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A Criticism of Dr. James Mudge's "Growth in Holiness Toward Perfection"


THE book entitled Growth in Holiness Toward Perfection was written by my friend and brother in the Christian ministry, James Mudge, D.D., for several years past the Secretary of the New England Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He is held in the highest esteem as a very devout and earnest Methodist, in the strict sense, "one who observes method" in his Christian life and work. That he has written this book with the pure desire to elucidate and harmonize our doctrines with themselves, with reason, and with the Scriptures, no one is acquainted with him will deny. But many loyal Methodists are convinced that he is in great error, overturning our doctrinal foundations. When an eminent religious teacher, esteemed by all for the purity of his character, repudiates truths hitherto considered vital to the highest religious attainments, his very eminence in the public regard enables him to eclipse many more minds and obstruct their vision of the truth. It is for this reason that I have reluctantly taken up my pen to do the uncongenial work of criticism. There are excellences in this book. There are helpful suggestions about spiritual growth. The author's Christian experience is interesting. Testimony is always more convincing than theory, as persons are always more attractive than abstractions. It has been very wisely suggested that the author's experience should be read before his argument. It might soften a little the repugnance which arises in pious minds against the assailant of a cherished doctrine. It might possibly have saved one copy of this book from the flames. A very intelligent woman, educated as a Congregationalist, finding herself in a pulmonary decline, death in a few weeks in full view, supposing from the title of this book that it was a devotional, and not a polemical work, began reading it, thinking she would find nutriment to her soul seeking a full preparation for eternity. She desired no partial sanctification up to knowledge, but the assurance of perfect cleansing. Nothing short of this would satisfy her. She wanted such an experience as her Methodist husband professed and beautifully exemplified. She found the teachings of this book so disappointing and distasteful, so inadequate to her emergency, that she turned away from it utterly dissatisfied. Before her triumphant death she requested the burning of the book, lest it might be a stumbling block to her children. This was not an act of one known as a fanatic or an "empyrean professor of holiness," but of a well-balanced, cultivated lady, seeking the highest possibilities of grace for herself and for her family.

The chamber of death is not an infallible test of a religious book, but it is the best test on the earth in the case of a sincere inquirer after the highest possibilities of grace. The last letter to me from that soldier of the Union army who helped General Grant take Vicksburg, and who incited many churches to spiritual victories, Dr. S. A. Keen, that well-poised pastoral evangelist and pentecostal preacher, conveyed his expression of regret on account of the publication of this "misleading book." We have appealed to an English dictionary, because the book is written in the English language. Though it will be read chiefly by preachers, these address their people in English terms which have an established meaning, which no one man can change. It becomes public speakers to use words with their fixed meanings. For the same reason we chose not a theological dictionary, where we might have found some sectarian meaning, but a popular, secular dictionary, acknowledged for three quarters of a century as superior to all others in its definitions. Though Noah Webster was educated under Calvinistic influences, it cannot be proved that that that stern creed warped any of his definitions. His work is a perfect mirror of the" thought of the English-speaking world.

We have not attempted to reply to all the errors of our brother, but have called attention to those which seem to be fundamental.

The reference to the silence of our Articles of Religion, though made by our author in a very incidental manner, I have spoken of at some length, because many readers, especially among the laity, might infer that these Articles are the sole standard of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

By criticising the book, and not its author, we have endeavored to make our critique as void of personalities as possible by avoiding the author's name, and, so far as possible, we have refrained from the use of the argumentum ad hominem.

While earnestly contending for vital truth we have had in our heart love, and love only, toward the writer of the book under criticism, both while writing and publicly delivering portions of this defense of Christian perfection, and in listening to the author's public reply.

Hoping that this little volume will help to conserve a precious truth, I send it forth into the world.

D. S.

MILTON, MASS., March 12, 1896.