Editor’s Note: This section is a compilation of two sermons entitled “Christian Perfection” and “On Perfection.” Since the second represents a logical continuation of the same theme, it has simply been attached to the first. Repetitions and unnecessary paragraphs have been deleted. Two paragraphs have been moved, and this change is noted in the text. This essay is preceded by two paragraphs from Wesley’s article, “Brief Thoughts on Christian Perfection.”
By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love for God and for our neighbor, ruling our tempers, words, and actions. I do not imply that it is impossible to fall from it, either partially or completely.
As to the means, I believe this perfection is always worked in the soul by a simple act of faith; therefore, in an instant. But I believe in a gradual work, both preceding and following that instant.
“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” (Philippians 3:12)
Controversy over the Term Perfection
There is hardly any expression in Scripture that has given more offense than the word perfect. Therefore, some advise us to stop using those expressions entirely. But are they not found in the oracles of God? If so, by what authority could any messenger of God set them aside, even if all men were offended by them?
We cannot discard these expressions, since they are the words of God and not of man. But we ought to explain them so that those who are sincere may not miss the mark of the prize of their high calling. And this is even more necessary because, in the verse that was quoted, the Apostle speaks of himself as not perfect. Yet, in the fifteenth verse, he speaks of himself, along with others, as perfect: “Let us,” he says, “as many as be perfect, be thus minded.”
The Sense in Which Christians Are Not Perfect
First, from experience and Scripture it appears that Christians are not perfect in knowledge. They are not so perfect as to be free from ignorance. They do know the general truths that God has revealed. They know, likewise (which the natural man does not understand, for these things are spiritually discerned), “what manner of love” it is, wherewith “the Father” has loved them, “that they should be called the sons of God.” They know the mighty working of His Spirit in their hearts; and the wisdom of His providence which directs all their paths, and causes all things to work together for their good. Yes, they know what the Lord requires of them, and how to keep a clear conscience toward both God and man.
But there are countless things which they do not know. Concerning God himself, they cannot search Him out perfectly. I will not say that they cannot understand how “there are Three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these Three are One;” or how the eternal Son of God “took upon himself the form of a servant;” but they cannot fully understand even one attribute of the divine nature. Neither do they know the times and seasons when God will work His great works upon the earth; even those He has partly revealed by His servants and prophets.
Second, they are not free from mistake, which is almost unavoidable, since those who “know but in part” are always liable to err concerning the things which they do not know. It is true that the children of God are not mistaken in things essential to salvation. But in unessential things they err frequently. The best and wisest of men are often mistaken even about facts. Even if they are not mistaken as to the fact itself, they may be about its circumstances. Therefore, they may believe some actions which were or are evil, to be good; and such as were or are good, to be evil. Also they may judge the characters of men inaccurately; not only by supposing good men to be better than they are, or wicked men to be worse than they are, but by believing certain wicked men to be good, or certain good men to be wicked.
Even regarding the Holy Scriptures themselves, the best of men are prone to be mistaken, especially in those parts that relate less directly to practice. Therefore, even the children of God are not agreed on the interpretation of many passages of Scripture. Their difference of opinion is not proof that they are not the children of God; but it is proof that we are no more infallible than we are omniscient.
Third, Christians are not free from infirmities. Let us understand this word properly. Let us not give that title to known sins, as some do. As one man tells us, “Every man has his infirmity, and mine is drunkenness.” It is obvious that all you who speak in this way, if you do not repent, will, along with your infirmities, go suddenly into hell! But I refer not only to those which are properly termed bodily infirmities, but all those inward or outward imperfections that are not of a moral nature. These include weakness or slowness of understanding, incoherence of thought, fluctuating ability of imagination, or lack of a good memory. Of another kind are those which result from these; such as slowness of speech, poor vocabulary, and awkward pronunciation; along with a list of a thousand other defects, either in conversation or behavior. These infirmities are found in the best of men, to varying degrees. No one can hope to be perfectly free from these until his spirit returns to God that gave it. Nor can we expect, until then, to be completely free from temptation. Such perfection does not belong to this life.
