Christian perfection, through entire sanctification, by faith, here and now, was one of the doctrines by which John Wesley gave great offence to his clerical brethren in the Anglican church. From the beginning of his work in 1739, till 1760, he was formulating this doctrine. At the last date there suddenly arose a large number of witnesses among his followers. Many of these he questioned with Baconian skill, the result being a confirmation of his theories on various points.
In public address he used the terms “Christian Perfection,” “Perfect Love,” and “Holiness,” as synonymous, though there are differences between them when examined critically. With Paul he taught that all regenerate persons are saints, i.e. holy ones, as the word “saint,” from Latin sanctus, through the Norman-Fr, signifies (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1). His theory is that in the normal Christian the principle of holiness, beginning with the new birth, gradually expands and strengthens as the believer grows in grace and in the knowledge of the truth, till, by a final, all-surrendering act of faith in Christ, it reaches an instantaneous completion through the act of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier: 2 Cor 7:1 “perfecting holiness,” etc.; Eph 4:13, the King James Version “Till we all come …. unto a perfect man,” etc. Thus sanctification is gradual, but entire sanctification is instantaneous (Rom 6:6, “our old man was crucified,” etc., a sudden death; Gal 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live”). In 1 Thess 5:23, the word “sanctify” is a Greek aorist tense, signifying an act and not a process, as also in John 17:19, “that they …. may be sanctified in truth,” or truly. (See Meyer’s note.) Many Christians experience this change on their deathbeds. If death suddenly ends the life of a growing Christian before he is wholly sanctified, the Holy Spirit perfects the work. Wesley’s advice to the preachers of this evangelical perfection was to draw and not to drive, and never to quote any threatenings of God’s word against God’s children. The declaration, “Without sanctification no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14), does not apply to the saints, “the holy ones.”
Wesley’s perfection of love is not perfection of degree, but of kind. Pure love is perfect love. The gradual growth toward perfect purity of love is beautifully expressed in Monod’s hymn,
“O the bitter shame and sorrow!”
The first response to the Saviour’s call is,
“All of self, and none of Thee.”
But after a view of Christ on the cross. the answer is faintly,
“Some of self, and some of Thee.”
Then, after a period of growing love, the cry is,
“Less of self, and more of Thee.”
After another period, the final cry is,
“None of self, and all of Thee!”
an aspiration for pure love, without any selfishness.
The attainment of this grace is certified by the total cessation of all Servile fear (1 John 4:18). Wesley added to this the witness of the Spirit, for which his only proof-text is 1 Cor 2:12.
2. Objections Answered: (1) Paul, in Phil 3:12, declares that he is not “made perfect”: (a) in verse 15, he declares that he is perfect; (b) “made perfect” is a term, borrowed from the ancient games, signifying a finished course. This is one of the meanings of teleioo, as seen also in Luke 13:32 m, “The third day I end my course.” Paul no more disclaims spiritual perfection in these words than does Christ before “the third day.” Paul claims in verse 15, by the use of an adjective, that he is perfect. In verse 12 Paul claims that he is not perfect as a victor, because the race is not ended. In verse 15 he claims that he is perfect as a racer.
(2) Paul says (1 Cor 15:31), “I die daily.” This does not refer to death to sin, as some say that it does, but to his daily danger of being killed for preaching Christ, as in Rom 8:36, “we are killed all the day long.”
(3) 1 John 1:8: “If we say that we have no sin,” etc. (a) If this includes Christians, it contradicts John himself in the very next verse, and in John 3:9, sin,” “Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no and John 8:36, “If …. the Son shall make you free,” etc., and in all those texts in the New Testament declaring sins forgiven.
(b) Bishop Westcott says that the expression, “to have sin,” is distinguished from “to sin,” as the sinful principle is distinguished from the sinful act in itself. It includes the idea of personal guilt. Westcott asserts that John refers to the Gnostics, who taught that moral evil exists only in matter, and never touches spirit, which is always holy; and, therefore, though guilty of all manner of vice, their spirits had no need of atonement, because they were untouched by sin, which existed only in their bodies, as it does in all matter. When told that this made the body of Christ sinful, they denied the reality of His body, saying that it was only a phantom. Hence, in the very first verse of this Epistle, John writes evidently against the gnostic error, quoting three of the five senses to prove the reality of Chrtst’s humanity. (By all means, see “The Epistles of John,” Cambridge Bible for Schools, etc., 17-21.)
3. Required for the Highest Success of the Preacher: The relation of this doctrine to the Methodist Episcopal church in the United States is seen in the following questions, which have been affirmatively answered in public by all its preachers on their admission to the Conferences: “Are you going on to perfection?”; “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?”; “Are you earnestly striving after it?” The hymns of the Wesleys, still universally sung, are filled with this doctrine, in which occur such expressions as:
“Take away our bent to sinning,” ….
“Let us find that second rest,” ….
“Make and keep me pure within,” ….
” ‘Tis done! Thou dost this moment save,
With full salvation bless.” ….
5. Its Glorious Results: To the preaching of Christian perfection Wesley ascribed the success of his work in the conversion, religious training and intellectual education of the masses of Great Britain. It furnished him a multitude of consecrated workers, many of them lay preachers, who labored in nearly every hamlet, and who carried the gospel into all the British colonies, including America. It is declared by secular historians that this great evangelical movement, in which the doctrine of entire sanctification was so prominent, saved England from a disastrous revolution, like that which drenched France with the blood of its royal family and its nobility, in the last decade of the 18 th century. It is certain that the great Christian and humanitarian work of William Booth, originally a Methodist, was inspired by this doctrine which he constantly preached. This enabled his followers in the early years of the Salvation Army to endure the persecutions which befell them at that time.
6. Personal Testimony: On March 6, 1760, Wesley enters in his Journal the following testimony of one Elizabeth Longmore: I felt my soul was all love. I was so stayed on God as I never felt before, and knew that I loved Him with all my heart. …. And the witness that God had saved me from all my sins grew clearer every hour. …. I have never since found my heart wander from God.’ Now this is what I always did, and do now, mean by perfection. And this I believe many have attained, on the same evidence that I believe many are justified.”
We have Wesley’s only recorded testimony to his own justification in these words (May 24, 1738): “I felt my heart strangely warmed …. and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins,” etc.
DANIEL STEELE

(from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft)

My thoughts:
Though, I do not fully agree with everything, this sheds some light on our current theological situation. For ministers who find themselves focusing on results, the nuance of love is lost. Love is the basis and spring of holiness. God’s active grace within the believer produces a passion for love and for holiness. I am especially chewing on point two. What do you think?

God bless

Pastor Jeremy

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