Editor’s Note: This section is especially valuable for two reasons. First, it describes John Wesley’s early progress in the development of the distinctive Wesleyan doctrines. Second, it provides an answer to opponents of these doctrines, primarily by clarification. Repetitious material has been deleted, including Wesley’s summary of his sermon on perfection, since it is included in the preceding chapter of this volume.
My purpose in the following papers is to give a plain account of the steps by which I was led to embrace the doctrine of Christian perfection.
In 1725, at twenty-three years of age, I encountered Bishop Taylor’s Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying. I was very affected, especially by the part that relates to purity of intention. Instantly I resolved to dedicate all of my life to God, all of my thoughts, words, and actions; being convinced that there is no middle ground; but that every part of my life must be either a sacrifice to God, or to myself, which is, in effect, to the devil. Can any serious person doubt this, or find a middle ground between serving God and serving the devil?
In 1726, I read Kempis’s Christian’s Pattern. The nature and extent of inward religion, the religion of the heart, now appeared to me in a stronger light than ever before. I saw that giving all of my life to God (assuming it was possible to do this), and going no farther would be of no benefit to me, unless I gave my whole heart to Him as well. I saw that “simplicity of intention, and purity of affection,” one design in all we say or do, and one desire ruling all our tempers, are indeed “the wings of the soul,” without which it can never ascend to the mountain of God.
A year or two later, William Law’s Christian Perfection and Serious Call were put into my hands. These convinced me, more than ever, of the absolute impossibility of being half-Christian; and I determined, through His grace (the absolute necessity of which I was deeply conscious of), to be completely devoted to God, to give Him all my soul, my body, and my possessions. Will any thinking man say that this is carrying the matter too far, or that He who has given himself for us deserves anything less than ourselves, all we have, and all we are?
In 1729, I began to study the Bible as the only standard of truth and the only model of pure religion. There I saw the necessity of having “the mind which was in Christ,” and of “walking as Christ also walked;” of having not only a part, but all of the mind which was in Him; and of walking as He walked, not only in many or in most aspects, but in all things. And this was the view that I had of religion, that it is a complete following of Christ, an entire inward and outward conformity to our Master. I was afraid of nothing more than adjusting this rule to fit my experience or the experiences of other men, to allow myself the least inconformity to our great Example.
Summary of Sermon on Circumcision of the Heart
On January 1, 1733, I preached before the University in St. Mary’s church, on “the circumcision of the heart,” which I described in these words: “It is that habitual attitude of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is called holiness; and which directly implies being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit;’ and, as a result, being given those virtues which were in Christ Jesus, being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.'” In this sermon I observed, “Love is the fulfilling of the law, the purpose of the commandment.” It is not only “the first and great” command, but all the commandments in one. “Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise,” they are all contained in this one word, love. In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness. The royal law of heaven and earth is this, “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” The one perfect good will be your one ultimate goal.
“One thing you will desire for its own sake, — the fullness of Him who is all in all. One happiness you will propose to your souls, even a union with Him that made them, the ‘fellowship with the Father and the Son,’ being ‘joined to the Lord in one spirit.’ One plan you are to pursue: the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things only as far as they tend toward this; love the creature only as it leads to the Creator. Let every affection, and thought, and word, and action, be subject to this. Whatever you desire or fear, whatever you seek or avoid, whatever you think, speak, or do, let it be toward your happiness in God, the only end, as well as source, of your being.”
I concluded with these words: “Here is the sum of the perfect law, the circumcision of the heart. Let the spirit return to God that gave it, with the whole spectrum of its affections. He does not desire other sacrifices from us, but He has chosen the living sacrifice of the heart. Let it be continually offered up to God through Christ, in flames of holy love. Let no creature be allowed to compete with Him; for He is a jealous God. He will not share His throne with another; He will reign without a rival. Let no intention or desire be accepted there, except that which has Him for its ultimate object.”
And what is here that any man of understanding, who believes the Bible, can object to? What can he deny without flatly contradicting the Scripture?
Summary of Preface to a Volume of Hymns
In 1742, we published a volume of hymns. The preface included the following statements:
Perhaps the prejudice against Christian perfection arises mainly from a misunderstanding of it.
