John Humphrey Noyes And His “Bible Communists” -- By: Benjamin B. Warfield

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 078:309 (Jan 1921)
Article: John Humphrey Noyes And His “Bible Communists”
Author: Benjamin B. Warfield


John Humphrey Noyes And His “Bible Communists”

Benjamin B. Warfield

I. The Environment

Few things are more noticeable, among the advocates of perfectionism from the opening of the second third of the nineteenth century, than their extreme reluctance to accept the name of “Perfectionists.” Many things may no doubt have cooperated to produce this attitude. Its main occasion lay, however, in the association of the name with a particular body of perfectionists, then claiming the attention of the public, with which other perfectionists were very loath to be confused. How anxious they were not to be confused with this body may be measured by the vigor of the language in which, themselves perfectionists, they repudiate all connection with “Perfectionists.” Asa Mahan, for example, writing at the beginning of this period,1 in temperately declares that the doctrine he teaches “has absolutely nothing in common “with “Perfectionism,” “but a few terms drawn from the Bible.” In order to distinguish his doctrine from “Perfectionism,” however, he requires to describe the rejected doctrine as “Perfectionism technically so called,” a mode of speech which already suggests that perfectionism, plainly understood, is — as it really is — common ground between the two. Possibly to atone for this necessary confession of general kinship, he sweepingly declares that “Perfectionism technically so called,” is, in his judgment, “in the nature and necessary tendencies of its principles, worse than the worst form of infidelity.” To William E. Boardman, writing twenty years later,2 the danger of confusion with this “Perfectionism “seems less imminent, and he is therefore able to speak of it with less passion. He is not the less determined, however, to separate himself decisively from it.

This, it must be confessed, he does not accomplish, in every respect, without some apparent difficulty — describing its fundamental mystical doctrine of the indwelling Christ in terms which would not serve badly to describe the doctrine to which he himself ultimately came. It is, in point of fact, not the perfectionism of the rejected “Perfectionism” which offends him, any more than Mahan, but its antinomianism. And his real concern is to protest that not all perfectionism, — not his own variety, for example, — is chargeable with the antinomianism which men had been led to associate with the name through experience with the body of religionists who had arrogated to themselves, and had had accorded to them by common usage, the specific name of “Perfectionists.” How firmly this special body of perfectio...

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