[Here we insert two paragraphs from the sermon entitled “On Perfection]
I do not consider the perfection spoken of here to be the perfection of angels. It is not possible for man always to think right, whose understanding is darkened; to whom error is as natural as ignorance; who cannot think at all except by using organs which are weakened and depraved like the other parts of his corruptible body. Therefore, his affections, depending on his understanding, are out of proportion. And his words and actions are influenced by the disorder both of his understanding and affections. Therefore, no man, while in the body, can possibly have angelic perfection.
Neither can any man, while he is in a corruptible body, achieve Adamic perfection. Adam’s understanding was as clear as the angels’, and his affections as consistent. Because of this, because he always perceived right, he was always able to speak and act right. Since man rebelled against God, however, this has not been the case. He is no longer able to avoid falling into countless mistakes; consequently, he cannot always avoid wrong affections; neither can he always think, speak, and act right. Therefore, man in his present state can no more attain Adamic perfection than angelic perfection.
Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply exemption from ignorance, mistakes, infirmities, or temptations. Actually, it is only another term for holiness. And so, everyone that is holy is, in the scriptural sense, perfect. Still, we may observe that there is no absolute perfection on earth; that is, a perfection that cannot be continually improved. To whatever degree any man is perfect, he still needs to “grow in grace,” and to advance day by day in the knowledge and love of God.
The Perfection of Every Christian from Willful Sin
Then what is perfection? First, even babes in Christ are perfect in the sense that they do not commit sin. If anyone doubts this privilege of the sons of God, the question is not to be decided by abstract reasoning, nor by the experience of any particular person. Many may suppose they do not commit sin, even though they do; but this proves nothing either way. We appeal to the law and to the testimony. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” By His word we will stay.
Now the Word of God clearly declares, that those who are justified “do not continue in sin,” that they cannot “live any longer therein” (Romans 6:1, 2). They are “planted together in the likeness of the death” of Christ; (v. 5) that their “old man is crucified with Him,” the body of sin being destroyed, so that from that time forward they do not serve sin. Being dead with Christ, they are free from sin (vv. 6, 7); they are “dead unto sin, and alive unto God” (v. 11). “Sin has no more dominion over them,” who are “not under the law, but under grace;” but they, “being free from sin, are become the servants of righteousness” (vv. 14, 18).
These words imply, at the very least, that all real Christians are free from outward sin. St. Peter expresses it this way: “He that hath suffered in the flesh, hath ceased from sin — that he no longer should live to the desires of men, but to the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1, 2). This ceasing from sin, even if it is interpreted even in the lowest sense, regarding outward behavior only, must mean the ceasing of any outward transgression of the law.
Clearest are the words of St. John, “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: And he cannot sin because he is born of God” (1 John 3:8, 9). And “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” (5:18).
It is said by some that this means only that he does not sin willfully; or that he does not commit sin habitually; or, not as other men do; or, not as he did before. But by whom is this said? Not by St. John. There is no such word in the text; nor in the whole chapter; nor in his entire epistle; nor in any part of his writings.
If you want to prove that the Apostle’s words, “He that is born of God sinneth not,” are not to be understood according to their clear, natural, obvious meaning, you must find your proof in the New Testament, or you will fight as one beating the air. The first such “proof” is usually taken from the examples recorded in the New Testament. “The Apostles themselves,” it is said, “committed sin; even the greatest of them, Peter and Paul: St. Paul, by his sharp contention with Barnabas; and St. Peter, by his division at Antioch.” Well, suppose both Peter and Paul did commit sin at those times; what would you infer from that? That all the other Apostles committed sin sometimes? There is no shadow of proof in this. Or will you argue, “If two of the Apostles committed sin, then do not all other Christians, in all ages, commit sin as long as they live?” Alas, my brother! A child of common understanding would be ashamed of this reasoning. They had no compulsion to sin. The grace of God was sufficient for them, and it is sufficient for us today. Along with the temptation, there was a way to escape; as there is for every man in every temptation. Whoever is tempted to sin does not have to yield to it; for no man is tempted above what he is able to bear.