First, we insist there is no perfection in this life that implies any exemption from keeping all the ordinances of God, or from doing good to all men while we have time, though “especially unto the household of faith.” We believe that not only the babes in Christ, but also those also who are “grown up into perfect men,” must, as often as they have opportunity, eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of Him, and search the Scriptures. They must, by fasting and moderation, “keep their bodies under, and bring them into subjection;” and, above all, pour out their souls in prayer, both privately, and in the congregation.
Second, we believe that there is no perfection in this life that implies an entire deliverance from ignorance, or error in things not essential to salvation, or from various temptations, or from countless infirmities.
But whom then do you mean by “one that is perfect?” We mean one who has “the mind which was in Christ,” and who “walketh as Christ also walked;” a man “that hath clean hands and a pure heart,” or that is “cleansed from all filthiness of flesh and spirit;” one who “does not commit sin.” We mean one whom God has “sanctified throughout in body, soul, and spirit;” one who “walketh in the light as He is in the light, in whom is no darkness at all; the blood of Jesus Christ His Son having cleansed him from all sin.”
This man can now testify to all mankind, “I am crucified with Christ: Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” He is holy as God who called him is holy, both in heart and “in all manner of conversation.” He “loveth the Lord his God with all his heart,” and serves Him “with all his strength.” He “loveth his neighbor as himself;” even those who “despitefully use him and persecute him.” His soul is filled with love, and his life is consistent with love, full of “the work of faith, the patience of hope, the labor of love.” “And whatever” he “doeth either in word or deed,” he “doeth it all in the name,” in the love and power, “of the Lord Jesus.” In summary, he does “the will of God on earth, as it is done in heaven.”
This is to be a perfect man, to be “sanctified throughout;” even “to have a heart so all-flaming with the love of God” (to use Archbishop Usher’s words), “as to continually offer up every thought, word, and work, as a spiritual sacrifice, acceptable to God through Christ.” In every thought of our hearts, in every word of our tongues, in every work of our hands, to “show forth His praise, who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” O that we, together with all who sincerely seek the Lord Jesus, may “be made perfect in one!” It is to have “the mind which was in Christ,” and to “walk as He walked;” to be inwardly and outwardly devoted to God; completely devoted in heart and life.
Doctrines Expressed at Preachers’ Conferences 1744-47
We seriously considered the doctrine of sanctification, or perfection. The questions asked concerning it and the substance of the answers given were as follows:
QUESTION. What does it mean to be sanctified?
ANSWER. To be renewed in the image of God, “in righteousness and true holiness.”
Q. What is implied in being a perfect Christian?
A. Loving God with all our heart, and mind, and soul (Deut. 6:5).
Q. Does this imply that all inward sin is taken away?
A. Undoubtedly; how else can we be said to be “saved” from all “our uncleannesses” (Ezek. 36:29)?
Q. When does inward sanctification begin?
A. The moment a man is justified. From that time a believer gradually dies to sin, and grows in grace. But sin still remains in him, even the seed of all sin, until he is thoroughly sanctified.
Q. How should we preach sanctification?
A. Hardly at all to those who are not pressing forward. To those who are, always by way of God’s promises; always attracting, rather than driving.
Q. Which of our doctrines are accepted by our brothers who differ from us regarding entire sanctification?
A. They agree, (1.) That everyone must be entirely sanctified at the time of death. (2.) That until then a believer grows daily in grace, coming nearer and nearer to perfection. (3.) That we ought to be continually pressing toward it, and urging all others to do so as well.
Q. Which of their doctrines do we accept?
A. We agree, (1.) That many of those who have died in the faith were not perfected in love until shortly before their death. (2.) That St. Paul continually applies the term sanctified to all that were justified. (3.) That by this term alone, he rarely, if ever, means “saved from all sin.” (4.) That, consequently, it is not proper to use it in that sense, without adding the word wholly, entirely, or one similar. (5.) That the inspired writers almost continually speak of or to those who were justified, but very rarely of or to those who were wholly sanctified [that is, to those alone, excluding all others; but they speak to them, along with others, almost continually]. (6.) That, consequently, we should speak almost continually of justification; but more rarely [though in some places very frequently, strongly, and explicitly], of entire sanctification.
