MINUTES OF CONFERENCE CONVERSATIONS.
ON Tuesday morn. June 26. 1759 was considered the doctrine of sanctification. A part of these conversations are given in detached portions in "The Plain Account." I give them as found in his works.
What is it to be sanctified?
To be renewed in the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness.
Is faith the condition, or the instrument, of sanctification?
It is both the condition and instrument of it. When we begin to believe, then sanctification begins. And as faith increases, holiness increases, till we are created anew.
What is implied in being a perfect Christian?
The loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our mind, and soul, and strength; Deut. vi. 5; xxx. 6; Ezek. xxxvi. 25, 29.
Does this imply that all inward sin is taken away?
Without doubt; or how could we be said to be saved" from all our uncleannesses?" verse 29.
Can we know one who is thus saved? What is a reasonable proof of it?
We cannot, without the miraculous discernment of spirits, be infallibly certain of those who are thus saved. But we apprehend, these would be the best proofs which the nature of the thing admits: (1.) If we had sufficient evidence of their unblamable behavior preceding. (2.) If they gave a distinct account of the time and manner wherein they were saved from sin, and of the circumstances thereof, with such sound speech as could not be reproved And, (3.) If, upon a strict inquiry afterward, from time to time, it appeared that all their tempers, and words, and actions, were holy and unreprovable.
How should we treat those who think they have attained this?
Exhort them to forget the things that are behind, and to watch and pray always, that God may search the ground of their hearts. — Works, vol. v. p. 197.
At first we preached almost wholly to unbelievers. To those, therefore, we spake almost continually of remission of sins through the death of Christ, and the nature of faith in His blood. And so we do still, among those who need to be taught the first elements of the Gospel of Christ.
But those in whom the foundation is already laid, we exhort to go on to perfection; which we did not see so clearly at first; although we occasionally spoke of it from the beginning. — Works, vol. v. p. 200.
Do we ordinarily represent a justified state so great and happy as it is?
Perhaps not. A believer, walking in the light, is inexpressibly great and happy.
Should we not have a care of depreciating justification, in order to exalt the state of full sanctification?
Undoubtedly we should beware of this; for one may insensibly slide into it.
How shall we effectually avoid it?
When we are going to speak of entire sanctification, let us first describe the blessings of a justified state, as strongly as possible. — Works, vol. v. p. 201.
How much is allowed by our brethren who differ with us in regard to entire sanctification?
They grant (1.) That every one must be entirely sanctified in the article of death.
(2.) That, till then, a believer daily grows in grace, comes nearer and nearer to perfection.
(3.) That we ought to be continually pressing after this, and to exhort all others so to do.
What do we allow them?
We grant, (1.) That many of those who have died in the faith, yea, the greater part of those we have known, were not sanctified throughout, not made perfect in love, till a little before death.
(2.) That the term, "sanctified," is continually applied by St. Paul to all that were justified, were true believers.
(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 this sense, without adding the word "wholly, entirely," or the like.
(5.) That the inspired writers almost continually speak of or to those who are justified; but very rarely, either of or to those who are wholly sanctified.
(6.) That, consequently, it behooves us to speak in public almost continually of the state of justification; but more rarely, in full and explicit terms, concerning entire sanctification.
What, then, is the point wherein we divide?
It is this: whether we should expect to be saved from all sin before the article of death.
Is there any clear Scripture promise of this; that God will save us from all sin?
There is: "He shall redeem Israel from all his sins, Psalm cxxx. 8. This is more largely expressed in the prophecy of 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. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses," xxxvi. 25, 29. No promise can be more clear. And to this the Apostle plainly refers 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. vii. 1. Equally clear and express is that ancient promise: "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,"' Deut. xxx. 6.
But does any assertion answerable to this occur in the New Testament?
There does, and that laid down in the plainest terms. So St. John: "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil," iii. 8, without any limitation or restriction: but all sin is the work of the devil. Parallel to which is that assertion of St. Paul: "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish," Ephes. v. 25, 27. And to the same effect is his assertion in the eight of the Romans: "God sent his Son — that the righteousness of the law, might be fulfilled in us, walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit," verses 3, 4.
Does the New Testament afford any farther ground for expecting to be saved from all sin?
Undoubtedly it does, both in those prayers and commands which are equivalent to the strongest assertions.
What prayers do you mean?
Prayers for entire sanctification; which, were there no such thing, would be mere mockery of God. Such, in particular, are, (1.) "Deliver us from evil;" or rather, "from the evil one." 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 which 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 xvii. 20, 21, 23. (3.) "I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — that He would grant you — that ye, 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 ye might be filled with all the fullness of God," Eph. iii. 14, 16-19. (4.) "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ," 1 Thess. v. 23.
What command is there to the same effect?
(1.) "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven, is perfect," Matt. v.48. (2.) "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," Matt. xxii. 37. But if the love of God fill all the heart, there can be no sin there.
But how does it appear that this is to be done before the article of death?
First. 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, Thou shalt do this when thou diest, but while thou livest.
Secondly. From express texts of Scripture: (1.) "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, having renounced (arnasamenoi) ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for — the glorious appearing of our Savior 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 ii. 11-14. (2.) "He hath raised up a 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 hand of our enemies, should serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life," Luke i. 69-75.
