A Plain Account of Christian Perfection
AS BELIEVED AND TAUGHT
BY THE REV. MR. JOHN WESLEY
FROM THE YEAR 1725 TO THE YEAR 1777.
G. THE MINUTES OF HIS FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD CONFERENCES.
17. On Monday, June 25, 1744, our First Conference began; six Clergymen and all our Preachers being present. The next morning we seriously considered the doctrine of sanctification, or perfection. The questions asked concerning it, and the substance of the answers given, were as follows: —
"What is it to be sanctified?
"To be renewed in the image of God, 'in righteousness and true holiness.'
"What is implied in being a perfect Christian?
"The loving God with all our heart, and mind, and soul. (Deut. 6:5.)
"Does this imply, that all inward sin is taken away?
"Undoubtedly; or how can we be said to be 'saved from all our uncleannesses?' (Ezek. 36:29.)"
Our Second Conference began August 1, 1745. The next morning we spoke of sanctification as follows : —
"When does inward sanctification begin?
"In the moment a man is justified. (Yet sin remains in him, yea, the seed of all sin, till he is sanctified throughout.) From that time a believer gradually dies to sin, and grows in grace.
"Is this ordinarily given till a little before death?
"It is not, to those who expect it no sooner.
"But may we expect it sooner?
"A. Why not? For, although we grant, (1.) That the generality of believers, whom we have hitherto known, were not so sanctified till near death; (2.) That few of those to Whom St. Paul wrote his Epistles were so at that time; nor, ~(3.) He himself at the time of writing his former Epistles; yet all this does not prove, that we may not be so to-day.
"In what manner should we preach sanctification?
"Scarce at all to those who are not pressing forward: To those who are, always by way of promise; always drawing, rather than driving."
Our Third Conference began Tuesday, May 13, 1746.
In this we carefully read over the Minutes of the two preceding Conferences, to observe whether anything contained therein might be retrenched or altered on more mature consideration. But we did not see cause to alter in any respect what we had agreed upon before.
Our Fourth Conference began on Tuesday, June the 16th, 1747. As several persons were present, who did not believe the doctrine of perfection, we agreed to examine it from the foundation.
In order to this, it was asked,
"How much is allowed by our brethren who differ from 'is with 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 it, 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 perfected in love till a little before their death. (2.) That the term sanctified is continually applied by St. Paul 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 the like. (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. 1 (6.) That, consequently, it beloves us to speak almost continually of the state of justification; but more rarely,2 'at least in full and explicit terms, concerning entire sanctification.'
"What then is the point where we divide?
"It is this: Should we expect to be saved from all sin~ before the article of death?
THE DOCTRINE PROVED FROM THE SCRIPTURES.
"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 130:8.)
"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.' (Ezek. 36:25, 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. 7:1.) Equally clear and express 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.)
"But does any assertion answerable to this occur in the New Testament?
"There does, and that laid down in the plainest terms. So 1 John 3:8: 'For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil;' the works of the devil, without any limitation or restriction; but all sin is the work of the devil. Parallel to which is the 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 might be holy and without blemish.' (Eph. 5:25-27.)
"And to the same effect is his assertion in the eighth of the Romans, verses 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.'
"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.' 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 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 may be filled with all the fulness of God.' (Eph. 3:14, &c.) (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.)
"What command is there to the same effect?
"(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.) But if the love of God fill all the heart, there can be no sin therein.
"But how does it appear that this is to be done before the article of death?
"(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, Thou shalt do this when thou diest; but, while thou livest.
"(2.) From express texts of Scripture: (i.) '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.)~ (ii.) '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, &c.)
"Is there any example in Scripture of persons who had attained to this?
"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.)
"Can you show one such example now? Where is he that is thus perfect?
"To some that make this inquiry one might answer, If I knew one here, 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 many reasons why there should be few, if any, indisputable examples. What inconveniences would this bring on the person himself, set as a mark for all to shoot at! And how unprofitable would it be 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.'
"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 upon several grounds; partly from a concern for the good of souls, who may be hurt 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 natural slowness and unreadiness of heart to believe the works of God.
"Why may we not continue in the joy of faith till we are perfected in love?
"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."
From these extracts it undeniably appears, not only what was mine and my brother's judgment, but what was the judgment of all the Preachers in connexion with us, in the years 1744, 45, 46 and 47. Nor do I remember that, in any one of these Conferences, we had one dissenting voice; but whatever doubts any one had when we met, they were all removed before we parted.
1. That is, unto those alone, exclusive of others; but they speak to them, jointly with others, almost continually.
2. More rarely, I allow; but yet in some places very frequently, strongly, and explicitly.