But here another difficulty may arise. How may we reconcile St. John with himself? In one place he declares, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin;” and again, “We know that he which is born of God sinneth not:” Yet in another he says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;” and again, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
This difficulty disappears if we observe that the tenth verse provides the meaning of the eighth. The phrase, “If we say we have no sin,” in verse eight, is explained by the phrase, “If we say we have not sinned,” in verse ten. The point we are discussing is not whether or not we have sinned before now, but whether or not a Christian still sins. These verses do not assert that we commit sin now. Third, the ninth verse explains both the eighth and tenth. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness:” It is as if he is saying, “I have already affirmed, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin;’ but let no man say, I do not need it; I have no sin to be cleansed from. If we say that we have no sin, that we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves: But ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just,’ not only ‘to forgive our sins,’ but also ‘to cleanse us from all unrighteousness:’ that we may ‘go and sin no more.’”
St. John is, therefore, consistent with himself, as well as with the other holy writers; as will be even more obvious if we look at all his assertions about this subject together. He declares, first, that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. Second, that no man can say, “I have not sinned; I have no sin to be cleansed from.” Third, God is ready both to forgive our past sins, and to save us from them in the future. Fourth, “These things write I unto you,” says the Apostle, “that you may not sin. But if any man” should “sin,” or has sinned, he does not need to continue in sin; seeing “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” So far all is clear. And should any doubt remain in a point of such great importance, the Apostle resumes this subject in the third chapter, and thoroughly explains his own meaning: “Little children,” he says, “let no man deceive you” (To think that I had given any encouragement to those that continue in sin): “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin: For His seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil” (vv. 7-10). In conformity, then, both to the doctrine of St. John, and to the New Testament as a whole, we conclude that a Christian is at least as perfect so as not to commit sin.
The Further Perfection Possible
It is only those who are strong in the Lord, “and have overcome the wicked one,” who can be said to be perfect in the sense that they are free from evil thoughts and evil tempers.
First, we will discuss the freedom from evil thoughts. Thoughts about evil are not always evil thoughts. A thought about sin and a sinful thought are very different. For example, a man may think of a murder which another has committed, but this is not an evil or sinful thought. Our blessed Lord certainly understood what was spoken by the devil, when he said, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Yet he had no evil or sinful thought.
Where exactly should evil thoughts come from, in the servant who is like his Master? “Out of the heart of man” (if at all) “proceed evil thoughts” (Mark 7:21). If, therefore, his heart is no longer evil, then evil thoughts can no longer proceed out of it.
Just as Christians are free from evil thoughts, they are also free from evil tempers. This is clear from our Lord’s declaration: “The disciple is not above his Master; but everyone that is perfect shall be as his Master” (Luke 6:40). He had been delivering, just before He said this, some of the greatest doctrines of Christianity, and some of the most difficult for flesh and blood. “I say unto you, love your enemies, do good to them which hate you; — and unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek, offer also the other.” In the next verse He removes the two great objections with which wise fools meet us at every turn: “These things are too difficult;” or, “They are too high to be attained.” The Lord said, “‘The disciple is not above his Master;’ therefore, if I have suffered, be content to walk in My steps. And do not doubt, but I will fulfill My word. ‘For everyone that is perfect shall be as his Master.’” But the Master was free from all sinful tempers. Therefore, so is His disciple.
He who lives in true believers has “purified their hearts by faith,” to the extent that everyone that has Christ in him “purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). He is purified from pride; for Christ was lowly of heart. He is pure from self-will or desire; for Christ desired only to do the will of His Father, and to finish His work. And he is pure from anger, in the common sense of the word; for Christ was meek and gentle, patient and longsuffering. I say, “in the common sense of the word,” because not all anger is evil. We read that our Lord once “looked round with anger” (Mark 3:5). But with what kind of anger? The next word explains, “being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” So then He was angry at the sin, and in the same moment grieving for the sinners; angry at the offense, but sorry for the offenders. With anger, even hatred, He looked on the thing; but with grief and love saw the persons. You that are perfect, go and do likewise. Be angry in this way, and you do not sin; disturbed by every offense against God, but feeling only love and tender compassion for the offender.
Jesus truly does “save His people from their sins:” And not only from outward sins, but also from the sins of their hearts; from evil thoughts, and from evil tempers. “True,” some say, “we will be completely saved from our sins, but not until death; not in this world.” But how are we to reconcile this with the clear word of St. John? “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.” The Apostle here, beyond all contradiction, speaks of himself and other living Christians, asserting that not only at death, but in this world, they are as their Master (1 John 4:17).