Q. What then is the point where our views diverge?
A. It is this: should we expect to be saved from all sin before the time of death?
Q. Is there any clear promise in Scripture that God will save us from all sin?
A. There is: “He shall redeem Israel from all his sins” (Psalm 130:8). This is expressed in greater detail in the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you: I will also save you from all your uncleannesses” (Ezek. 36:25, 29). No promise can be more clear. And the Apostle plainly refers to this in that exhortation: “Having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). Equally clear is that ancient promise: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut. 30:6).
Q. But is there any statement like this in the New Testament?
A. There is. 1 John 3:8 reads: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” This verse says the works of the devil, without any limitation or restriction; and all sin is the work of the devil. Parallel to it is the statement of St. Paul: “Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it . . . that He might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). To the same effect is his statement in Romans 8: 3, 4: “God sent His Son, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Q. Does the New Testament give us any further reason to expect salvation from all sin?
A. Undoubtedly it does both in prayers and commands, which are the same as the strongest statements.
Q. What prayers do you mean?
A. Prayers for entire sanctification; which, if there were no such thing, would be a mockery of God. Specifically they are, (1.) “Deliver us from evil.” Now, when this is done, when we are delivered from all evil, there can be no sin remaining. (2.) “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:20-23). (3.) “I bow my knees unto the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He would grant you…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14, etc.). (4.) “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly. And I pray God, your whole spirit, soul, and body, may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
Q. What command is there to the same effect?
A. (1.) “Be ye perfect, as your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). (2.) “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 12:37). And if the love of God fills the heart, there can be no sin there.
Q. But how is this to be done before the time of death?
A. (1.) From the very nature of a command, which is not given to the dead, but to the living. Therefore, “Thou shalt love God with all thy heart,” cannot mean, “You will do this when you die; but not while you live.” (2.) From clear texts of Scripture: “The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men; teaching us that, having renounced ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11-14). “He hath raised up an horn of salvation for us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers; the oath which He sware to our father Abraham, that He would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, should serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life” (Luke 1:69, etc.).
Q. Is there any example in Scripture of persons who attained this?
A. Yes; St. John, and all those of whom he says, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because, as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).
Q. Are we able to continue in the joy of faith we receive at justification until we are perfected in love?
A. Why not? Holy grief at our need to be perfected does not quench this joy; since even while we deeply partake of the sufferings of Christ, we may rejoice with unspeakable joy.
(1.) Christian perfection is that love for God and for our neighbor which implies deliverance from all sin.
(2.) This is received only by faith.
(3.) It is given instantaneously, in one moment.
(4.) We are to expect it, not at death, but at every moment; for now is the accepted time, now is the day of this salvation.
From the Bristol Conference in 1758
(1.) Everyone is capable of making mistakes as long as he lives. (2.) A mistake in opinion may cause a mistake in practice. (3.) Every such mistake is a transgression of the perfect law. Therefore, (4.) Every such mistake, if it were not for the blood of atonement, would cause eternal damnation. (5.) Therefore, the most perfect Christians still have a continual need for the merits of Christ, even for their actual sins, and may say, “Forgive us our trespasses.” This easily explains why some, who are not offended when we speak of the highest degree of love, still do not accept the possibility of living without sin. The reason is that they know all men are prone to errors in practice as well as in judgment. But they do not observe that this is not sin, even if love is the sole principle of action.
Q. But if they live without sin, does this not end their need for Christ, at least in His priestly office?
A. Far from it. None so entirely depend on Christ as these do. For Christ does not give life to the soul apart from himself. Therefore, His words are true of all men, whatever state of grace they are in: “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in Me: Without Me you can do nothing.” In every state we need Christ in the following ways: (1.) Whatever grace we receive, it is a free gift from Him. (2.) We receive it as a purchase, for which He paid the price. (3.) We have this grace, not only from Christ, but in Him. For our perfection is not like that of a tree, which is nourished by the sap from its own root, but rather like that of a branch which, united to the vine, bears fruit; but, when severed from it, withers. (4.) All our blessings, earthly, spiritual, and eternal, depend on His intercession for us, which is one part of His priestly office, which, therefore, we always need. (5.) The best of men still need Christ in His priestly office, to atone for their omissions, their shortcomings, their mistakes in judgment and practice, and their defects of various kinds. For these are all deviations from the perfect law, and require an atonement. However, we infer from the words of St. Paul that they are not properly sins: “He that loveth, hath fulfilled the law; for love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Now mistakes, and whatever infirmities flow from our corruptible bodies, are not in any way contrary to love; nor are they therefore, in the scriptural sense, sin.
