HOW CHRISTIAN PERFECTION IS TO BE OBTAINED.
AT thirty-five years of age, in 1738, Mr. Wesley preached his sermon on "Salvation by Faith," before the University at Oxford, in which he said: —
"What salvation is it, which is through this faith.
"1. And first, whatever else it imply, it is a present salvation. It is something attainable, yea, actually attained on earth, by those who are partakers of this faith. For thus saith the apostle to the believers at Ephesus, and in them to the believers of all ages, not ye shall be (though that also is true) but ye are saved through faith.
"2. Ye are saved (to comprise all in one word) from sin. This is the salvation which is through faith. This is that great salvation foretold by the angel, before God brought His first-begotten into the world: 'Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.' And neither here, nor in other parts of Holy Writ, is there any limitation or restriction. All His people, or as it is elsewhere expressed, 'all that believe in Him,' He will save from all their sins; from original and actual, past and present sin 'of the flesh and of the spirit.' Through faith that is in Him they are saved both from the guilt and from the power of it." — Sermons, vol. i. p.15.
In 1744, Mr. Wesley published his "Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion," in which he says: —
" This only we confess, that we preach inward salvation, now attainable by faith."
"But what is that faith whereby we are sanctified? saved from sin, and perfected in love? It is a Divine evidence and conviction, first, that God hath promised it in the Holy Scripture. Till we are thoroughly satisfied of this, there is no moving one step farther.
"It is a Divine evidence and conviction, secondly, that what God hath promised He is able to perform. Admitting, therefore, that 'with men it is impossible' to 'bring a clean thing out of an unclean,' to purify the heart from all sin, and to fill it with all holiness; yet this creates no difficulty in the case, seeing 'with God all things are possible.'
"It is, thirdly, a Divine evidence and conviction that He is able and willing to do it now. And why not? Is not a moment to Him the same as a thousand years? He cannot want more time to accomplish whatever is His will. And He cannot want or stay for any more worthiness or fitness in the persons He is pleased to honor. We may, therefore, boldly say, at any one point of time, 'Now is the day of salvation!' 'Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.' 'Behold, all things are now ready, come unto the marriage!'
"To this confidence, that God is both able and willing to sanctify us now, there needs to be added one thing more, a Divine evidence and conviction, that He doeth it. In that hour it is done, God says to the inmost soul, 'According to thy faith be it unto thee!' Then the soul is pure from every spot of sin; it is clean 'from all unrighteousness.' The believer then experiences the deep meaning of those solemn words, 'If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." — Sermons, vol. i. p. 390.
Tyerman says: "It must be borne in mind that it was not until now (1672), that the doctrine of Christian perfection, attainable in an instant by a simple act of faith, was made prominent in Methodist congregations; but that, ever after, it was one of the chief topics of Wesley's ministry, and that of his itinerant preachers." — Vol. ii. p. 444.
Dr. Whitehead, in his "Life of Wesley," says: " The doctrine of perfection, or perfect love, was undoubtedly taught among the Methodists from the beginning; but the manner in which it was now preached (in 1762), pressing the people to expect what was called the destruction of the root of sin, in one moment, was most certainly new." — Vol. ii. p. 299.
This statement of Dr. Whitehead does not do Mr. Wesley justice on this subject. In the light of the statements and dates given by Mr. Wesley himself, the most that can be safely said respecting his teaching before 1762, is, that for many years before that time, he taught instantaneous sanctification by faith, but had less light on the subject, and preached and pressed it less, than after the great outpouring of that period.
