we repented of our sin? Accepted his mercy? Are we full of gratitude? Full of loving-kindness to our fellows? Full of the spirit of sacrifice?
THE PERFECTION ENJOINED IS CHRISTIAN.
1. This is set forth in the term “your ” father
(1) Sehlom, in the Old Testament, do we find God spoken of under this endearing title. It is his most constant title in the New.
(2) There is a reason of fitness in this. The spirit of the Law was not that of a son, but of a servant. It was “the spirit of bondage to fear.” The Law was given amid the roar of flame, the hissing of storms, the rattle and crash of thunder, the clang of the trumpet, and the shaking of the very earth.
(3) The gospel changes all this (see Galatians 4:1-7).
2. The standard of Christian perfection is higher.
(1) Superior relations bring loftier claims. Hence the gospel law is broader and deeper, more comprehensive, more spiritual.
(2) It shows:
(a) Murder in the heart and lip (Matthew 5:21-26).
(b) Adultery in the heart and eye (Matthew 5:27-32). Profanity in Pharisaic sophisms (Matthew 5:33-37).
(c) Revenge in resistance (Matthew 5:38-42).
(d) Heathenism in conventional Judaism (text).
3. Love is the badge of Christian discipleship.
(1) Discipleships in general have their distinguishing marks. Hindu spots and strings. Monkish tonsure. Opinions.
(2) So the Christian (see John 13:34, 35). The end of the commandment is love. Love is the means to the end.
(3) But in what sense is this commandment (John 13:34, 35) new? It is not new in principle, for nature teaches it. It is distinctly taught in the Mosaic Law (see Matthew 19:18). It is new in its measure. Moses says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus says we are to love our brother better than ourselves. So he loved us (cf. Philippians 2:17; Colossians 1:24; 1 John 3:16).