To explain this further, not only that which is properly called sin (that is, a voluntary transgression of a known law), but that which is improperly called such, (that is, an involuntary transgression of a divine law, known or unknown) needs the atoning blood. I believe there is no perfection in this life that excludes these involuntary transgressions which naturally result from the ignorance and mistakes inseparable from the human condition. A person filled with the love of God is still prone to these involuntary transgressions. You may call such transgressions sins, if you please. I do not, for the reasons I have given.
Q. What advice would you give to those that do, and those that do not, call mistakes sin?
A. Let those that do not call them sins never think that they are in such a state that they can stand before God’s infinite justice without a Mediator. Let those who do call them so beware how they confuse these defects with sins, properly named. But how will they avoid it? How will these be distinguished from those, if they are all generally called sins? I am afraid that if we say that any so-called sins are consistent with perfection, few would limit the idea to those defects of which the statement could be true.
Q. How will we avoid setting the standard of perfection too high or too low?
A. By keeping to the Bible, and setting it just as high as the Scripture does. It is nothing higher and nothing lower than this: our pure love for God and man; loving God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves. It is love governing the heart and life, penetrating all our tempers, words, and actions.
Q. How can we know for certain that a person is saved from all sin?
A. We cannot infallibly know that one is saved in this way (nor even that one is justified) unless it pleases God to give us discernment. But we consider these to be sufficient proofs for any reasonable man, which leave little room to doubt either the truth or depth of the work: (1.) If we had clear evidence of his exemplary behavior for some time before this supposed change. This would give us reason to believe that he would not lie, but speak purely as he felt; (2.) If he gave a detailed report of the time and manner in which the change was worked, with speech that could not be reproved; and, (3.) If it appeared that all his words and actions which followed were holy and blameless. To state it briefly: (1.) I have sufficient reason to believe that this person will not lie; (2.) He testifies, “I feel no sin, but only love; I pray, rejoice, and give thanks without ceasing; and I have just as clear an inward witness that I am fully renewed, as that I am justified.” If I have no reason to oppose this clear testimony, I ought to believe it.
It accomplishes nothing to object, “But I know several things in which he is mistaken.” For it has been agreed that all who are in the body are prone to make mistakes; and that a mistake in judgment may cause a mistake in practice. For example, even one that is perfected in love may think that another person is more or less faulty than he really is. Therefore, he may speak to him with more or less severity than the truth would require. But this is no proof that the person speaking is not perfect.
Q. But can anyone who has a pure heart prefer pleasing food to unpleasing food, or enjoy anything that is not strictly necessary? If so, how do they differ from others?
A. The difference between these and others in taking pleasant food is, (1.) They need none of these things to make them happy, for they have a source of happiness within themselves. They see and love God. They rejoice forever in this, and in everything give thanks. (2.) They may use these things, but they do not seek and value them. (3.) They use them sparingly, and not for the sake of the thing itself. Having said this, we continue. Such a person may use pleasing food, without the danger which threatens those who are not saved from sin. He may prefer it to unpleasing, though equally wholesome, food, as a means of increasing his thankfulness, with a single eye toward God who gives us all things to enjoy. By the same principle, he may smell a flower, or eat a bunch of grapes, or take any other pleasure which does not lessen but increase his delight in God. Therefore, neither can we say that one perfected in love would be incapable of marriage or of worldly business. If he were called to it, he would be more capable than ever; being able to do everything without pressure or anxiety, without any spiritual distraction.
Q. When may a person consider himself to have attained this?
A. When, after having been fully convinced of his inherent sinfulness, by a deeper and clearer conviction than he experienced before justification, and after having experienced a gradual killing of it, he experiences a total death to sin, and an entire renewal in the love and image of God, rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks. The mere feeling that one has only love and no sin is not a sufficient proof. Several have experienced this for a time before their souls were fully renewed. A person therefore ought not to believe that the work is done in his heart until there is added the testimony of the Spirit, witnessing his entire sanctification as clearly as his justification.