To Lady ——-, in 1771: —
"Many years since I saw that 'without holiness no man shall see the Lord.' I began following after it, and inciting all with whom I had any intercourse to do the same. Ten years after; God gave me a clearer view than I had before, of the way how to attain this; namely, by faith in the Son of God. And immediately I declared to all, 'We are saved from sin, we are made holy, by faith.' This I testified in private, in public, in print; and God confirmed it by a thousand witnesses. I have continued to declare this for above thirty years; and God hath continued to confirm the word of His grace. But during this time well nigh all the religious world hath set themselves in array against me, and among the rest, many of my own children, following the example of one of my eldest sons, Mr. W. Their general cry has been, 'He is unsound in the faith; he preaches another Gospel!' I answer, Whether it be the same which they preach or not, it is the same which I have preached for above thirty years. This may easily appear from what I have published during that whole term. I instance only in three sermons, that on 'Salvation by Faith,' printed in the year 1738; that on 'The Lord our Righteousness,' printed a few years since; and that on Mr. Whitfield's funeral, printed only some months ago." — Works, vol. vii. p. 36.
To Miss Pywell, in 1777: —
"One part of your work is to stir up all who have believed, to go on to perfection, and every moment to expect the full salvation which is received by simple faith. I am persuaded your being where you are will be for good. Speak to all about you, and spare not. God will bear witness to His own truth." — Works, vol. vii. p. 35.
"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ whom God hath given to be the propitiation for thy sins, and thou shalt he saved, first from the guilt of sin, having redemption through His blood; then from the power, which shall have no more dominion over thee; and then from the root of it, into the whole image of God." — Sermons, vol. ii. p. 405.
"Sanctification, too, 'is not of works, lest any man should boast.' 'It is the gift of God,' and is to be received by plain, simple faith. Suppose you are now laboring to 'abstain from all appearance of evil,' 'zealous of good works,' and walking diligently and carefully in all the ordinances of God; there is then only one point remaining: the voice of God to your soul is, 'Believe, and be saved.' First, believe that God has promised to save you from all sin, and to fill you with all holiness; secondly, believe that He is able thus 'to save to the uttermost all that come unto God through Him;' thirdly, believe that He is willing, as well as able, to save you to the uttermost; to purify you from all sin, and fill up all your heart with love, Believe fourthly, that He is not only able, but willing to do it now! Not when you come to die; not at any distant time; not to-morrow, but to-day. He will then enable you to believe, it is done, according to His Word: and then 'patience shall have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.'" — Sermons, vol. ii. p. 224.
This sermon was written but a short time before his death. (See Tyerman, vol. i. p.498.)
"But do you believe we are sanctified by faith? We know you believe that we are justified by faith; but do not you believe, and accordingly teach, that we are sanctified by our works? So it has been roundly and vehemently affirmed for these five and twenty years; but I have constantly declared just the contrary; and that in all manner of ways. I have continually testified in private and in public, that we are sanctified as well as justified by faith. And indeed the one of those great truths does exceedingly illustrate the other. Exactly as we are justified by faith, so are we sanctified by faith. Faith is the condition, and the only condition of sanctification, exactly as it is of justification. It is the condition: none is sanctified but he that believes; without faith no man is sanctified. And it is the only condition: this alone is sufficient for sanctification. Every one that believes is sanctified, whatever else he has or has not. In other words, no man is sanctified till he believes: every man when he believes is sanctified." — Sermons, vol. i. p. 388.
To Miss Furly, in 1756: —
"Probably the difference between you and others lies in words chiefly. All who expect to be sanctified at all, expect to be sanctified by faith. But, meantime, they know, that faith will not be given but to them that obey. Remotely, therefore, the blessing depends on our works; although immediately, on simple faith." — Works, vol. vi. p. 710.
To Mrs. A. F., in 1764: —
"That great truth, 'that we are saved by faith,' will never be worn out; and that sanctifying as well as justifying faith is the free gift of God. Now, with God one day is as a thousand years. It plainly follows, that the quantity of time is nothing to him: Centuries, years, months, days, hours, and moments are exactly the same. Consequently, He can as well sanctify in a day after we are justified, as a hundred years. There is no difference at all, unless we suppose Him to be such a one as ourselves. Accordingly we see, in fact, that some of the most unquestionable witnesses of sanctifying grace were sanctified within a few days after they were justified. I have seldom known so devoted a soul, as S—— H——, at Macclesfield, who was sanctified within nine days after she was convinced of sin. She was then twelve years old, and I believed was never afterward heard to speak an improper word, or known to do an improper thing. Her look struck an awe into all that saw her. She is now in Abraham's bosom.
