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A Criticism of Dr. James Mudge's "Growth in Holiness Toward Perfection"

Genesis of the Doctrine of Entire Sanctification.

N the order of time this doctrine was formulated in the history of Methodism after the direct witness of the Spirit to adoption had been experienced by the Wesleys and made prominent in their preaching. This is the natural order. Believers are born of the Spirit before they are wholly sanctified by the Spirit. "In 1729 two Young Men in England, reading the Bible, saw they could not be saved without holiness, followed after it, and incited others so to do." Their way was dark. They evidently believed that holiness attained by good works was the path to justification. In 1737 they saw, likewise, that men are justified before they are sanctified; but still holiness was their object. In 1738 Charles Wesley was made a partaker of salvation from guilt through faith only. Three days afterward John Wesley "felt his heart strangely warmed and that Christ alone bad taken away his sins." In 1739 he tentatively propounds the possibility of "entire freedom from sin." In 1744 some began to profess Christian perfection, "but Wesley was extremely cautious in receiving their testimony." — Tyerman. "It appeared exceedingly strange, being different from any that I had heard before." — Wesley. In 1745 this doctrine was clearly defined.

Up to 1761 Wesley preached it most explicitly and strongly; and in 1762 "the remarkable work of sanctification was rapidly spreading throughout the whole of the United Kingdom," and Wesley, in true Baconian style, was questioning hundreds of professors, one by one, and carefully recording the answers. This was the genesis of this doctrine: first, the theory was educed from a long and careful study of the Scriptures ; and, secondly, it was confirmed by a critical examination of many witnesses, some of whose testimonies, not being sustained by holy lives, were rejected. In 1763 fanatics arise "by the device of Satan to cast a blemish upon a real work of God," and Wesley's friends desert him, yet he persists in preaching and publishing books on this doctrine. In 1765 was published A
Plain Account of Christian Perfection. In 1768, standing almost alone in defense of this truth, he writes to his brother: "I am at my wit's end with regard to two things — the Church and Christian perfection. Unless you and I stand in the gap in good earnest, the Methodists will drop them both." We have long admired the heroism of "Athanasius contra mundum."

In the establishment of this vital doctrine there is ground for an equal admiration of "Wesley against the world." Says he: "Blessed be God, though we set a hundred enthusiasts (fanatics) aside, we are still encompassed with a cloud of witnesses who testify in life and in death that perfection which I have taught these forty years! This cannot be a delusion, unless the Bible be a delusion, too; I mean, loving God with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves." In 1785 he says: "As soon as any find peace with God, exhort them to go on to perfection. The more explicitly and strongly you press believers to aspire after full sanctification, as attainable now by simple faith, the more the whole work of God will prosper." The reader will note that this was written a year after Wesley selected our Articles of Religion from the Thirty-nine of the Church of England, in the manner of doing which some attempt to find proof that he had abandoned the doctrine that a residue of depravity remains after regeneration.

In 1790, a year before his death, he styles "this doctrine the grand
depositum which God has; lodged with the people called Methodists; and, for the sake of propagating this chiefly he appears to have raised us up." His last recorded utterance on this subject was about three months before his triumphant death, in a letter to Dr. Adam Clarke: "To retain the grace of God is much more than to gain it; hardly one in three does this. And this should be strongly and explicitly urged on all who have tasted of perfect love. If any can prove that any of our local preachers or leaders, either directly or indirectly, speak against it, let him be a local preacher or leader no longer. I doubt whether he should continue in the Society." The following observations we record:

1. It is evident from these facts that the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life as a work of the Holy Spirit, consciously inwrought by faith, was providentially evolved out of the Holy Scriptures and the testimony of many trustworthy witnesses.

2. That there was in the mind of Wesley a steady but cautious advance till this doctrine was fully stated.

3. That there was not the least wavering in his adherence to it till the day of his death, although his mind was constantly open to any new light which might convict him of error. It was in reference to this doctrine that he frankly said to a very able opponent: "I seek two things in this world — truth and love ; whoever assists me in this search is a friend indeed."

4. That in the estimation of the founder of Methodism the doctrine of Christian perfection earnestly and clearly preached to believers was the vital center of this spiritual movement, the unconquerable energy which surmounted all obstacles and vanquished all its opposers. The self-sacrifice of his preachers, enduring poverty, facing persecution, and cheerfully enduring incessant and unrequited toil, could been generated and sustained by nothing less than a perfected holiness totally extinguishing selfishness, and fully endowing and equipping for the most effective service.

5. That this experience is the confessed basis and cause of the lofty altitudes in holiness attained by those eminently spiritual men and women whose biographies adorn Methodism.

6. Lastly, if this doctrine, which has wrought out such blessed results, is false, it follows that it is no longer true that an evil tree cannot produce good fruit, and that we must now teach that believers are sanctified, not by the truth, but by falsehood. For the theories devised to eliminate the alleged errors of the Wesleyan doctrine are confessedly barren trees, such as holiness by imputation, Christ's holiness being a substitute for ours; the identity of the new birth and perfected holiness; gradualism, or the insensible approach to entire sanctification, never consciously grasped; and, lastly, entire sanctification up to light to be repeated over and over with the increase of knowledge, but washing away depravity only when soul and body are glorified. Men gather no grapes from these thistles.