Q. But why do some imagine they are sanctified in this way, when in reality they are not?
A. It is because they do not judge by all the marks we have discussed, but either by part of them, or by others that are unclear. But I know of no instance of a person being deceived while he was attentive to them all. I believe there can be none in the world. If a man is deeply and fully convinced of his inherent sinfulness after justification; if he then experiences a gradual death of sin, and afterwards an entire renewal in the image of God; and if a clear, direct witness of this renewal is added to this change; I consider it impossible that this man should be deceived. And if one I know to be a man of truthfulness testifies of these things, I should not reject his testimony without sufficient reason.
Q. Is this death to sin and renewal in love gradual or instantaneous?
A. A man may be dying for some time; but he does not die until the instant his soul is separated from his body. In that instant, he lives the life of eternity. Likewise, he may be dying to sin for some time; but he is still not dead to sin until sin is separated from his soul; and in that instant he lives the full life of love. And, as could be said about physical death, the change accomplished when the soul dies to sin is of a different kind, infinitely greater than any before, and greater than anyone can imagine until he experiences it. And yet he still grows in grace, in the knowledge of Christ, and in the love and image of God; and will continue to do so, not only until death, but for all eternity.
Q. How are we to wait for this change?
A. Not in careless indifference, or lazy inactivity; but in vigorous, complete obedience, in zealously keeping of all the commandments, in watchfulness, in denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily; as well as in earnest prayer and fasting and obedience to all the ordinances of God. If any man dreams of attaining it in any other way (or of keeping it once it is attained), he deceives himself. It is true that we receive it by simple faith. But God will not give that faith unless we look for it diligently, in the way that He has ordained. This consideration may satisfy those who ask why so few have received the blessing. Ask how many are looking for it in this way, and you have a sufficient answer. Prayer is especially lacking. Who continues in it? Who wrestles with God for this very thing? So, “you have not, because you ask not; or because you ask amiss,” asking only that you may be renewed before you die. Will that make you content? Ask for it to be done today. Do not call this setting a time for God to act. Today is His time as well as tomorrow.
Q. But may we continue in peace and joy until we are perfected in love?
A. Certainly, for the kingdom of God is not divided against itself; therefore, do not let believers become discouraged from “rejoicing in the Lord always.” And yet we may suffer from the sinful nature that remains in us. It is good for us to have a piercing sense of this, and the strongest desire to be delivered from it. But this should only motivate us all the more zealously to run to our strong Helper, all the more earnestly to “press forward to the mark, the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.” And when the sense of our sin abounds, the sense of His love should abound even more.
Q. How should we treat those who think they have attained perfection?
A. Examine them honestly, and urge them to pray that God would show them what is in their hearts. The most earnest exhortations to abound in grace and the strongest warnings to avoid all evil are given throughout the New Testament to those who are in the highest state of grace. But this should be done with the greatest tenderness; and without any harshness, sternness, or sourness. We should carefully avoid every appearance of anger, unkindness, or contempt. Leave it to Satan to tempt in this way, and to his children to cry out, “Let us test him with torture, so that we may know his meekness and prove his patience.” If they are faithful to the grace given, they are in no danger of perishing by erring in this, even if they remain in that error until their spirit returns to God.
Q. But what harm can it do to deal harshly with them?
A. Either they are mistaken, or they are not. If they are, harshness may destroy their souls. This is not impossible, nor improbable. It may anger or discourage them to the point that they sink and rise no more. If they are not mistaken, it may grieve those whom God has not grieved, and do much harm to our own souls. For he that touches them, touches, as it were, the apple of God’s eye. If they are full of His Spirit, to behave unkindly or contemptuously toward them is doing so also to the Spirit of grace. We also increase in ourselves evil thoughts and many wrong tempers. To specify one, what self-sufficiency this is, to set ourselves up as judges in these deep things of God! Are we qualified for this office? Can we determine, in all cases, how far infirmity reaches? Do we know what may or may not be consistent with perfect love in all circumstances? Can we precisely determine how it will influence the look, the gesture, or the tone of voice?