"Although, therefore, it usually pleases God to interpose some time between justification and sanctification, yet, it is expressly observed in the 'Farther Thoughts,' we must not fancy this to be an invariable rule. All who think this, must think we are sanctified by works, or which comes to the same, by sufferings: for, otherwise, what is time necessary for? It must be either to do or to suffer. Whereas, if nothing be required but simple faith, a moment is as good as an age." — Works, vol. vii. p. 14.
To Mrs. Elizabeth Bennis, in 1767: —
"The essential part of Christian holiness is giving the heart wholly to God; and certainly we need not lose any degree of that light and love which at first attend this: it is our own infirmity if we do; it is not the will of the Lord concerning us. Your present business is, not to reason whether you should call your experience thus or thus; but to go straight to Him that loves you, with all your wants, how great or how many soever they are. Then all things are ready; help, while you ask, is given. You have only to receive it by simple faith. Nevertheless, you will still be encompassed with numberless infirmities; for you live in a house of clay, and therefore this corruptible body will, more or less, press down the soul, yet not so as to prevent your rejoicing evermore, and having a witness that your heart is His." — Works, vol. vii. p. 51.
To his brother Charles, in 1772: —
"I find by long experience it comes exactly to the same point, to tell men they shall be saved from all sin when they die; or to tell them it may be a year hence, or a week hence, or any time but now. Our word does not profit, either as to justification or sanctification, unless we can bring them to expect the blessing while we speak." — Works, vol. vii. p. 673.
To Robert Carr Brackenbury, in 1780: —
"May He still guide you in the way you should go, and enable you to give Him your whole heart! You must not set the great blessing afar off, because you find much war within. Perhaps this will not abate, but rather increase, till the moment your heart is set at liberty. The war will not cease before you attain, but by your attaining, the promise. And if you look for it by naked faith, why may you not receive it now? The cheerfulness of faith you should aim at in and above all things. Wishing you a continual supply of righteousness, peace, and joy." — Works, vol. vii. p. 149
To Miss H. A. Roe, in 1782: —
"In the success of Mr. Leech's preaching, we have one proof of a thousand, that the blessing of God always attends the publishing of full salvation as attainable now, by simple faith. You should always have in readiness that little tract, "The Plain Account of Christian Perfection." There is nothing that would so effectually stop the mouths of those who call this 'a new doctrine.' All who thus object are really (though they suspect nothing less) seeking sanctification by works. If it be by works, then certainly these will need time, in order to the doing of these works. But if it is by faith, it is plain, a moment is as a thousand years. Then God says (in the spiritual, as in the outward world), 'Let there be light, and there is light."' — Works, vol. vii. p. 195.
To Miss Loxdale, in 1782: —
"By experience, the strongest of all arguments, you have been once and again convinced, that salvation from inbred sin is received by simple faith, although it is certain there is a gradual work both preceding and following.
"Is it not then your wisdom not willingly to converse with any that oppose this great and important truth? If you play with fire, will you not be burned, sooner or later? Nay, have you not been burned already?" — Works, vol. vii. p. 222.
"As to manner, I believe this perfection is always wrought in the soul by a simple act of faith; consequently in an instant." He further says: "Look for it every day, every hour, every moment. Why not this hour - this moment? Certainly you may look for it now, if you believe it is by faith. And by this token you may surely know whether you seek it by faith or by works. If by works, you want something to be done first before you are sanctified. You think, I must be or do thus or thus. Then you are seeking it by works unto this day. If you seek it by faith, you expect it as you are; and if as you are, then expect it now. It is important to observe that there is an inseparable connection between these three points — expect it by faith, expect it as you are, and expect it now. To DENY ONE IS TO DENY THEM ALL." — Sermons, vol. i. p.391.