Did John Wesley Ever Claim Christian Perfection?
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):
Lindström: You Must Either Rise or Fall
There 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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The Infrastructure of the Wesleyan Revival
The original Methodist revival was a movement intended to produce “real Christians,” that is, Christians who would actually live out the faith they professed. In my opinion: we are in desperate need of such a thing today.
In the Methodist revival, the means used to achieve this goal were:
- a message of experienced religion & holiness which drew heavily from the Bible,
- large praise and preaching gatherings (the Societies),
- small accountability groups (the classes, bands & select societies),
- works of service and mercy (generally: addressing the needs of the poor or imprisoned).
This was not intended to produce “Church Growth” or some such thing, it was intended to produce Christians who visibly and noticeably loved God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and their neighbors as themselves.
What can be learned by this evangelistic & discipleship strategy for our day? (more…)