His words in the first chapter (v. 5, etc.) are in perfect agreement with this: “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” And again: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is evident that the Apostle speaks of a deliverance that is accomplished in this world. For he does not say that the blood of Christ will cleanse at the hour of death, or in the day of judgment, but, it “cleanseth,” at the present time, “us,” living Christians, “from all sin.” And it is equally evident, that if any sin remains, we are not cleansed from all sin. If any unrighteousness remains in the soul, it is not cleansed from all unrighteousness.
Neither let anyone say that this cleansing is the cleansing of justification only, or the cleansing from the guilt of sin. First, because this confuses what the Apostle clearly distinguishes, who first mentions forgiveness of sins and then cleansing from all unrighteousness. Second, because this would be asserting justification by works, making holiness necessary before justification. For if the cleansing here spoken of here is merely the cleansing from the guilt of sin, then we are cleansed from guilt, that is, are justified, not on the scriptural condition of faith, but by “walking in the light, as He is in the light.”
We see, then, that the natural meaning of this verse is that Christians are saved in this world from all sin, from all unrighteousness; that they are now, in this sense, perfect, so as not to commit sins and to be free from evil thoughts and evil tempers.
[The remainder of this essay is taken from the sermon entitled “On Perfection”]
What then is the perfection of which man is capable while he lives in a corruptible body? It is complying with that kind command, “My son, give Me thy heart.” It is “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 love. The first part of it is the love of God. And just as he who loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” These express the whole of Christian perfection.
As St. Peter writes, “As He that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:15). According to this Apostle then, perfection is another name for holiness: inward and outward righteousness: holiness of life, arising from holiness of heart.
If any expressions can be stronger than these, they are those of St. Paul to the Thessalonians: “The God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may the whole of you, the spirit, the soul, and the body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
Response to Objections to Perfection
One common objection is that there is no promise of it in the Word of God. But there is a very clear promise that we will all love the Lord our God with all our hearts. We read, “Then will I 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). Equally clear is the word of our Lord, which is no less a promise, though in the form of a command: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). No words can be stronger than these; no promise can be more definite. Similarly, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” is as definite a promise as it is a command.
And that unlimited promise which rules through the entire gospel age, “I will put My laws in their minds, and write them in their hearts,” turns all the commands into promises; including this one, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” This command is equivalent to a promise, and gives us reason to expect that He will work in us what He requires of us.
Regarding the fruit of the Spirit, the Apostle, in affirming that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control,” affirms that the Holy Spirit actually works love and these other tempers in those that are led by Him. Here also we are walking on solid ground, for this scripture is also equivalent to a promise, and assures us that all these will be in us, if we are led by the Spirit.
The command of God given by St. Peter, “Be ye holy, as He that hath called you is holy, in all manner of conversation,” implies a promise that we will be holy, if we are not unwilling. Nothing can be lacking on God’s part. As He has called us to holiness, He is undoubtedly willing, as well as able, to work this holiness in us. For He cannot mock His helpless creatures, calling us to receive what He never intends to give. That He does call us to holiness is undeniable; therefore, He will give it if we are not disobedient to the heavenly calling.
The prayer of St. Paul for the Thessalonians, that God would “sanctify” them throughout, and “that the whole of them, the spirit, the soul, and the body, might be preserved blameless,” is a prayer that will undoubtedly be heard on behalf of all the children of God. Therefore, all Christians are encouraged to expect the same blessing, that they also will be “sanctified throughout, in spirit, soul, and body;” and that “the whole of them shall be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But the great question is whether there is any promise in Scripture that we will be saved from sin. Undoubtedly there is. That promise, “He shall redeem Israel from all his sins” (Psalm 130:8); exactly corresponds to those words of the angel, “He shall save His people from their sins.” And surely “He is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God through Him.” This is the glorious promise given through the Prophet Ezekiel: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). This is what was pronounced by Zechariah, “The oath which He swore to our father Abraham, that He would grant unto us, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies” (such enemies as all our sins), “to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life” (Luke 1:73-75). The last part of this promise is especially worthy of our observation. Should anyone say, “True, we shall be saved from our sins when we die,” as if to destroy this argument, he says, “all the days of our life.” With what humility then can anyone claim that no one will enjoy this liberty until death?