Is there any example in Scripture, of persons who had attained to this?
Yes. St. John, and all those of whom he says in his First Epistle, "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because, as He is" so are we in this world," iv. 17.
But why are there not more examples of this kind recorded in the New Testament?
It does not become us to be peremptory in this matter. One reason might possibly be, because the Apostles wrote to the Church while it was in a state of infancy. Therefore they might mention such persons more sparingly, lest they should give strong meat to babes.
Can you show one such example now? Where is he that is thus perfect?
To some who make this inquiry, one might answer, "If I knew, I would not tell you. For you do not inquire out of love. You are like Herod. You only seek the young child to slay it."
But more directly, we answer, There are numberless reasons why there should he few (if any indisputable), examples. What inconveniences would this bring on the person himself, set as a mark for all to shoot at. What a temptation would it be to others, not only to men who know not God, but to believers themselves! How hardly would they refrain from idolizing such a person! And yet, how unprofitable to gainsayers! "For if they hear not Moses and the Prophets," Christ and His Apostles, "neither would they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
Suppose one had attained to this, would you advise him to speak of it?
Not to them who know not God. It would only provoke them to contradict and blaspheme; nor to any without some particular reason, without some particular good in view. And then they should have an especial care to avoid all appearance of boasting.
Is it a sin, not to believe those who say they have attained?
By no means, even though they said true. We ought not hastily to believe, but to suspend our judgment, till we have full and strong proof.
But are we not apt to have a secret distaste to any who say they are saved from all sin?
It is very possible we may, and that on several grounds; partly from a concern for the honor of God, and the good of souls, who may be hurt, yea, or turned out of the way, if these are not what they profess; partly from a kind of implicit envy at those who speak of higher attainments than our own; and partly from our slowness and unreadiness of heart to believe the works of God.
Does not the harshly preaching perfection tend to bring believers into a kind of bondage, or slavish fear?
It does; therefore we should always place it in the most amiable light, so that it may excite only hope, joy, and desire.
Why may we not continue in the joy of faith even till we are made perfect?
Why indeed! since holy grief does not quench this joy; since even while we are under the cross, while we deeply partake of the sufferings of Christ, we may rejoice with joy unspeakable.
Do we not discourage believers from rejoicing evermore?
We ought not so to do. Let them all their life long rejoice unto God, so it be with reverence. And even if lightness, or pride should mix with their joy, let us not strike at the joy itself (this is the gift of God), but at that lightness, or pride, that the evil may cease, and the good remain.
Ought we to be anxiously careful about perfection, lest we should die before we have attained?
In no wise. We ought to be thus careful for nothing, neither spiritual nor temporal.
But ought we not to be troubled on account of the sinful nature which still remains in us?
It is good for us to have a deep sense of this, and to be much ashamed before the Lord: but this should only incite us the more earnestly to turn unto Christ every moment, and to draw light, and life, and strength from Him, that we may go on conquering and to conquer. And, therefore, when the sense of our sin most abounds, the sense of His love should much more abound.
Will our joy or our trouble increase as we grow in grace?
Perhaps both. But without doubt our joy in the Lord will increase as our love increases.
Is not the teaching believers to be continually poring upon their inbred sin, the ready way to make them forget that they were purged from their former sins?
We find by experience it is; or to make them undervalue and account it a little thing; whereas, indeed (though there are still greater gifts behind), this is inexpressibly great and glorious." — Works, vol. v. p. 207-209.
Strongly and explicitly exhort all believers to "go on to perfection." That we may "all speak the same thing," I ask, once for all, shall we defend this perfection, or give it up? You all agree to defend it, meaning thereby (as we did from the beginning), salvation from all sin, by the love of God and man filling our heart. The Papists say, "This cannot be attained, till we have been refined by the fire of purgatory." The Calvinists say, "Nay, it will be attained as soon as the soul and body part." The old Methodists say, "It may be attained before we die: a moment after is too late." Is it so or not? You are all agreed, we may be saved from all sin before death. The substance then is settled; but, as to the circumstance, is the change gradual or instantaneous? It is both the one and the other. From the moment we are justified, there may be a gradual sanctification, a growing in grace, a daily advance in the knowledge and love of God. And if sin cease before death, there must, in the nature of the thing, be an instantaneous change; there must be a last moment wherein it does exist, and a first moment wherein it does not. "But should we in preaching insist both on one and the other?" Certainly we must insist on the gradual change; and that earnestly and continually. And are there not reasons why we should insist on the instantaneous also? If there be such a blessed change before death, should we not encourage all believers to expect it? and the rather, because constant experience shows, the more earnestly they expect this, the more swiftly and steadily does the gradual work of God go on in their soul; the more watchful they are against all sin, the more careful to grow in grace, the more zealous of good works, and the more punctual in their attendance on all the ordinances of God. Whereas, just the contrary effects are observed whenever this expectation ceases. They are "saved by hope," by this hope of a total change, with a gradually increasing salvation. Destroy this hope, and that salvation stands still, or rather, decreases daily. Therefore whoever would advance the gradual change in believers, should strongly insist on the instantaneous." — Works, vol. v. p. 233.