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John Wesley: The Whole of Christian Perfection

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

What is then the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, ‘My son, give me thy heart.’ It is he ‘loving the Lord; his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.’ This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself:’ Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. ‘On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets: These contain the whole of Christian perfection.

— John Wesley, Sermon # 76 “On Perfection.

 

Many more John Wesley quotes on the topic of Christian Perfection can be found here: THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN PERFECTION. And here’s a link that will take you to the Table of Contents of John Wesley’s own compilation of his teachings on this topic: A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

 

 

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Did John Wesley Ever Claim Christian Perfection?

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

It is often pointed out that John Wesley never openly claimed for himself the experience of entire sanctification (or Christian Perfection). And, that seems strange since this doctrine was the centerpiece of his theology of the Christian life. Lindström, in his chapter on Christian Perfection says:

The importance of the idea of perfection to Wesley is indicated by his frequent mention of it: in his sermons and other writings, in his journals and letters, and in the hymn books he published with his brother Charles. He never abandoned the general position with regard to Christian perfection which derives from his introduction to practical mysticism in 1725 and was then first expressed; it is a continuous theme in his sermons and books. The year before his death he says of it: “This doctrine is the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly He appeared to have raised us up.”

The point is often made. If this experience is so important — and if people are supposed to testify to what God has done in their life — than why doesn’t Wesley himself ever record in his Journal — or elsewhere — an experience he openly identified as “entire sanctification”? Randy Maddox says in his book Responsible Grace (in footnote 218 to Chapter 7):

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Eradication of the Sin Nature? Huh?

I am about to launch into a rather long post — and one that will not be of interest to everyone. Nevertheless, because of the nature of this site, and because of the issues I commonly address and raise here, I need to post a statement — about a problem often encountered in the literature of the holiness movement. It is common in these writings to encounter the language of eradication: the eradication of “sin” or of “inward sinfulness” or of “inbred sin” or of “the sin nature” or of “the carnal nature” — or similar language. What is to be made of these claims?

internet-wrldI have recently re-affirmed the purposes of this web site, saying: “I intend this as a site that is focused on the Wesleyan teachings about holy living.” I have often expressed my appreciation of the Holiness Movement and (to a lesser extent) the Pentecostal movement for the formative influence they had on shaping the earliest stages of my Christian journey.

I maintain here a growing collection of resources on the holiness movement here — and hope to have more soon. I also maintain two blogs that feature the writings of nneteenth century holiness writers Daniel Steele and Thomas C. Upham. . All of this, I am presenting “as is.” I am seeking make this material accessible, so that people can grapple with these writings on their own — without having them filtered through my own opinions and evaluations of them.

I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I realize that the message of Christian Perfection / Entire Sanctification (the main theme of the Holiness Movement) is almost completely unknown among contemporary United Methodists. Many United Methodist pastors heard of this theme for the first time in their life while attending Seminary. (And, some who did may not have been paying attention that particular day.)

It has been my intention, from the beginning of this site, to raise up this particular part of the Wesleyan tradition — I am not seeking to indoctrinate anyone in anything — I am raising an issue that (I believe) needs re-consideration and re-appropriation. My personal reasons for harping on the Christian Perfection theme of the Wesleyan tradition are given here: Sanctification as a Central Theme.

This naturally raises the question: do I agree with everything in the teachings of the 19th Century Holiness movement? And, the answer is: no, I don’t.
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Spirit Baptism: Wesleyanism & Pentecostalism

Earlier this week I posted: John Wesley and Spiritual Gifts. There I attempted to show that while Wesley was open to both extraordinary spiritual gifts and miracles, he did not insist on them as proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence. So, now let me say something about the distinctive pentecostal and charismatic teaching about Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

pentecostwindow-4360485489There is a relationship between early Methodist teachings and the later development of Pentecostal teaching.  In fact, a direct line can be traced from the teaching of the early Methodists to the teaching of the early Pentecostals. Wesley’s preaching about the Christian life — and what he called Christian Perfection — gave rise to the holiness movement. The holiness movement, in turn, provided the seedbed from which the early Pentecostal movement would arise. Once people’s thinking about Christian experience  begins to go down a particular road, certain directions become inevitable. (more…)

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Lindström: You Must Either Rise or Fall

Lindstrom-bookThere is no perfection ‘which does not admit of a continual increase.’ However far a Christian may advance in sanctification ‘he hath still need to ‘grow in grace’, and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God His Saviour.’ The gradual development, then, still continues. It is conceived primarily as further growth in love on the plane of entire sanctification. The Christian life must either wax or wane. It is impossible for the Christian, even if fully sanctified, to stand still. ‘Yea, and when ye have attained a measure of perfect love, when God has circumcised your hearts, and enabled you to love him with all your heart and with all your soul, think not of resting there. That is impossible. You cannot stand still; you must either rise or fall; rise higher or fall lower. Therefore the voice of God to the children of Israel, to the children of God, is, ‘Go forward’! ‘Forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forward unto those that are before, press on to the mark, for the prize of your high calling of God in Christ Jesus’!’ The Christian, even the fully sanctified Christian, must still face the possibility of being lost. Thus even such a one must still be admonished to give up his attachment to the world.

— Harald Lindström, “Sanctification and the Order of Salvation” Wesley and Sanctification (1949).

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Sanctification as a Central Theme

internet-wrldSince this is actually a blog re-boot,  I thought it would be good to re-iterate my intentions for this web site and this blog — and for my various Internet projects. In other words, I’d like to take a few moments to answer the question: why am I doing this?

There are days when that is quite a serious question. What has kept me at this so long, and what am I trying to accomplish? I maintain not only this blog, but a growing collection of old holiness writings, a blog drawn from the writings of Daniel Steele and a blog drawn from the writings of Thomas C. Upham. So, that’s really quite a lot. And I know a lot of people are on the Internet to convince the world of something — to win people to their point of view, etc. — and my intentions can’t really be described that way. I’m actually not especially interested in convincing any one of anything. My hope is that people will find something here that is interesting, challenging, encouraging, or thought-provoking. And, in another way, my web activities can be seen as my attempt to come to terms with my own past.

The following is my best attempt to explain what I’m doing and why. (more…)

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