“But,” some say, “this cannot be the meaning of the words, for the thing is impossible.” It is impossible with men, but the things impossible with men are possible with God. “But this is impossible by nature, for a man cannot be saved from all sin while he is in a sinful body.” There is a great deal of force in this objection. However, we have already allowed that while we are in the body we cannot be wholly free from error. In spite of all our carefulness, we will still be liable to discern wrongly in many instances. And a mistake in discernment will very frequently cause a mistake in practice. Further, a wrong judgment may cause something in the temper or passions that is not right. It may cause needless fear or ill-grounded hope, unreasonable love or unreasonable aversion. But this is in no way inconsistent with the perfection described above. It is quite consistent with salvation from sin, if sin is defined as a voluntary transgression of a known law.
“But does not St. Paul himself say, ‘They that are in the flesh cannot please God?’” I am afraid that these words have deceived many who assume that the words, “they that are in the flesh,” mean those that are in the body. No, the flesh, in this text, no more means the body than it does the soul. Abel, Enoch, Abraham, along with all those recited by St. Paul in Hebrews 11, did actually please God while they were in the body, as he himself testifies. Therefore, the expression used here means those that are unbelievers, in their natural state, and without God in the world.
But let us consider the reasoning of this issue. Why can the Almighty not sanctify the soul while it is in the body? Can He not sanctify you while you are in this house, as well as outside in the open air? Can the walls of brick or stone prevent Him? Neither can these walls of flesh and blood prevent Him for one moment from sanctifying you entirely. He can just as easily save you from all sin in the body as out of the body. “But has He promised to save us from sin while we are in the body?” Undoubtedly He has. For a promise is implied in every commandment of God, including, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” For this and every other commandment is given, not to the dead, but to the living. It is expressed in the words recited above, that we should walk “in holiness before Him all the days of our life.”
But a more plausible objection remains, which is taken from experience: that there are no living witnesses of this salvation from sin. In answer to this,
(1.) I agree that there are not many. Such is our slowness to believe what both the prophets and apostles have spoken, that there are few true witnesses of this great salvation.
(2.) I realize that there are false witnesses, who either deceive their own souls and speak of the things they do not know, or are hypocrites. Many do the same with regard to justification: they imagine they are justified, when they are not. But even though many imagine it falsely, still there are some that are truly justified. And though many imagine they are sanctified, and are not, still there are some that are really sanctified.
(3.) I realize that some who once enjoyed full salvation have now lost it. They once walked in glorious freedom, giving God their whole heart, “rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in everything giving thanks.” But all this is past. Perhaps they still have a sense of His pardoning love, but even this is often attacked by doubts and fears, so that they hold it with a trembling hand.
Some say that while it may please God to make some of His children unspeakably holy and happy, it is only for a time. They say that God never intended for it to continue to the end of their lives. But where is the proof? We know that in general, “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Why should we imagine that He will make an exception of the most precious gift on this side of heaven? Is He not as able to give it continually, as He is to give it once? As able to give it for fifty years, as for one day? How is this supposition that He is not willing consistent with the assertion of the Apostle, who says, “For this is the will of God concerning you in Christ Jesus.” It is remarkable that after he had delivered that glorious promise (which it is) in the twenty-third verse, “The very God of peace shall sanctify you wholly: And the whole of you, the spirit, the soul, and the body, shall be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ;” he adds again, “Faithful is He that hath called you, who also will do it.” He will not only sanctify you completely, but will preserve you in that state until He comes to receive you to himself.
In fact, several persons have enjoyed this blessing, without any interruption, for many years. Several enjoy it now. And many enjoyed it until their death, as they declared with their last breath; calmly witnessing that God had saved them from all sin until their spirit returned to God.
As to any objections taken from experience, we observe that either the persons who claim perfection have attained Christian perfection or they have not. If they have not, the objections brought against them miss the mark, for they are not the persons we are referring to. Therefore, whatever they are or do is separate from the question. But if they have attained perfection, if they match the description given here, no reasonable objection can stand against them.