Q. But is it not a good thing to expose those who think they have attained perfection when they have not?
A. It is best to do it through mild, loving examination. But it is not good to triumph even over these. It is extremely wrong, if we find such a case, to rejoice as if we had gained something by conquest. Should we not rather grieve, be deeply concerned, and weep? Here is one who seemed to be a living proof of God’s power to save completely; but, sadly, it is not as we hoped. Is this a matter of joy? Should we not rejoice a thousand times more, if we can find nothing but pure love? If he is deceived, it is a harmless mistake, while he feels nothing but love in his heart. It is a mistake which usually indicates great grace, a high degree both of holiness and happiness. This should be a matter of real joy; not the mistake itself, but the height of grace which causes it for a time. I rejoice that this soul is always happy in Christ, always full of prayer and thanksgiving. I rejoice that he feels no unholy temper, but the pure love of God continually. And I will rejoice if sin is suspended in him until it is totally destroyed.
Q. Is there no danger then when a man is deceived in this way?
A. Not at the time that he feels no sin. There was danger before, and there will be again when he comes into fresh trials. But so long as he feels nothing but love giving life to all his thoughts, words, and actions, he is in no danger; he is not only happy, but safe, and, for God’s sake, let him continue in that love as long as he can. Meantime, you will do well to warn him of the danger that will be if his love grows cold and sin revives; that is, the danger of losing hope, and thinking that because he has not yet attained perfection, he never will.
Q. But what if no one has attained it yet? What if all who think so are deceived?
A. Convince me of this, and I will preach it no longer. But understand me correctly: I do not build any doctrine on this person or that person. Any particular man could be deceived, and I would not waver. But, if there are none made perfect yet, then God has not sent me to preach perfection. Put another way, for many years I have preached, “There is a peace of God which passes all understanding.” If you can convince me that in all these years none have attained this peace; that there is no living witness of it today; I will no longer preach it. You may object, “But several persons have died in that peace.” Perhaps so, but I need living witnesses. Of course I cannot be perfectly certain that this person or that person is a reliable witness; but if I knew there were no witnesses, I would have to give up this doctrine.
Q. But why does it matter whether any have attained it or not, since so many scriptures testify to it?
A. If I were convinced that none in England had attained what has been so clearly and strongly preached by so many preachers, in so many places, and for so long a time, I would be clearly convinced that we had all mistaken the meaning of those scriptures; and that in the future, I too must teach that sin will remain until death.
Questions to Opponents of Perfection
Questions humbly proposed to those who deny perfection to be attainable in this life:
- Has God anywhere in Scripture commanded us more than He has promised to us?
- Are the promises of God concerning holiness to be fulfilled in this life, or only in the next?
- Is a Christian under any laws other than those which God promises to “write in our hearts?” (Jer. 31:31, etc.; Heb. 8:10).
- In what sense is “the righteousness of the law fulfilled in those who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit?” (Rom. 8:4).
- Is it impossible for anyone in this life to “love God with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength?” And is the Christian under any law which is not fulfilled in this love?
- Does the soul’s going out of the body purify it from indwelling sin?
- If so, is it not something other than “the blood of Christ which cleanseth” it “from all sin?”
- If His blood cleanses us from all sin while the soul and body are united, is it not in this life?
- If it is not until death, is it not in the next life? And is this not too late?
- In the moment of death; what situation is the soul in, when it is neither in the body nor out of it?
- Has Christ ever taught us to pray for what He never intends to give?
- Has He not taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven?” Is it not done perfectly in heaven?
- If so, has He not taught us to pray for perfection on earth? Then does He not intend to give it?
- Did St. Paul pray according to the will of God when he prayed that the Thessalonians might be “sanctified wholly, and preserved” (in this world, not the next, unless he was praying for the dead) “blameless in body, soul, and spirit, unto the coming of Jesus Christ?”
- Do you sincerely desire to be free from indwelling sin in this life?
- If you do, did God not give you that desire?
- If so, did He give it to you in order to mock you, since it is impossible for it ever to be fulfilled?
- If you do not have enough sincerity to desire it, are you not concerned about matters too high for you?
- Do you ever ask God to cleanse the thoughts of your heart, that you may love Him perfectly?
- If you neither desire what you ask, nor believe it can be attained, do you not pray as a fool prays?
May God help you consider these questions calmly and impartially!
This excerpt by John Wesley, edited for conciseness and readability, was originally published in A Timeless Faith: John Wesley for the 21st Century, edited by Stephen Gibson.