"You shall be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)
However unlikely or impossible it is that we shall ever meet a perfect human being on this earth, if we were to actually meet one, we would see, that instead of being a monster, that person would be of all people, the most entirely natural, the most truly human.
It is no objection to this, that when we see one yielding to a burst of inordinate passion, or carried away by excessive love of fame, or money, or pleasure, we are likely to say, “See, there's human nature. Poor, pathetic human nature!”
And perhaps in the most common sense; for the propensities in question are human propensities, and in its existing and disproportionate state of development it is natural that a person should give way to it.
But it's a poor development of our human nature which makes the stingy person stingy or the hedonist a seeker of pleasure, but not a natural development of our nature; and this is a distinction which a discriminating thinker will be careful to observe. For there is a natural development of our nature, and an unnatural development of our nature.
The stingy person and the hedonist become what they are because of an unnatural, one-sided, distorted development of human nature.
If human nature was developed naturally, that is to say, according to its just and intended order and proportions, there would be no stingy people or hedonists - they are the monsters, by their own acts.
But if a perfect person would be so natural in all their ways, if human perfection would be nothing but a full and perfect development of human nature in its just and natural order and proportions, how happens it, some may ask, that we never meet with some of these paragons,. Every person's character will be, and must be, and is, mixed.
John Wesley defined human perfection as being “such a degree of the love of God and the love of man, such a degree of the love of justice, truth, holiness, and purity, as will remove from the heart every contrary disposition towards God or man; and that should be our state of mind in every situation, in every circumstance of life.”
There is nothing to hinder us from maintaining, as the Scriptures do, the doctrine of human perfectibility. Perfectibility, as here used, differs from perfection in this, - that a person may be pronounced perfectible though he never attains to perfection in fact, provided only that there is nothing in his nature itself to exclude the possibility of perfection, and nothing in a person's circumstances to exclude the possibility of continually going on towards perfection.
There are no arbitrary or determinate bounds set to any person's progress in this life, whatever may be their condition and circumstances.
Even while struggling with the difficulty in question, and before we have succeeded in mastering it, if we struggle in a true spirit, we are continually growing wiser and better and stronger in ourselves through the new demand thus made on our energies, and the new exercise to which our faculties are being put. No limit is fixed or can be fixed to any person’s progress.
There is nothing too high for us to aim at, and nothing too good or too great to become the object of our aspirations.
This is all which I understand the Scriptures to mean, where they enjoin it upon us to be perfect, to go on unto perfection, and to become perfect human beings in Jesus.
So far, then, and only so far, can the Christian doctrine of human perfectibility be fairly urged. We are not only made capable of progress, but, with the aids which the Gospel supplies, of unlimited progress.
(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Walker)