“But I never saw one,” continues the objector, “that matched my idea of perfection.” It may be so. And it is probable that you never will. For your idea includes too much; even freedom from those weaknesses which always accompany a spirit that is connected with flesh and blood. But if you keep to the account that is given above, and allow for the weakness of human understanding, you may see present, undeniable examples of scriptural perfection.
Questions for the Opponents of Perfection
Now permit me to ask, why are you so angry with those who claim to have attained this? What rational objection can you have to loving the Lord your God with all your heart? Would it do you any harm? Would it lessen your happiness, either in this world or in the world to come? And why should you be unwilling that others should give Him their whole heart, or that they should love their neighbors as themselves, even “as Christ hath loved us?” Is it not rather highly desirable?
Why are you so averse to having in you the whole “mind which was in Christ Jesus,” all the affections, all the tempers and dispositions, which were in Him while He dwelt among men? Would it be any worse for you if God were to form in you this very hour the mind that was in Him? If not, why should you keep others from seeking this blessing, or be displeased with those who think they have attained it? Is anything more lovely, or more to be desired by every child of man?
Why are you averse to having the whole “fruit of the Spirit:” “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, meekness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control?” Because “against these there is no law,” there cannot be any reasonable objection. Surely nothing is more desirable than for all these tempers to take root in your heart; and in the hearts of all that name the name of Christ; even all the inhabitants of the earth.
Is perfection being “sanctified throughout, in spirit, soul, and body?” What lover of God and man can be averse to this, or be afraid of it? Is it not, in your best moments, your desire to be consistent with yourself: all faith, all meekness, all love? And if you possessed this glorious liberty, would not you wish to continue in it, to be preserved “blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
Let me ask one more question. Why should any man of reason and religion be averse to salvation from all sin? Is sin not the greatest evil on this side of hell? If so, is not a complete deliverance from it one of the greatest blessings on this side of heaven? How earnestly then should all the children of God pray for it! By sin I mean a voluntary transgression of a known law. Are you averse to being delivered from this? Are you afraid of such a deliverance? Do you love sin so much that you are unwilling to part with it? Surely not. You do not love either the devil or his works. Instead, you wish to be totally delivered from them; to have sin rooted out both of your life and your heart.
I have often observed with surprise that the opponents of perfection are more outspoken against it when it is stated in this way than in any other. They will allow everything you say of love for God and man; of the fruit of the Spirit; of complete holiness; of entire self-dedication; of sanctification in spirit, soul, and body; even the offering up of all our thoughts, words, and actions as a sacrifice to God. They will accept all of this if only we will allow sin, a little sin, to remain in us until death.
Contrast this with that remarkable passage in John Bunyan’s “Holy War.” “When Immanuel,” he says, “had driven Diabolus and all his forces out of the city of Mansoul, Diabolus sent a petition to Immanuel, that he might have only a small part of the city. When this was rejected, he begged to have only a little room within the walls.” But Immanuel answered that Diabolus would have no place in it at all; not even to rest the sole of his foot. Had not the good old man forgotten himself? Did not the force of truth prevail over him here so as to overturn his own system, and to declare perfection in the clearest way? For if this is not salvation from sin, I do not know what is.
Says one great man, “This is the error of errors: I hate it from my heart. I pursue it through all the world with fire and sword.” Why is he so passionate? Do you seriously think there is no error equal to this? Here is something which I cannot understand. Why are those that oppose salvation from sin (with few exceptions) so eager, almost furious? Are you fighting “for God and your country?” For all that is near and dear to you? Why are you so fond of sin? What good has it ever done you? What good is it ever likely to do you, either in this world, or in the world to come? And why are you so violently opposed to those that hope for deliverance from it?
Have patience with us, if we are in an error. Allow us to enjoy our error. Even if we never attain it, the very expectation of this deliverance gives us comfort and gives us strength to resist those enemies which we expect to conquer. If you could persuade us to doubt that victory, we would surely give up the contest. Now “we are saved by hope.” Do not be angry at those who are happy in their mistake. If you are, whether their opinion is right or wrong, your attitude is undeniably sinful. Be patient with us, just as we are with you; and see whether or not the Lord will deliver us; whether or not He is able and willing “to save them to the uttermost that come unto God through Him!”
This sermon 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.